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Belize

Executive Summary

Belize is a constitutional parliamentary democracy. In 2015 the United Democratic Party won 19 of 31 seats in the House of Representatives following generally free and fair multiparty elections.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings by security officers; allegations of corruption by government officials; crimes involving violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; trafficking in persons; and child labor.

In some cases the government took steps to prosecute public officials who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but there were few successful prosecutions. While some lower-ranking officials faced disciplinary action, criminal charges, or both, higher-ranking officials were less likely to face punishment, resulting in a perception of impunity.

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

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

There were allegations that government agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In January a police officer allegedly shot and killed a man from Punta Gorda Town. The officer was believed to have been under the influence of alcohol. While the officer claimed the victim had a firearm in his hand, witnesses contradicted the officer’s account. The Police Standards Branch (PSB) investigated the matter, and the officer was criminally charged with manslaughter. As of October he was on interdiction (administrative leave at half pay) pending the outcome of the case. A separate investigation by the Office of the Attorney General found the death was a case of extrajudicial killing and financially compensated the family of the victim.

In February, seven Belize Defense Force (BDF) soldiers and one member of the police’s Special Branch Unit seconded to the BDF allegedly beat a man to death in Orange Walk over a suspected cell phone theft. The eight men were taken into custody and charged with murder. In September the court dismissed the case after the case file was lost.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture or other inhuman punishment, but there were reports that police used excessive force as well as allegations of abuse by security force personnel. The Ombudsman’s Office reported that as of June it received 18 complaints of police abuse and unlawful detention. The ombudsman also received complaints against the Immigration and Nationality Department.

In July the mothers of two male minors publicly complained that the Belize Police Department (BPD) physically abused their sons during a police chase. According to police, the minors were being chased after stealing two guns from a security firm. The minors claimed the officers detained and handcuffed them and then severely beat them. Formal complaints were subsequently registered with the PSB.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports of prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners in pretrial detention and immigration offenses were not separated from convicted prisoners. Officials used isolation in a small, unlit, unventilated punishment cell to discipline inmates. Conditions in the women’s area were significantly better than in the men’s compound.

The Kolbe Foundation, a local Christian nonprofit organization, administered the country’s only prison, which held men, women, and juveniles. The government retained oversight and monitoring responsibility.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The prison administrator permitted visits from independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

While the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, there were several allegations made through the media and to the PSB that the government failed to observe these requirements. In addition, due to substantial delays and a backlog of cases in the justice system, the courts did not bring some minors to trial until they reached age 18. In such cases the defendants were tried as minors.

On September 4, the government imposed a 30-day state of public emergency in two zones of Belize City in response to gang violence. The government authorized BPD agents to detain citizens suspected of gang activity for up to 30 days without levying criminal charges, search homes without the need to present court-sanctioned warrants, impose curfews, and prohibit public assembly. Police officers implemented the state of public emergency with assistance from the BDF. On the first day the legal instrument was introduced, police detained more than 100 persons believed to be affiliated with gang activities. The constitution states that even under a state of emergency, detainees should be charged within seven days of detention, but authorities did not follow the law. After seven days, 70 of the detainees were released and 40 were informed that because of their engagement in gang activity, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and suspicion of murder, they were being placed under detention for the remainder of the state of emergency. Under the provision, detained persons have the right to question the reason for their detention before a court. There was no information available if any of the persons sought the intervention of the court. Local human rights observers raised concerns that the conditions under which detainees were being held were inhuman and that minors were being held in the same rooms as adult men. The Human Rights Commission of Belize expressed “grave concern” with the mechanism used by the state in introducing the proclamation, which “allows for the suspension of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.”

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of National Security is responsible for oversight of police, prisons, the coast guard, and the military. Although primarily charged with external security, the military also provides limited domestic security support to civilian authorities and has limited powers of arrest that are executed by the BDF for land and littoral areas and the coast guard for coastal and maritime areas. In March the government deployed BDF soldiers to assist with BPD patrols in Southside Belize City in an effort to quell gang violence. The joint patrols were supposed to last 30 days but continued until the end of September.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Ministry of National Security and security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. Nevertheless, there were reports of impunity involving the security forces, including reports of police brutality and corruption (primarily extortion cases and involvement in narcotrafficking). The government often ignored reports of police abuse, delayed action, failed to take disciplinary action, or transferred accused officers to other areas within the department.

The PSB investigates complaints against police. The law authorizes the police commissioner to place police personnel on suspension or interdiction. Additionally, authorities use police investigations, coroner inquests, and the Office of Public Prosecutions to evaluate allegations against police. While police officers are under investigation, they remain on active duty in a nonworking, partial pay status. In September police superintendent David Chi and police corporal Norman Anthony were criminally charged with conspiracy to land an airplane on an unauthorized aerodrome and abetment to import cocaine into the country.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police must obtain search or arrest warrants issued by a magistrate, except in cases of hot pursuit, when there is probable cause, or when the presence of a firearm is suspected. Police must inform detainees of their rights at the time of arrest and of the cause of their detention within 24 hours of arrest. Police must also bring a detainee before a magistrate to be charged officially within 48 hours. The BPD faced allegations that prior to the introduction of the state of public emergency, its members arbitrarily detained persons beyond 24 hours without charge, did not take detainees directly to a police station, and used detention as a means of intimidation.

The law requires police to follow the Judges’ Rules, a code of conduct governing police interaction with arrested persons. Although judges sometimes dismissed cases that involved violations of these rules, they more commonly deemed confessions obtained through violation of the rules to be invalid. Police usually granted detainees timely access to family members and lawyers, although there were reports of persons held in police detention without the right to contact family or seek legal advice.

By law a police officer in charge of a station or a magistrate’s court may grant bail to persons charged with minor offenses. The Supreme Court can grant bail to those charged with more serious crimes, including murder, gang activity, possession of an unlicensed firearm, and specific drug trafficking or sexual offenses. The Supreme Court reviews the bail application within 10 working days.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Office of the Ombudsman received complaints against the BDF claiming unlawful detention involving four Guatemalan nationals who claimed they were apprehended in Guatemalan territory. The complainants accused the BDF of beating them. The four were criminally charged with unlawful possession of firearms and immigration offenses and were subsequently incarcerated. The men claimed they did not have access to legal representation.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy trial backlogs remained, particularly for serious crimes such as murder. Problems included police delays in completing investigations, lack of evidence collection, court delays in preparing depositions, and adjournments in the courts. Judges occasionally were slow to issue rulings, in some cases taking a year or longer. The time lag between arrest, trial, and conviction generally ranged from six months to four years and in some cases up to seven years. Pretrial detention for persons accused of murder averaged three to four years.

During the year the government took measures to reduce the backlog. Three new justices were named to deal specifically with criminal matters. Several persons in pretrial detention were placed on bail after the court determined their cases were taking too long in police investigation. There was still an extensive criminal backlog, but the civil backlog was mostly resolved.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although delays in holding trials occurred.

The law stipulates that nonjury trials are mandatory in cases involving charges of murder, attempted murder, abetment of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Government officials stated the law protects jurors from retribution. A single Supreme Court judge hears these cases. A magistrate generally issues decisions and judgments for lesser crimes after deliberating on the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and standard procedure is for the defendant to be informed promptly of the charges and to be present at the trial. If the defendants are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or there are language barriers, they are informed of the reason of arrest at the earliest possible opportunity. Defendants have the right to defense by counsel and appeal, but the prosecution can apply for the trial to proceed if a defendant skips bail or does not appear in court.

There is no requirement for defendants to have legal representation except in cases involving murder. The Supreme Court’s registrar is responsible for appointing an attorney to act on behalf of indigent defendants charged with murder. In lesser cases the court does not provide defendants an attorney, and defendants sometimes represented themselves. The Legal Advice and Services Center, staffed by three attorneys, can provide legal services and representation for a range of civil and criminal cases, including domestic violence and other criminal cases up to attempted murder. These legal aid services were overstretched and could not reach rural areas or districts. Defendants are entitled to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense or request an adjournment, a common delay tactic. The court provides Spanish interpreters for defendants upon request. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

The law allows defendants to confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their behalf. Witnesses may submit written statements into evidence in place of court appearances. Defendants have the right to produce evidence in their defense and examine evidence held by the opposing party or the court.

The rate of acquittals and cases withdrawn by the prosecution due to insufficient evidence continued to be high, particularly for sexual offenses, murder, and gang-related cases. These actions were often due to the failure of witnesses to testify because of fear for life and personal safety, as well as a lack of basic police investigative or forensic capability in the country.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, including the Supreme Court. Litigants may appeal cases to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s highest appellate court. Individuals can also present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judicial system, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In May, Belize Telemedia Limited, the state-owned telecommunications provider, stopped advertising with all KREMANDALA companies, one of the most popular media conglomerates in the country. The provider explained it was a general cut on all advertising, but it did not reduce advertising with other media firms. KREMANDALA was known to be critical of the government and was owned by the family of a prominent opposition politician.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 47 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. A state of public emergency was declared on September 4 for 30 days in two areas of Belize City as a result of gang violence, which limited assembly in the areas.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. Although the government committed to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, persons at risk of becoming stateless, or other persons of concern under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, the Belize Refugees Act, and the UN Convention for Statelessness, the government severely restricted approval of asylum applications after reinstating the Refugee Eligibility Committee in 2015.

Citizenship: The government continued to enforce a moratorium on the issuance of Belize citizenship to Guatemalan citizens that started in 2012. The moratorium began in response to complaints that the constitution does not allow for Belizean nationality to be awarded to Guatemalans if they do not renounce their previous nationality first. Guatemala does not have a formal nationality renunciation process, so Guatemalan nationals cannot technically qualify for Belizean citizenship. As a result, several Guatemalan nationals who met the criteria to become Belize citizens found themselves in limbo.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government does not distinguish between refugees and asylum seekers, as the law itself does not reference asylum seekers–only refugees and recognized refugees. During the year the government granted asylum status to 28 persons of the more than 3,000 applicants. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Help for Progress, UNHCR’s implementing partner in the country, continued to assist by providing limited basic services, including shelter, clothing, and food to refugees and asylum seekers.

Employment: Persons awaiting adjudication of their refugee applications were unable to work legally in the country.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees were able to use the education system and the socialized medical system, but the government offered no assistance with housing or food except in extreme cases that involved children and pregnant women.

Temporary Protection: The Immigration Department issued renewable special residency permits for periods of 60 to 90 days to those who applied for refugee status within the 14-day deadline.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In municipal elections in March, the United Democratic Party retained 62 percent of all municipal seats, and the People’s United Party (PUP) increased its margin to 38 percent. The results of the San Pedro municipal election were challenged in court by the PUP. The court did not find enough evidence to invalidate the results and the case was dismissed.

The law does not allow citizens to hold public office while seeking political office at the same time. During the year the government asked several public officers to resign after they entered their names as political candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Observers suggested cultural and societal constraints limited the number of women participating in government. Women remained a clear minority in government. Two of 31 members of the House of Representatives and three of 13 senators were women. In the March municipal election, women won 18 of 67 seats. No woman was elected as a mayor. Although both major parties declared they took steps to increase female participation, neither adopted party policies to promote an increase in female candidates.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, chief executive officers, and deputy ministers, were numerous, although no substantial proof was presented in most cases. Investigations into corruption within the Immigration and Nationality Department in the 2011-13 period concluded in January. Public hearings of the investigation revealed several instances of questionable activities involving high-ranking government officials, including ministers of government.

In March Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation, and Poverty Anthony Martinez was accused by one of his former employees of setting up a scheme to profit from public funds. The employee alleged that Martinez asked him to open a bank account where funds would be deposited for the building of low-income houses, and then the money would be withdrawn and passed on to Martinez. The employee indicated that he was not a contractor and was not involved in any construction but merely carried out a favor for his employer. Martinez denied the accusations, and despite calls from the opposition party, the government did not investigate the minister.

Although the Ombudsman’s Office reported fewer official complaints than in previous years, citizens continued to allege corruption against the Lands and Surveys Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources for illegally distributing lands to party associates. Despite accusations of political cronyism, the government insisted that it maintained transparency in the distribution of land.

In 2017 media reported that several land documents indicated questionable transactions in the Lands and Surveys Department. The government pursued legal action against the son of former deputy prime minister Gaspar Vega, Andre Vega, and attorney Sharon Pitts, who were accused of unjustifiably enriching themselves from questionable land transactions while Vega was minister. Vega’s case remained before the court. Pitts entered into mediation with the government in an effort to find an amicable solution to return money made in the scheme.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to submit annual financial disclosure statements, which the Integrity Commission reviews. At the same time, the constitution allows authorities to prohibit citizens from questioning the validity of such statements. Anyone who does so outside a rigidly prescribed procedure is subject to a fine of up to 5,000 Belize dollars ($2,500), three years’ imprisonment, or both. Many public officials did not submit annual financial disclosure statements and suffered no repercussions. In 2017 the Integrity Commission informed 10 members of the National Assembly and 60 members of local governments of their failure to declare their financial affairs. As a result, four members of parliament submitted their reports during the year. In August the commission published the names of eight members of the National Assembly and 34 members of local government who had failed to file sworn declaration of assets for the year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, although appointed by the government, acts as an independent check on governmental abuses. The Office of the Ombudsman holds a range of procedural and investigative powers, including the right to enter any premise to gather documentation and the right to summon persons. The office operated under significant staffing and financial constraints. The law requires the ombudsman to submit annual reports, and the office wrote a midyear report to address problem trends. The office does not have the power to investigate allegations against the judiciary. While the Office of the Ombudsman technically has wide investigative powers, noncompliance from the offices it investigated severely limited its effectiveness.

The Human Rights Commission, an independent, volunteer-based government agency, continued to operate, but only on an ad hoc basis due to funding and staffing limitations. The commission provided human rights training for police recruits, prison officers, and the BDF.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. The code states that a person convicted of rape shall be sentenced to imprisonment for eight years to life, although sentences were sometimes much lighter. Challenges to the wider justice system generally resulted in poor conviction rates for rape.

Domestic violence was often prosecuted with charges such as harm, wounding, grievous harm, rape, and marital rape, but charges were treated as civil matters. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognized both physical violence and mental injury. Penalties include fines or imprisonment for violations. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders.

The government ran awareness campaigns against gender-based and domestic violence, a domestic violence hotline, and shelters, and major police stations had designated domestic abuse officers, although these measures were not always effective.

Sexual Harassment: The law provides protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, including provisions against unfair dismissal of a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Women’s Department recognizes sexual harassment as a subset of sexual violence, but no cases had ever been brought under the sexual harassment protections.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. According to the Maya Leaders Alliance and Toledo Alcaldes Association, there were several unconfirmed reports of involuntary sterilization of Maya women. The reports referred to medical missions (mostly church-based) and state-run hospitals where women claimed to have been sterilized during cesarean deliveries (C-sections) without their consent. The Maya NGOs were unable to confirm the cases.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law also mandates equal pay for equal work, but the labor commissioner verified that men earned on average 90 Belize dollars ($45) more per month than women did because they held higher managerial positions. The law provides generally for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the workplace, pregnancy, or HIV status.

The BDF and coast guard lifted a cap on the number of female service members. Despite legal provisions for gender equality and government programs aimed at empowering women, NGOs and other observers reported women faced social and economic discrimination. Although participating in all spheres of national life and outnumbering men in university classrooms and high school graduation rates, women held relatively few top managerial or government positions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory, regardless of the parents’ nationality. Citizenship may also be acquired by descent if at least one parent is a citizen of the country. The standard provision is for births to be registered no later than a week after birth; registration after a month is considered late and includes a minimal fine. Failure to register does not result in any denial of public service, but it slows the process for receiving a social security card and therefore accessing health care.

Education: Primary education is free, and education is compulsory between the ages of six and 14; however, primary schools may incorporate other fees, and parents may be required to pay for textbooks, uniforms, and meals.

Child Abuse: Abuse of children occurred. Human service officers expressed concern for male minors being held in detention in deplorable conditions and in the same cells as adult males as part of the state of public emergency.

In March a man was charged with the murder of his 17-month-old stepdaughter. Police believed he sexually molested the baby on two occasions, the latter incident causing her death. In addition to the murder charges, the stepfather was charged with attempted rape and attempted assault of the child.

The law allows authorities to remove a child from an abusive home environment and requires parents to maintain and support children until the age of 18. There were publicized cases of underage girls being victims of sexual abuse and mistreatment, in most cases in their own home or in a relative’s home.

The Family Services Division in the Ministry of Human Development is the government office with the lead responsibility for children’s problems. The division coordinated programs for children who were victims of domestic violence, advocated remedies in specific cases before the Family Court, conducted public education campaigns, investigated cases of human trafficking in children, and worked with local and international NGOs and UNICEF to promote children’s welfare.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age to marry is 18, but persons between ages 16 and 18 may marry with the consent of parents, legal guardians, or judicial authority. According to UNICEF, 29 percent of women ages 20 to 49 were married or cohabitating before reaching age 18. The government did not undertake any prevention or mitigation efforts to reduce the rate of early marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law establishes penalties for child prostitution, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and indecent exhibition of a child. It defines a “child” as anyone younger than age 18. The law stipulates that the offense of child prostitution does not apply to persons exploiting 16- and 17-year-old children in sexual activity in exchange for remuneration, gifts, goods, food, or other benefits.

The legal age for consensual sex is 16, but prostitution is not legal under 18. Sexual intercourse with a minor younger than age 14 is an offense punishable by 12 years’ to life imprisonment. Unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor age 14-16 is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment.

There were anecdotal reports that boys and girls were exploited in child prostitution, including the “sugar daddy” syndrome whereby older men provided money to minors, their families, or both for sexual relations. Similarly, there were reports of increasing exploitation of minors, often to meet the demand of foreign sex tourists in tourist-populated areas or where there were transient and seasonal workers. The law criminalizes the procurement or attempted procurement of “a person” younger than age 18 to engage in prostitution; an offender is liable to eight years’ imprisonment. The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child sex trafficking.

The law establishes a penalty of two years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of publishing or offering for sale any obscene book, writing, or representation.

Displaced Children: There were reports of unaccompanied children who were detained by authorities as they made their way to the United States to join their families. Government agencies worked closely with the embassies of the respective children in an effort to provide them protection and services.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not expressly prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination. The law does not provide for accessibility accommodations for persons with disabilities, and most public and private buildings and transportation were not accessible to them. Certain businesses and government departments had designated clerks to attend to the elderly and persons with disabilities. There were no policies to encourage hiring of persons with disabilities in the public or private sectors.

Mental health provisions and protections generally were poor. Informal government-organized committees for persons with disabilities were tasked with public education and advocating for protections against discrimination. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sports maintained an educational unit offering limited special education programs within the regular school system. There were two schools and four special education centers for children with disabilities. Children with disabilities attended mainstream schools through secondary education at a significantly lower rate than other children and were placed with nondisabled peers.

The special envoy for women and children continued advocacy campaigns on behalf of persons with disabilities, especially children, and supported efforts to promote schools that took steps to create inclusive environments for persons with disabilities.

Indigenous People

No separate legal system or laws cover indigenous persons as the government maintains that it treats all citizens the same. Employers, public and private, generally treated indigenous persons equally with other ethnic groups for employment and other purposes.

The Maya Leaders’ Alliance, composed of the Toledo Maya Council, Q’eche Council of Belize, Toledo Alcaldes Association, Julian Cho Society, and Tumul K’in Center of Learning, monitored development in the Toledo District with the goal of protecting Mayan land and culture. While the government noted the need to respect and consult the Mayan communities when issuing oil exploration licenses in the south, the alliance believed it was not consulted before decisions were made. The Maya in the southern part of the country continued to raise concerns regarding the manner in which a Caribbean Court of Justice order regarding indigenous land was being implemented by the government. The government noted that both a work plan for implementation of the court order and a dispute resolution mechanism were completed with consultation with the Maya communities. The Maya Leaders’ Association, however, accused the government of “unencumbered by coercion and intimidation” and of failing to consult with the proper representatives of the indigenous community before taking action regarding indigenous lands.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, or access to government services such as health care, but the constitution provides for the protection of all citizens from any type of discrimination.

In 2016 the Supreme Court struck down the interpretation of Section 53 of the criminal code, which criminalized sexual acts “against the order of nature.” The government partially appealed the ruling in September 2017, conceding the decriminalization of homosexuality but questioning a section of the decision that made “sexual orientation” a protected class. The Roman Catholic Church appealed the entire ruling in September 2017 but withdrew its appeal in March, leaving the government as the sole appellant. The Court of Appeals commenced proceedings to consider the grounds for the appeal in November.

The Immigration Act prohibits “homosexual” persons from entering the country, but immigration authorities did not enforce the law.

The extent of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity was difficult to ascertain due to a lack of official reporting. The NGO United Belize Advocacy Movement (UniBAM) registered four homicides, one attempted homicide, one robbery, and 17 cases of harassment and physical assault on young persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity from January to September. Based on a survey, UniBAM recorded that LGBTI persons between the ages of 14 to 24 faced the most violence in rural communities, especially in very religious parts of the country. UniBAM’s executive director, Caleb Orozco, noted that in these religious communities, police often refused to take reports from survivors.

According to UniBAM, LGBTI persons were also denied medical services and education and encountered family-based violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There was some societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the government worked to combat it through public education efforts of the National AIDS Commission under the Ministry of Human Development.

The law provides for protection of workers against unfair dismissal, including for HIV status. The government provided free antiretroviral medication and other medical services to persons with HIV registered in the public health system; however, the government sometimes had insufficient supplies of medication.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, including related regulations and statutes, generally provides for the right to establish and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The Ministry of Labor, Local Government, and Rural Development (Ministry of Labor) recognizes unions and employers associations after they are registered, and the law establishes procedures for the registration and status of trade unions and employers organizations and for collective bargaining. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination, dissolution, or suspension of unions by administrative authority. It requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law allows authorities to refer disputes involving public- and private-sector employees who provide “essential services” to compulsory arbitration, prohibit strikes, and terminate actions. The national fire service, postal service, monetary and financial services, civil aviation and airport security services, port authority personnel (stevedores and pilots), and security services are deemed essential services beyond the International Labor Organization definition of essential services. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination, but there were some reports workers were intimidated into either not joining a union or dropping union membership if they had joined.

Workers can file complaints with the Ministry of Labor or seek redress from the courts, although it remained difficult to prove that terminations were due to union activity. The ministry’s Labor Department generally handled labor cases without lengthy delays and dealt with appeals via arbitration outside of the court system. The court did not apply the law requiring reinstatement of workers fired for union activity and provided monetary compensation instead. A complaint was filed at the Office of the Ombudsman against the Ministry of Education and the Catholic School Management by a female teacher who claimed that both authorities were refusing to accept her retirement and award her pension and gratuity based on medical grounds. The matter was under investigation.

The Labor Department was hampered by factors such as a shortage of vehicles and fuel in its efforts to monitor compliance, particularly in rural areas. There were complaints of administrative or judicial delays relating to labor complaints and disputes. Information on penalties for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining was unavailable.

The government and employers did not always effectively enforce the law. Antiunion discrimination and other forms of employer interference in union functions sometimes occurred, and on several occasions unions threatened or carried out strikes. At least one NGO continued to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to highlight, among other things, concerns with employers’ measures that do not allow migrant workers to unionize and that require migrants to submit to HIV tests in certain industries. The NGO asserted that in certain industries, particularly banana, citrus, and construction, employers often did not respect due process, did not pay minimum wages, and classified workers as contract and nonpermanent employees to avoid providing certain benefits. An NGO noted that both national and migrant workers were denied rights.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or compulsory labor are covered under the antitrafficking law and carry prison sentences of one to eight years for adult victims and one to 12 years for child victims, which were comparable to penalties for other major offenses and sufficient to deter violations, although the government did not enforce the law. Resources and inspections to deter violations were limited. The government reportedly investigated three forced labor cases; it did not identify any forced labor victims during the year.

Forced labor of both Belizean and foreign women occurred in bars, nightclubs, and domestic service. Migrant men, women, and children were at risk for forced labor in agriculture, fishing, and in the service sector, including restaurants and shops, particularly among the South Asian and Chinese communities.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years old generally, with the exception of work in wholesale or retail trade or business, for which the minimum age is 12. “Light work,” which is not defined in the law, is allowed for children ages 12 to 13. Children ages 14-18 may be employed only in an occupation that a labor officer determines is “not injurious to the moral or physical development of nonadults.” Children older than age 14 are explicitly permitted to work in “industrial undertakings,” which include mining, manufacturing, and construction. Children younger than age 16 are excluded from work in factories, and those younger than age 18 are excluded from working at night or in certain kinds of employment deemed dangerous. The Labor Department used a list of dangerous occupations for young workers as guidance, but the list was not adopted as law.

The law permits children to work on family farms and in family-run businesses. National legislation does not address a situation in which child labor is contracted between a parent and the employer. The National Child Labor Policy distinguishes between children engaged in work that is beneficial to their development and those engaged in the worst forms of child labor. The policy identifies children involved in the worst forms of child labor as those engaged in hazardous work, human trafficking and child slavery, commercial sexual activities, and illicit activities.

The Labor Department has primary responsibility for implementing labor policies and enforcing labor laws, but it was not effective in investigating complaints. Inspectors from the Labor and Education Departments are responsible for enforcing these regulations, with the bulk of the enforcement falling to truancy officers. The penalty for employing a child younger than the minimum age is a fine not exceeding 20 Belize dollars ($10) or imprisonment not exceeding two months. On a second offense, the law stipulates a fine not exceeding 50 Belize dollars ($25) or imprisonment not exceeding four months. Information was inadequate to determine if the penalties, remediation, and inspections were sufficient to deter violations. Child labor laws were not well enforced. There is also a National Child Labor Committee under the National Committee for Families and Children, a statutory interagency group that advocates for policies and legislation to protect children and eliminate child labor.

Some children were vulnerable to forced labor, particularly in the agricultural and service sectors. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). According to the most recent data available from the Statistical Institute of Belize from 2013, the country’s child labor rate was 3.2 percent, with half of those children involved in hazardous work. The problem was most prevalent in rural areas. Boys accounted for 74 percent of children illegally employed, mostly engaged in hazardous activities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender, language, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. The government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment with respect to disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. There were reports that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to sexual orientation. One NGO reported that members of the LGBTI community often had problems gaining and retaining employment due to discrimination in the workplace. There were no officially reported cases of discrimination at work based on ethnicity, culture, or skin color; although anecdotal evidence suggested that such cases occurred.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 3.30 Belize dollars ($1.65) per hour. A full-time worker receiving the minimum wage earned between 1.5 to two times the poverty-limit income, depending on the district. The law sets the workweek at no more than six days or 45 hours and requires premium payment for overtime work. Workers are entitled to two workweeks’ paid annual holiday. Additionally there are 13 days designated as public and bank holidays. Employees who work on public and bank holidays are entitled to pay at time-and-a-half, except for Good Friday and Christmas, which are paid at twice the normal rate.

Several different health and safety regulations cover numerous industries. The law, which applies to all sectors, prescribes that the employer must take “reasonable care” for the safety of employees in the course of their employment. The law further states that every employer who provides or arranges accommodation for workers to reside at or in the vicinity of a place of employment shall provide and maintain sufficient and hygienic housing accommodations, a sufficient supply of wholesome water, and sufficient and proper sanitary arrangements.

The Ministry of Labor did not always effectively enforce minimum wage and health and safety regulations. The Labor Department had 25 labor officers in 10 offices throughout the country. Inspections were not sufficient to secure compliance, especially in the more remote areas. Fines varied according to the infraction but generally were not very high and thus not sufficient to deter violations. Several cases were pending. In 2017 a labor tribunal was established, but it was uncertain how many cases the tribunal had heard.

The minimum wage was generally respected. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence from NGOs and employers suggested that undocumented Central American workers, particularly young service workers and agricultural laborers, were regularly paid below the minimum wage.

In January the Christian Workers Union (CWU) was able successfully to resolve a dispute between its members and the Social Security Board of Belize over salary adjustments. The board had refused to honor the accrued adjustment for the period 2015-18, but in the end it decided to award the 1.75-percent increase.

In September the CWU issued a notice of intended industrial action against the Port of Belize Limited after negotiations between the two reached an impasse over working hours. The CWU stated that the “refusal to engage on any other matter that remains on the agreed list is no less than extreme bad faith.” Two days before the union began industrial action, the CWU and the port authorities agreed to return to the negotiations in an effort to conclude the collective agreement between stevedores and the port. Negotiations continued as of November.

It was unclear whether workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment or whether authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

Mexico

Executive Summary

Mexico is a multiparty federal republic with an elected president and bicameral legislature. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement won the presidential election on July 1 in generally free and fair multiparty elections and took office on December 1. Citizens also elected members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, governors, state legislators, and mayors.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of the involvement by police, military, and other state officials, sometimes in coordination with criminal organizations, in unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention by both government and illegal armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions in some prisons; impunity for violence against journalists and state and local censorship and criminal libel; and violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Impunity for human rights abuses remained a problem, with extremely low rates of prosecution for all forms of crimes. The government’s federal statistics agency (INEGI) estimated 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated.

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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups were implicated in numerous killings, acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt federal, state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 25 complaints of “deprivation of life” between January and November 30.

On January 7, more than 200 members of the military, Guerrero state police, and Federal Police arbitrarily arrested and executed three indigenous security force members in La Concepcion. The killings occurred in tandem with reports of the arbitrary arrest of 38 persons, 25 illegal house searches, and the torture of at least eight persons. According to the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montana Tlachinollan, the security forces arrived to investigate a confrontation between armed persons and community police. Witnesses said state police executed two community police officers during the confrontation. Witnesses alleged two state police officers took a community police officer to a nearby building, where he was later found dead. Representatives of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico City condemned the operation, stating there was evidence human rights violations occurred at the hands of security forces.

In September the CNDH concluded soldiers executed two men and planted rifles on their bodies during a 2017 shootout between authorities and fuel thieves in Palmarito, Puebla. The CNDH recommended the army pay reparations to the victims’ families. Some of the killings were captured on video, including of a soldier appearing to execute a suspect lying on the ground.

There were no developments in the investigation into the 2015 Tanhuato, Michoacan, shooting in which federal police agents were accused of executing 22 persons after a gunfight and of tampering with evidence.

In May a federal judge ordered the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) to reopen the investigation into the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, Mexico State, by members of the military, specifically calling for an investigation into the role of the chain of command. The judge ruled that the PGR’s investigation thus far had not been exhaustive, adequate, or effective. (The Government of Mexico has appealed the ruling.) According to multiple NGOs, the four former state attorney general investigative police officers convicted of torturing suspects in this case were released from custody.

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

b. Disappearance

There were reports of forced disappearances–the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person by security forces–and of many disappearances related to organized criminal groups, sometimes with allegations of state collusion. In its data collection, the government often merged statistics on forcibly disappeared persons with missing persons not suspected of being victims of forced disappearance, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem. The CNDH registered 38 cases of alleged “forced or involuntary” disappearances through November 30.

Investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for the crime of forced disappearance were rare. According to information provided by the Federal Judicial Council, from December 1, 2006, to December 31, 2017, only 14 sentences for forced disappearance were issued. At the federal level, as of August 2017, the deputy attorney general for human rights was investigating 943 cases of disappeared persons. Some states were making progress investigating this crime. At the state level, a Veracruz special prosecutor for disappearances detained 65 persons during the year for the crime of forced disappearance.

There were credible reports of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, and federal officials or members of the national defense forces were sometimes accused of perpetrating this crime.

Nationwide, the CNDH reported the exhumation of the remains of at least 530 persons in 163 clandestine graves between January 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018. The scale and extent of the problem is indicated by the discovery, in the past eight years in Veracruz State, of 601 clandestine graves with the remains of 1,178 victims.

The federal government and several states failed to meet deadlines for implementing various provisions of the November 2017 General Law on Forced Disappearances, and efforts by the federal government were insufficient to address the problem. State-level search commissions should have been established by mid-April; as of August only seven of 32 states had done so. Only 20 states had met the requirement to create specialized prosecutors’ offices focused on forced disappearances. The federal government created a National System for the Search of Missing Persons as required by the law but had not established the required National Forensic Data Bank and Amber Alert System as of this reporting period.

As of April 30, according to the National Registry of Missing Persons, a total of 37,435 individuals were recorded as missing or disappeared, up 40 percent, compared with the total number at the end of 2014. The National Search Commission, created in March, shut down this registry in July as part of the process to create a new registry, which it planned to make public in early 2019. The new database would include more than 24,000 genetic profiles of the relatives of the disappeared as well as information such as fingerprints, parents’ names, and dates of birth of the victims, according to government officials.

In February an estimated 31 former high-ranking Veracruz state security officials and members of the state police involved in disappearances and acts of torture in 2013 were ordered apprehended on charges of forced disappearance. Former state police chief Roberto Gonzalez Meza was among the 19 arrested in February. In June former state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras was arrested and placed in custody while awaiting trial on charges related to the forced disappearance of 13 individuals. An additional seven Veracruz former state police officers were detained in August for the crime of forced disappearance of two persons in 2013.

In May the OHCHR announced it had documented the disappearance of 23 individuals–including five minors–by Mexican security forces between February and May in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. The federal Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Disappearances opened an investigation into the disappearances in June, and the navy temporarily suspended 30 personnel while they conducted an investigation.

On June 4, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in Tamaulipas ruled that authorities had failed to investigate indications of military and federal police involvement in the disappearance of 43 students from a teacher-training college in Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The court faulted the PGR for not investigating evidence that suspects were tortured to coerce confessions while in PGR custody. During the year the PGR indicted 31 municipal police officers for kidnapping, involvement with organized crime, and aggravated homicide related to the case. Victims’ relatives and civil society continued to be highly critical of PGR’s handling of the investigation, noting there had been no convictions relating to the disappearances of the 43 students. The court ruled that PGR’s investigation had not been prompt, effective, independent, or impartial and ordered the government to create a special investigative commission composed of representatives of the victims, PGR, and CNDH. The government appealed the ruling, claiming it infringed upon the principle of separation of powers. An intermediate court upheld the appeal, and the case was scheduled to go to the Supreme Court for review. On December 2, one day after his inauguration, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador ordered the creation of a truth commission–headed by the deputy minister for human rights of the Ministry of Interior–to re-examine the disappearances.

In other developments related to the Ayotzinapa case, on March 15 the OHCHR released a report of gross violations of human rights and due process in the Ayotzinapa investigation, including arbitrary detention and torture. The OHCHR found “solid grounds” to conclude at least 34 individuals were tortured in the course of the investigation, most of them while in the custody of the PGR’s Sub-Prosecutor for Organized Crime. The report highlighted the possible extrajudicial killing of one suspect, Emannuel Alejandro Blas Patino, who was allegedly tortured to death by asphyxiation with a plastic bag and multiple blows to his body by officials from the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR) on October 27, 2014.

On June 5, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Mechanism issued a follow-up report that found the government’s investigation into the Ayotzinapa case had been fragmented, with many lines of investigation proceeding slowly or prematurely dismissed. The report acknowledged some progress in the investigation, including the creation of a map of graves and crematorium ovens in the region, steps taken to investigate firearms possibly used on the night of the events, topographic survey work conducted using remote sensing technology, and following up with ground searches for possible burial sites.

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

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court. Despite these prohibitions, there were reports that security forces tortured suspects.

As of November 30, the CNDH registered 57 complaints of torture. Between January 1, 2017, and August 2018, the CNDH recorded 496 complaints of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The majority of these complaints were from Tamaulipas, Mexico City, Mexico State, and Veracruz; federal police and PGR officials were accused of being responsible in most torture cases. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

Less than 1 percent of federal torture investigations resulted in prosecution and conviction, according to government data. The PGR conducted 13,850 torture investigations between 2006 and 2016, and authorities reported 31 federal convictions for torture during that period. The federal Specialized Torture Investigation Unit, created in 2015 within the PGR, reported in February it had opened 8,335 investigations but had presented charges in only 17 cases.

According to the national human rights network “All Rights for All” (Red TDT), as of August only two states, Chihuahua and Colima, had updated their state torture law to comply with the federal law passed in 2017. Only eight states had assigned a specialized torture prosecutor, and many of them lacked the necessary resources to investigate cases. According to the NGO INSYDE, there were not enough doctors and psychologists who could determine if psychological torture had occurred, and authorities were still struggling to investigate torture accusations from incarcerated victims.

In March the OHCHR found “solid grounds” to conclude at least 34 individuals were tortured in the course of the investigation of the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala in 2014 (see section 1.b.).

In June the World Justice Project reported the ongoing transition to an oral-accusatory justice system from the previous written, inquisitorial system had reduced the frequency of torture.

In July 2017, INEGI published the National Survey of Detained Persons, which surveyed individuals held in all municipal, state, or federal prisons. Of detainees who had given a statement to a public prosecutor, 46 percent reported being pressured by the police or other authorities to give a different version of the events. Of detainees who had confessed, 41 percent said they declared their guilt due to pressure, threats, or physical assaults. Detainees reported physical violence (64 percent) and psychological threats (76 percent) during their arrest and reported that, while at the public prosecutor’s office, they were held incommunicado or in isolation (49 percent), threatened with false charges (41 percent), undressed (40 percent), tied up (29 percent), blindfolded (26 percent), and suffocated (25 percent). According to 20 percent, authorities made threats to their families, and 5 percent reported harm to their families.

On September 6, the CNDH called upon federal authorities to investigate the alleged illegal detention and torture of 17 persons between 2013 and 2017 by SEMAR marines. The CNDH stated that 17 federal investigators ignored or delayed acting on reports made by the victims. The CNDH detailed sexual assaults, beatings, electric shocks, and suffocation committed by marines against their captives before turning them over to federal law enforcement. The detentions and torture allegedly occurred in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Zacatecas.

There was one report that torture was used to repress political speech. The Oaxaca Consortium for Parliamentary Dialogue and Equity reported a series of escalating attacks, including torture against human rights defenders in Oaxaca in retaliation for their activities. For example, after Oaxaca human rights defenders Arturo Villalobos Ordonez and Patricia Mendez publicly denounced police repression and other abuses in Nochixtlan and other abuses, their minor daughter suffered threats and harassment starting in January and culminating in an incident May 7 in which two men entered her home, stomped on her head, submerged her in water, showed her pictures of mutilated corpses, and threatened that her parents would face the same fate if she did not reveal their whereabouts.

On April 30, the CNDH issued a formal report to the director of the National Migration Institute (INM), indicating that INM personnel committed “acts of torture” against a Salvadoran migrant in October 2017. According to the CNDH document, the victim accompanied another migrant to a migratory station in Mexicali, where an INM official and two guards repeatedly physically struck the migrant and threatened him for 15 to 20 minutes. The CNDH concluded the victim suffered a fractured rib and other injuries as well as psychological trauma.

In a November report, the NGO Centro Prodh documented 29 cases of sexual torture between 2006 and 2015 in 12 states (Baja California, Ciudad de Mexico, Coahuila, Estado de Mexico, Guerrero, Michoacan, Nuevo Leon, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz); 16 of the 29 cases were reported as rape. Twenty-seven women had reported their torture to a judge, but in 18 cases, no investigation was ordered. Members of the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), SEMAR, federal police, and state police of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Coahuila were allegedly involved.

In December 2017 the OHCHR Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment issued a report based on a 2016 visit that noted torture was a widespread practice in the country. The subcommittee noted that disparities in the classification of the crime of torture in the states continued to generate real or potential gaps that lead to impunity.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: According to a 2017 CNDH report, federal, state, and local detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and a lack of effective grievance mechanisms.” The most overcrowded prisons were plagued by riots, revenge killings, and jailbreaks. Criminal gangs often held de facto control. Inmates staged mass escapes, battled each other, and engaged in shootouts using guns that police and guards smuggled into prisons.

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

The CNDH found several reports of sexual abuse of inmates in the state of Mexico’s Netzahualcoyotl Bordo de Xochiaca Detention Center. Cases of sexual exploitation of inmates were also reported in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.

In March the CNDH released its 2017 National Diagnostic of Penitentiary Supervision. The report singled out the states of Nayarit, Guerrero, and Tamaulipas for poor prison conditions. The report highlighted overcrowding, self-governance, and a lack of personnel, protection, hygienic conditions, and actions to prevent violent incidents. The report faulted prisons for failing to separate prisoners who have yet to be sentenced from convicts.

The CNDH found the worst conditions in municipal prisons. The CNDH determined that public security agents used excessive force in an October 2017 Cadereyta prison riot that left 18 persons dead and 93 injured. Self-governance at the prison led to the riot, which was exacerbated by the state public security and civil forces’ inadequate contingency planning. This was the fifth lethal riot at a Nuevo Leon prison since 2016.

In December 2017 the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment published a report based on a 2016 visit, concluding municipal prisons had deplorable conditions. The report found infrastructure, hygiene, and services were inadequate. There was little natural light and ventilation, cells were cold at night, and prisoners did not have access to blankets. The subcommittee encountered numerous prisoners, including minors, who had not received water or food for 24 hours. The subcommittee observed some centers lacked medical equipment and basic medication. Prisoners had to rely on family members to provide medication, thus low-income prisoners were sometimes left without medical care.

A 2016 INEGI survey of 211,000 inmates in the country’s 338 state and federal penitentiaries revealed that 87 percent of inmates reported bribing guards for items such as food, telephone calls, and blankets or mattresses. Another survey of 64,000 prisoners revealed that 36 percent reported paying bribes to other inmates, who often controlled parts of penitentiaries. Six of 10 LGBTI prisoners were victims of abuse such as sexual violence and discrimination at the hands of other prisoners or security officials, according to a 2015 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) report.

According to civil society groups, migrants in some migrant detention centers faced abuse when comingled with MS-13 gang members. In addition, they reported some migration officials discouraged persons from applying for asylum, claiming their applications were unlikely to be approved, and that some officials from the National Institute of Migration kidnapped asylum seekers for ransom.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations. Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations into credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions.

Improvements: Federal and state facilities continued to seek or maintain international accreditation from the American Correctional Association. As of September the total number of state and federal accredited facilities was 92, an increase of 11 facilities from August 2017. Chihuahua and Guanajuato were the only states to have all their prisons accredited.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government sometimes failed to observe these requirements. Between January 1, 2017 and August 2018, the CNDH recorded 618 complaints of arbitrary detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Federal, state, and municipal police have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The Federal Police are under the authority of the interior minister and the National Security Commission. State police are under the authority of the state governors. Municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA and SEMAR also play an important role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. The constitution grants the president the authority to use the armed forces for the protection of internal and national security, and the courts have upheld the legality of the armed forces’ role in undertaking these activities in support of civilian authorities. The INM, under the authority of the Interior Ministry, is responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants.

In December 2017 the president signed the Law on Internal Security to provide a more explicit legal framework for the role the military had been playing for many years in public security. The law authorized the president to deploy the military to assist states in policing at the request of civilian authorities. The law subordinated civilian law enforcement operations to military authority in some instances and allowed the president to extend deployments indefinitely in cases of “grave danger.” With some exceptions, the law required military institutions to transfer cases involving civilian victims, including in human rights cases, to civilian prosecutors to pursue in civilian courts. SEDENA, SEMAR, the Federal Police, and the PGR have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. At least 23 legal challenges were presented to the Supreme Court of Justice seeking a review of the law’s constitutionality, including one by the CNDH. On November 15, the Supreme Court ruled the Law on Internal Security was unconstitutional.

As of August 2017 the PGR was investigating 138 cases involving SEDENA or SEMAR officials suspected of abuse of authority, torture, homicide, and arbitrary detention. By existing law, military tribunals have no jurisdiction over cases with civilian victims, which are the exclusive jurisdiction of civilian courts.

Although civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem.

By law, civilian courts have jurisdiction in cases involving allegations of human rights violations against civilians committed by members of the military. Military authorities, however, can and do investigate such cases in parallel with civilian authorities, and can charge military suspects with crimes under military law in military courts.

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

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

The procedure known in Spanish as arraigo (a constitutionally permitted form of pretrial detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established) allows, with a judge’s approval, for certain suspects to be detained prior to filing formal charges.

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

In August the CNDH concluded an investigation that revealed eight persons, including five minors, had suffered violations at the hands of Federal Police in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, in 2013. The CNDH sent a recommendation to the National Security Commission concerning the investigation. According to the investigation, federal police agents entered a home without a warrant and arrested three persons. One adult was reportedly tortured.

Human rights NGOs and victims alleged numerous incidents between January and July in which Coahuila state police forces abused detainees in custody in the border city of Piedras Negras and surrounding areas. The state prosecutor general’s office was investigating the accusations.

On May 14, the CNDH withdrew without action more than 90 percent of the 2,972 complaints filed against SEDENA from 2012 to May.

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

In February, Yucatan state police detained three persons near Dzitas, on the grounds that their car had extremely dark tinted windows and the driver did not have a driver’s license. The victims alleged that later they were falsely charged with threatening the police officers and drug possession. The victims reported being blindfolded and tortured by electric shock to their hands and genitalia. One of the three was allegedly forcibly disappeared. Once he reappeared, the others withdrew their complaints.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. The new accusatory justice system allows for a variety of pretrial measures, including electronic monitoring, travel restrictions, and house arrest, that reduced the use of the prison system overall, including the use of pretrial detention. A 2018 World Prison Brief report showed that 39.4 percent of individuals detained were in pretrial detention, compared to 42.7 percent in 2005. The law provides time limits and conditions on pretrial detention, but federal authorities sometimes failed to comply with them, since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system. Violations of time limits on pretrial detention were endemic in state judicial systems.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Most newspapers, television, and radio stations were privately owned. The government had minimal presence in the ownership of news media but remained the main source of advertising revenue for many media organizations, which at times influenced coverage. Media monopolies, especially in small markets, could constrain freedom of expression.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were murdered or subject to physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation (especially by state agents and transnational criminal organizations) due to their reporting. This limited media’s ability to investigate and report, since many of the reporters who were killed covered crime, corruption, and local politics. According to the NGO Article 19, as of December 5, nine journalists had been killed because of their reporting.

Perpetrators of violence against journalists acted with impunity. According to Article 19, as of August the impunity rate for crimes against journalists was 99.7 percent. In 2017 there were 507 attacks against journalists, according to Article 19. Since its creation in 2010, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Journalists (FEADLE), a PGR unit, won only eight convictions, and none for murder, in the more than 2,000 cases it investigated. On August 25, FEADLE won its first conviction in the new justice system, obtaining a sentence against Tabasco state police officers for illegally detaining a journalist because of his reporting.

Government officials believed organized crime to be behind most of these attacks, but NGOs asserted there were instances when local government authorities participated in or condoned the acts. According to Article 19, in the last five years, 48 percent of physical attacks against journalists originated with public officials. Although 75 percent of those came from state or local officials, federal officials and members of the armed forces were also suspected of being behind attacks against journalists.

In April 2017 the government of Quintana Roo offered a public apology to journalist Pedro Canche, who was falsely accused by state authorities of sabotage and was detained for nine months in prison. In May the PGR detained a police officer, Tila Patricia Leon, and a former judge, Javier Ruiz, for undermining Canche’s freedom of expression through arbitrary detention in retaliation for his critical reporting about state government authorities.

There were no developments in the March 2017 killing of Miroslava Breach, a prominent newspaper correspondent.

In March, two police officers, Luigi Heriberto Bonilla Zavaleta and Jose Francisco Garcia, were sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of Moises Sanchez, a newspaper owner and journalist in Veracruz. Sanchez was kidnapped in 2015 and found dead three weeks after his disappearance. The local mayor, accused of ordering the murder, remained a fugitive.

In 2005 journalist Lydia Cacho wrote a book exposing a pedophile ring in Cancun. She was arrested in December 2005 and driven 20 hours to Puebla, during which time police threatened her and forced a gun down her throat. On August 8, a federal court in Quintana Roo upheld the October 2017 decision that found Puebla state police officer Jose Montano Quiroz guilty of torture. In the 2017 sentence, the judge recognized Cacho was tortured psychologically and physically and that the torture inflicted was in retaliation for her reporting.

Between 2012 and June 2018, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 301 requests for protection for journalists. According to Article 19, there had been 62 requests as of October.

On July 24, Playa Del Carmen-based journalist Ruben Pat became the third journalist killed while under protection of the mechanism. Pat had been arrested, threatened, and allegedly tortured by municipal police in Quintana Roo on June 25, according to the OHCHR. Pat was the second journalist killed from the Seminario Playa news outlet in one month. His colleague Jose Guadalupe Chan Dzib was killed on June 29.

A June joint report from IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza and UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression David Kaye stated journalists in Mexico lived in a “catastrophic” situation given the number of journalists killed since 2010. The report claimed vast regions of the country were “zones of silence” where exercising freedom of expression was dangerous. Observers noted that journalists were often required to publish messages at the behest of organized criminal groups.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Human rights groups reported some state and local governments censored the media.

Journalists reported altering their coverage due to a lack of protection from the government, attacks against members of the media and newsrooms, and threats or retributions against their families, among other reasons. There were reports of journalists practicing self-censorship due to threats from criminal groups and government officials, especially in the states of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

According to Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom of the Press report, the federal government and some state governments used advertising expenditures to influence the editorial policies of media outlets. Article 19 reported in March the government had a strong financial impact and influence on the largest media companies.

Libel/Slander Laws: There are no federal criminal laws against defamation, libel, or slander, but there are state criminal laws in eight states. In Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon, Baja California Sur, Nayarit, Michoacan, and Yucatan, the crime of defamation is prosecuted, with penalties ranging from three days to five years in prison, and fines ranging from five to five hundred days of minimum salary for committing defamation or slander, both considered “crimes against honor.” Slander is punishable under the criminal laws of the states of Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Nayarit, Zacatecas, Colima, Michoacan, Campeche, and Yucatan, with sentences ranging from three months to six years in prison, and monetary fines. Five states have laws that restrict the publishing of political caricatures or “memes.” These laws were seldom applied.

In May the Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Nayarit penalizing slander. The court ruled the law violated freedom of expression.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or block or filter online content. Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom on the Net report categorized the country’s internet as partly free, noting concerns about illegal surveillance practices in the country and violence against online reporters.

NGOs alleged provisions in secondary laws threatened the privacy of internet users by forcing telecommunication companies to retain data for two years, providing real-time geolocation data to police, and allowing authorities to obtain metadata from private communications companies without a court order. While the Supreme Court upheld those mechanisms, it noted the need for authorities to obtain a judicial warrant to access users’ metadata.

There were no developments in the criminal investigation the government stated in 2017 that it had opened to determine whether prominent journalists, human rights defenders, and anticorruption activists were subjected to illegal surveillance via a sophisticated surveillance program, “Pegasus.” PGR officials acknowledged purchasing Pegasus but claimed to have used it only to monitor criminals. In May a Mexico City district judge ordered the victims’ evidence be accepted in the PGR’s ongoing investigation. According to a November report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, 24 individuals were targeted with Pegasus spyware.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 64 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. There were some reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators. Twelve states have laws that restrict public demonstrations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

The government and press reports noted a marked increase in refugee and asylum applications during the year. According to UNHCR statistics, there were 9,900 asylum applications during the first half of the year, compared with a total of 14,596 applications in all of 2017.

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

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The press and NGOs reported victimization of migrants by criminal groups and in some cases by police, immigration officers, and customs officials. Government and civil society sources reported the Central American gang presence spread farther into the country and threatened migrants who had fled the same gangs in their home countries. An August 2017 report by the independent INM Citizens’ Council found incidents in which immigration agents had been known to threaten and abuse migrants to force them to accept voluntary deportation and discourage them from seeking asylum. The council team visited 17 detention centers across the country and reported threats, violence, and excessive force against undocumented migrants. The INM responded to these allegations by asserting it treated all migrants with “absolute respect.”

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

A November 2017 Amnesty International report highlighted the dangers Central American LGBTI migrants faced in Mexico. Citing UNHCR data, the report stated two-thirds of LGBTI migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who applied for refugee status reported having been victims of sexual violence in Mexico.

According to a July 2017 report from the NGO Washington Office on Latin America, of the 5,824 reported crimes against migrants that occurred in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Tabasco, Sonora, Coahuila, and at the federal level, 99 percent of the crimes were unresolved.

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The NGO Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) attributed the displacement of 10,947 people in 2018 to violence by government forces against civilians in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Sinaloa. Land conflicts, social and ethnic violence, local political disputes, religiously motivated violence, extractive industry operations, and natural disasters were other causes. The CMDPDH found 74 percent of displaced persons in 2017 came from the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Sinaloa. The government, in conjunction with international organizations, made efforts to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.

During an October 2017 border dispute between two municipalities in the state of Chiapas, 5,323 Tzotziles indigenous individuals were displaced. Violence between the communities resulted in women, children, and the elderly abandoning their homes. By January, 3,858 had returned, and the rest remained in shelters.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status and complementary protection, and the government has an established procedure for determining refugee status and providing protection to refugees. At the end of 2017, the Commission to Assist Refugees (COMAR) had received 14,596 petitions, of which 2,400 were abandoned, 7,719 were pending, and 4,475 were resolved. The number of applicants withdrawing from the process dropped to 16 percent during the year, down from 36 percent in 2014. The refusal rate decreased from 61 percent to 37 percent over that same period. NGOs reported bribes sometimes influenced the adjudication of asylum petitions and requests for transit visas.

The government worked with UNHCR to improve access to asylum and the asylum procedure, reception conditions for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers, and integration (access to school and work) for those approved for refugee and complementary protection status. In October, the government announced the “You Are at Home” (“Estas en tu casa”) program to address the flow of migrants in so-called caravans from Central America transiting the country to seek asylum in the United States. The program offered migrants the opportunity to stay legally in the country with access to health care, employment, and education for children. Press reports indicated that 546 migrants had registered for the program as of November 11.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The July 1 presidential, legislative, gubernatorial, and other local elections were considered by international observers to have been generally free and fair with only minor reports of irregularities. Local commentators pointed to the electoral authorities’ quick and transparent publishing of results as increasing citizen trust in the electoral and democratic system as a whole.

During the electoral season (September 2017 to June 28), 48 candidates were killed. In Guerrero 14 candidates were killed, followed by five in Puebla. Of the victims, 12 were members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, 10 belonged to the Party of the Democratic Revolution, seven to the National Regeneration Movement, six to the National Action Party, five to the Citizens’ Movement, two to the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico, one each to the Social Encounter Party and the Labor Party, and three of the victims did not have a party affiliation. As of July the killings resulted in just one arrest, and none resulted in convictions. In comparison with the 2012 elections, there were 10 times more killings of candidates in 2018.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. As of September women held 49 percent of 128 senate seats and 48 percent of 500 deputies’ seats. The law provides for the right of indigenous persons to elect representatives to local office according to “uses and customs” law (See “Indigenous Peoples”) rather than federal and state electoral law.

On September 8, the Chiapas Electoral and Citizen Participation Institute (IEPC) reported 36 women elected to political office in Chiapas resigned so that men could take their places. IEPC claimed the women were forced to give up their positions as part of a premeditated strategy to install men in office. The president of the National Electoral Institute, Lorenzo Cordova, stated the replacement of successful female candidates with men was “unacceptable in a democratic context” and that “it constitutes regression on the principle of gender parity and inclusion.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Although by law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution while holding public office, state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an official’s immunity. As of November, 17 of the 32 states followed this legal procedure to strip immunity.

By law all applicants for federal law enforcement jobs (and other sensitive positions) must pass an initial law enforcement vetting process and be recleared every two years. According to the Interior Ministry and the National Center of Certification and Accreditation, most active police officers at the national, state, and municipal levels underwent at least initial vetting. The press and NGOs reported that some police officers who failed vetting remained on duty.

The CNDH reported that some police officers, particularly at the state and local level, were involved in kidnapping, extortion, and providing protection for, or acting directly on behalf of, organized crime and drug traffickers.

In July 2017 the National Anticorruption System entered into force, but pending state legislation and lagging federal and state appointments prevented the system from being fully operational. The law gives autonomy to federal administrative courts to investigate and sanction administrative acts of corruption, establishes harsher penalties for government officials convicted of corruption, provides the Superior Audit Office with real-time auditing authority, and establishes an oversight commission with civil society participation. A key feature of the system is the creation of an independent anticorruption prosecutor and court. The Senate had yet to appoint the special prosecutor at year’s end.

Corruption: Authorities opened federal and state corruption investigations against former Veracruz governor Flavino Rios. In addition, former Quintana Roo governor Roberto Borge was extradited from Panama and detained pending trial on money-laundering charges. In October former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte agreed to a plea deal on charges of money laundering in one of the highest-profile recent corruption cases. As of November nearly 20 former governors had been sentenced, faced corruption charges, or were under formal investigation.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal and state-level appointed or elected officials to provide income and asset disclosure, statements of any potential conflicts of interests, and tax returns. The Ministry of Public Administration monitors disclosures with support from each agency. Regulations require disclosures at the beginning and end of employment, as well as annual updates. The law requires declarations be made publicly available unless an official petitions for a waiver to keep his or her file private. Criminal or administrative sanctions apply for abuses.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were mostly cooperative and responsive to their views, and the president or cabinet officials met with human rights organizations such as the OHCHR, IACHR, and CNDH. Some NGOs alleged that individuals who organized campaigns to discredit human rights defenders sometimes acted with tacit support from officials in government. Between 2012 and June 2018, the National Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists received 396 requests for protection of human rights defenders.

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

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

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Federal law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, and conviction carries penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is criminalized in 24 states.

The federal penal code prohibits domestic violence and stipulates penalties for conviction of between six months’ and four years’ imprisonment. Of the states, 29 stipulate similar penalties, although in practice sentences were often more lenient. Federal law does not criminalize spousal abuse. State and municipal laws addressing domestic violence largely failed to meet the required federal standards and often were unenforced.

Killing a woman because of the victim’s gender (femicide) is a federal offense punishable by 40 to 60 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense in all states. The PGR’s Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons is responsible for leading government programs to combat domestic violence and prosecuting federal human trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects. The office had 30 prosecutors in total, of whom nine were exclusively dedicated to federal cases of violence against women.

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

According to Interior Ministry statistics, in the first six months of the year prosecutors and attorneys general opened 387 investigations into 402 cases of femicide throughout the country. Statistics come from state-level reports that often conflate femicides with all killings of women. The states with the highest number of femicides in 2017 were Mexico, Veracruz, Nueva Leon, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Guerrero.

Sexual Harassment: Federal labor law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for fines from 250 to 5,000 times the minimum daily wage. Of the states, 16 criminalize sexual harassment, and all states have provisions for punishment when the perpetrator is in a position of power. According to the National Women’s Institute, the federal institution charged with directing national policy on equal opportunity for men and women, sexual harassment in the workplace was a significant problem.

On August 1, the Yucatan state congress approved a bill to criminalize the distribution of “revenge pornography” and “sextortion.” Individuals may be prosecuted if they publish or distribute intimate images, audio, videos, or texts without the consent of the other party. The sentence ranges from six months to four years in prison.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no confirmed reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. There were reports that public health doctors occasionally discouraged women from giving birth to HIV-infected babies.

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

Children

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

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

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

According to UNICEF, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca were the states with the highest rates of underage marriages.

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

Statutory rape is a federal crime. If an adult is convicted of having sexual relations with a minor, the penalty is between three months and 30 years’ imprisonment depending on the age of the victim. Conviction for selling, distributing, or promoting pornography to a minor stipulates a prison term of six months to five years. For involving minors in acts of sexual exhibitionism or the production, facilitation, reproduction, distribution, sale, and purchase of child pornography, the law mandates seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

Perpetrators convicted of promoting, publicizing, or facilitating sexual tourism involving minors face seven to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Conviction for sexual exploitation of a minor carries an eight- to 15-year prison sentence and a fine.

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

In April, Disability Rights International documented a case at the institution Hogares de la Caridad in Guadalajara, where a 17-year-old who suffered from autism and cerebral palsy was found taped in a blanket around the torso, allegedly to prevent self-harm.

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

Anti-Semitism

The 67,000-person Jewish community experienced low levels of anti-Semitism, but there were reports of some anti-Semitic expressions through social media. While an Anti-Defamation League report described an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes in the country from 24 percent of the population in 2014 to 35 percent of the population in 2017, Jewish community representatives reported low levels of anti-Semitic acts and good cooperation with the government and other religious and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law requires the Ministry of Health to promote the creation of long-term institutions for persons with disabilities in distress, and the Ministry of Social Development must establish specialized institutions to care for, protect, and house poor, neglected, or marginalized persons with disabilities. NGOs reported authorities had not implemented programs for community integration. NGOs reported no changes in the mental health system to create community services nor any efforts by authorities to have independent experts monitor human rights violations in psychiatric institutions. Public buildings and facilities often did not comply with the law requiring access for persons with disabilities. The education system provided special education for students with disabilities nationwide. Children with disabilities attended school at a lower rate than those without disabilities.

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

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

Indigenous People

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

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

In August, UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights Victoria Tauli published her report on Mexico, concluding that “current development policies, which are based on megaprojects (in mining, energy, tourism, real estate, and agriculture, among other areas) pose a major challenge to indigenous peoples’ enjoyment of human rights. Lack of self-determination and prior, free, informed, and culturally appropriate consultation are compounded by land conflicts, forced displacement, and the criminalization of and violence against indigenous peoples who defend their rights.”

On January 7, violent clashes involving gunmen, an indigenous community police force, and state police led to the death of 11 persons in Guerrero who had campaigned against a hydroelectric project in the region for more than a decade (see section 1.a.).

On February 12, three members of the Committee for the Defense of Indigenous Rights in Oaxaca were killed after participating in a meeting with government authorities, according to Oaxacan NGOs and press reports. On July 17, the organization’s regional coordinator, Abraham Hernandez Gonzalez, was kidnapped and killed by an armed group.

There were no developments in the April 2017 killing of Luis “Lucas” Gutierrez in the municipality of Madera, Chihuahua. He was an indigenous rights activist and a member of a civil society group called the Civil Resistance Group.

In 2017, 15 environmental activists were killed, compared with three in 2016, according to a Global Witness Report. A majority of the victims came from indigenous communities. Since 2016, six ecologists in the indigenous territory of Coloradas de la Virgen, Chihuahua were killed in fighting over logging. Mining was also a cause of violence.

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

The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

A Mexico City municipal law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Civil society groups claimed police routinely subjected LGBTI persons to mistreatment while in custody.

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

On May 17, the CNDH called for a halt of discrimination against LGBTI persons.

In November 2017 the NGO Transgender Europe documented 56 cases of reported killings of transgender individuals in the country. According to the OHCHR, in the first eight months of the year, there were 17 hate crime homicides in Veracruz, committed against nine transgender women and eight gay men.

On August 5, an 18-year-old man was beaten to death allegedly by a group of 10 taxi drivers who worked at a taxi stand outside a gay bar in San Luis Potosi. Local LGBTI human right defenders claimed the killing was a hate crime because the victim was attacked due to his sexual orientation; the president of the San Luis Potosi State Commission for Human Rights agreed. Advocates also argued negligence in investigating the case due to homophobia in police ranks. As of October no one had been arrested in connection with the killing.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The Catholic Multimedia Center reported criminal groups targeted priests and other religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion, death threats, and intimidation. As of October, the center reported seven priests killed. There were two attacks with explosives in the diocese of Matamoros, Tamaulipas–one in the Cathedral of Matamoros and another in the church of Our Lady of Refuge. No victims were reported in either attack.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, one in five citizens was a victim of discrimination in 2017. The reasons listed for discrimination included appearance, skin tone, indigenous background, gender, age, or disability. The survey found that in the last five years, nearly 20 million persons were denied medical services, government support, and financial services because of discrimination, According to the CNDH, only 10 percent reported this discrimination to an authority.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike in both the public and private sectors; however, conflicting law, regulations, and practice restricted these rights.

The law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive government recognition, unions must file for registration with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board (CAB) or the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. For the union to be able to function legally, its leadership must also register with the appropriate CAB or the ministry. CABs operated under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part due to the prevalence of representatives from “protection” unions on the boards. Protection unions and “protection contracts”–collective bargaining agreements signed by employers and these unions to circumvent meaningful negotiations and preclude labor disputes–were common in all sectors.

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

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

February 2017 labor justice revisions to the constitution replace the CABs with independent judicial bodies, which are intended to streamline the labor justice process, but require implementing legislation to reform federal labor law. Under the terms of the constitutional reform, CABs would continue to administer new and pending labor disputes until the judicial bodies are operational.

Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws were rarely applied and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

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

In September the Senate ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 98 on collective bargaining. By ratifying the convention, the government subjects itself to the convention’s oversight and reporting procedures. Ratification also contributes, according to the independent unions, to ensuring the institutions established as a result of the labor justice reform are, in law and practice, independent, transparent, objective, and impartial, with workers having recourse to the ILO’s oversight bodies to complain of any failure.

According to several NGOs and unions, many workers faced violence and intimidation around bargaining-rights elections perpetrated by protection union leaders and employers supporting them, as well as other workers, union leaders, and vigilantes hired by a company to enforce a preference for a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union. CABs were widely alleged to administer these elections with a bias against new, independent unions, resulting in delays and other procedural obstacles that impacted the results and undermined workers’ right to organize.

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

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. While penalties for conviction of forced labor violations range from five to 30 years’ imprisonment, very few cases reached the court system or were successfully prosecuted.

Forced labor persisted in the industrial and agricultural sectors, especially in the production of chili peppers and tomatoes, as well as in the informal sector. Women and children were subject to domestic servitude. Women, children, indigenous persons, and migrants (including men, women, and children) were the most vulnerable to forced labor. In July authorities rescued 50 agricultural workers on three commercial tomato farms in Coahuila. Authorities in Coahuila freed an additional 25 agricultural workers–including nine children–from a chili pepper and tomato farm in August. In both cases the forced labor victims reportedly lived in unsanitary conditions, worked excessive hours under the threat of dismissal, and received subminimum wage payments or no payment at all.

Day laborers and their children were the primary victims of forced and child labor in the agricultural sector. In 2016 INEGI reported 44 percent (2,437,150) of persons working in agriculture were day laborers. Of the day laborers, 33 percent received no financial compensation for their work. Only 3 percent of agricultural day laborers had a formal written contract, 4 percent had access to health services through their employment, and 7 percent received vacation days or Christmas bonuses–all benefits mandated by federal labor law.

Indigenous persons in isolated regions reported incidents of forced labor, in which cartel members forced them to perform illicit activities or face death. Minors were recruited or forced by cartels to traffic persons, drugs, or other goods across the border.

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

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

At the federal level, the Ministry of Social Development, PGR, and National System for Integral Family Development share responsibility for inspections to enforce child labor laws and to intervene in cases in which employers violated such laws. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for carrying out child labor inspections. Penalties for violations range from 16,780 pesos ($840) to 335,850 pesos ($16,800) but were not sufficiently enforced to deter violations.

According to a 2017 INEGI survey, the number of employed children ages five to 17 was 3.2 million, or approximately 11 percent of children in the country. This represented a decrease from 12.4 percent of children in the 2015 INEGI survey. Of these children, 2.1 million, or 7.1 percent of the population ages five to 17, were under the minimum age of work or worked under conditions that violated federal labor laws, such as performing hazardous work. Child labor was most common in the agricultural sector; children worked in the harvest of beans, chili peppers, coffee, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, onions, tobacco, and tomatoes, as well as in the production of illicit crops such as opium poppies. Other sectors with significant child labor included services, retail sales, manufacturing, and construction.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of “race, nationality, age, religion, sex, political opinion, social status, handicap (or challenged capacity), economic status, health, pregnancy, language, sexual preference, or marital status.” The government did not effectively enforce the law or regulations. According to a 2017 INEGI survey, 12 percent of Mexican women had been illegally asked to take a pregnancy test as a prerequisite to being hired. Job announcements specifying desired gender, marital status, and parental status were common.

INEGI reported in 2017 that 23 percent of working women experienced violence in the workplace within the past 12 months, and 6 percent experienced sexual violence.

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

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The general minimum wage was below the official poverty line. Most formal-sector workers received between one and three times the minimum wage. The tripartite National Minimum Wage Commission, whose labor representatives largely represented protection unions and their interests, is responsible for establishing minimum salaries but continued to block increases that kept pace with inflation.

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

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing labor laws and inspecting workplaces. Neither the number of labor inspections nor the penalties for violations of labor law were sufficient to secure compliance with labor law. For example, in June, seven workers disappeared at a mine in Chihuahua when a dam holding liquid waste collapsed. Through its DECLARALAB self-evaluation tool, the ministry provided technical assistance to almost 4,000 registered workplaces to help them meet occupational safety and health regulations.

According to labor rights NGOs, employers in all sectors sometimes used the illegal “hours bank” approach–requiring long hours when the workload is heavy and cutting hours when it is light–to avoid compensating workers for overtime. This was a common practice in the maquiladora sector, in which employers forced workers to take leave at low moments in the production cycle and obliged them to work in peak seasons, including the Christmas holiday period, without the corresponding triple pay mandated by law for voluntary overtime on national holidays. Additionally, many companies evaded taxes and social security payments by employing workers informally or by submitting falsified payroll records to the Mexican Social Security Institute. INEGI estimated 57 percent of the workforce was engaged in the informal economy during the year.

Observers from grassroots labor rights groups, international NGOs, and multi-national apparel brands reported that employers in export-oriented supply chains were increasingly using hiring methods that lessened job security. For example, manufacturers commonly hired workers on one- to three-month contracts, and then waited a period of days before rehiring them on another short-term contract, to avoid paying severance and to prevent workers from accruing seniority. This practice violates federal labor law and restricts worker’s rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Observers noted it also increased the likelihood of work-related illness and injury. Outsourcing practices made it difficult for workers to identify their legally registered employer, limiting their ability to seek redress of labor grievances.

Private recruitment agencies and individual recruiters violated the rights of temporary migrant workers recruited in the country to work abroad, primarily in the United States. Although the law requires these agencies to be registered, they often were unregistered. There were also reports that registered agencies defrauded workers with impunity. Some temporary migrant workers were regularly charged illegal recruitment fees. The Labor Ministry’s registry was outdated, inaccurate, and limited in scope. Although the government did not actively monitor or control the recruitment process, it reportedly was responsive in addressing complaints.

The situation of agricultural workers remained particularly precarious, with similar patterns of exploitation throughout the sector. Labor recruiters enticed families to work during harvests with verbal promises of decent wages and a good standard of living. Rather than pay them daily wages once a week, as mandated by law, day laborers had to meet certain harvest quotas to receive the promised wage. Wages may be illegally withheld until the end of the harvest to ensure the workers do not leave, and civil society organizations alleged workers were prohibited from leaving by threats of violence or by nonpayment of wages. Workers had to buy food and other items at the company store at high markups, at times leaving them with no money at the end of the harvest after settling debts. Civil society groups reported families living in inhuman conditions, with inadequate and cramped housing, no access to clean water or bathrooms, insufficient food, and without medical care. With no access to schools or childcare, many workers brought their children to work in the fields.

News reports indicated there were poor working conditions in some maquiladoras. These included low wages, contentious labor management, long work hours, unjustified dismissals, a lack of social security benefits, unsafe workplaces, and no freedom of association. Many women working in the industry reported suffering some form of abuse. Most maquiladoras hired employees through outsourcing with few social benefits.

INDEX, the association of more than 250 factories in Ciudad Juarez, signed an agreement in March to prevent and eradicate violence against women with the Chihuahua Institute of Women and the National Commission.

South Africa

Executive Summary

South Africa is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which constitutional power is shared among the executive, judiciary, and parliament branches. In December 2017 the ruling African National Congress (ANC) elected then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as party president. On February 14, then president of the country Jacob Zuma announced he would step down. Of February 15, the National Assembly elected Ramaphosa to replace Zuma. In 2014 the country held a largely free and fair national election in which the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; corruption; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

Although the government investigated and prosecuted officials who committed abuses, there were numerous reports of impunity.

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

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

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

Police use of lethal and excessive force, including torture, resulted in numerous deaths and injuries, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Amnesty International, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

In August, three police officers in KwaZulu-Natal Province were arrested for torturing three men who had been detained for questioning regarding a homicide. One of the three detained men died from injuries inflicted by the officers. At year’s end a task force was investigating the case.

According to the 2017-18 IPID annual report, 436 persons died in police custody or due to police action during the 12 months from April 2017 to April 2018, an 11-percent increase from the prior 12 months. IPID recommended prosecution in 112 of the instances.

A death resulting from police action was defined as a death that occurred while a police officer attempted to make an arrest, prevent an escape, or engage in self-defense; it also covered collisions involving one or more South African Police Service (SAPS) or municipal police vehicles as well as mass actions where police officers were present. IPID did not track deaths resulting from torture, which it classified as homicide. Watchdog groups noted deaths in custody often resulted from physical abuse combined with a lack of medical treatment or neglect (see section 1.c.).

Officials at the highest levels of government recognized the prevalence of political killings needed to be addressed. In May the president categorized KwaZulu-Natal’s political killings as a “matter of national concern,” called for the violence to cease, and ordered a high-level inquiry into the problem. Although interparty killings took place, media and NGOs claimed the vast majority were a result of intra-ANC disputes at the local level. Killings often occurred in the context of a competition for resources or positions, or whistleblowers targeted for uncovering corruption.

In September the Moerane Commission, which KwaZulu-Natal Province Premier Willies Mchunu established in 2016 to investigate political killings, published its report, which identified ANC infighting, readily available hitmen, weak leadership, and ineffective and complicit law enforcement agencies as key contributing factors to the high rate of killings. Despite government attention to the problem, political killings in the country, and specifically in KwaZulu-Natal Province, continued.

There were numerous reported killings similar to the following example. In May a prominent ANC activist and an Inkatha Freedom Party municipal councilor were shot and killed on the same day.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police and correctional officers moved nonviolent suspects under interrogation into cells with violent criminals. Police allegedly ignored activities in the cells as the violent criminals intimidated, beat, or raped suspects, after which police continued the interrogation. Police torture and physical abuse allegedly occurred during house searches, arrests, interrogations, and detentions, and sometimes resulted in death (see section 1.a.).

The United Nations reported that it received 16 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from South African units deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the year. The majority of cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships, involving 11 peacekeepers and 11 victims; transactional sex, involving three peacekeepers and three victims). Sexual abuse (sexual assault, rape) was alleged in two cases, one of which involved a minor. Most UN investigations were pending. One allegation was substantiated according to a UN investigation. The peacekeeper in question was repatriated. Interim action was taken in three other cases. Seven allegations were reported in 2017, of which six remained under investigation (and one was closed because the subject died) at year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to overcrowding, poor sanitation and medical care, disease, particularly tuberculosis, inmate-on-inmate rape, and physical abuse, including torture.

Physical Conditions: In 2016 the national commissioner for correctional services appealed to government security agencies to reduce overcrowding in the country’s correctional facilities. In 2017 the High Court ordered that the Pollsmoor detention facility’s inmate population be reduced to 150 percent of capacity within six months. Some prisoners believed they would be taken further away from their families where relatives would not be able to visit them due to unaffordable travel costs.

From April 1, 2017, through March 31, the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) received 231 complaints of assaults on prisoners by correctional officers. The Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) and a JICS-appointed Independent Correctional Center Visitor (ICCV) monitored prison conditions in each correctional center. Authorities recorded and verified monthly ICCV visits in official registers kept at all correctional centers. The visitors submitted monthly reports to the inspecting judge, listing the number and duration of visits, the number of inmates interviewed, and the number and nature of inmate complaints. There were reports of shortages of prison doctors, inadequate investigation and documentation of prisoner deaths, inadequate monitoring of the prison population, high suicide rates among prisoners, and a lack of financial independence for JICS. Some detainees awaiting trial contracted HIV/AIDS through rape. Media and NGOs also reported instances in which prisoners were tortured.

Corruption among prison staff remained a problem. For example, in April, two wardens were arrested allegedly for accepting bribes to help 16 inmates escape from a Johannesburg prison.

According to the 2017-18 Department of Correctional Services (DCS) annual report, the country’s correctional facilities held 160,583 prisoners in facilities designed to hold 118,723; the correctional system was 35 percent above capacity, up 3 percent from the previous year. Many prisoners had less than 13 square feet in which to eat, sleep, and spend 23 hours a day. To reduce overcrowding, the government transferred prisoners to facilities that were below capacity.

NGOs such as the Aurum Institute, Society for Family Health, and South Africa Partners provided correctional centers with HIV testing and antiretroviral therapy. According to the DCS 2017-18 annual report, 26,442 inmates were placed on antiretroviral treatment.

General health care in prisons was inadequate; 7,574 inmates filed health-care complaints. Prisons provided inmates with potable water, but supplies and food were occasionally inadequate, and sanitation was inadequate, according to JICS.

The 2017-18 DCS annual report noted prisons held 3,432 youths (individuals under age 25). Prisons sometimes held youths alongside adults, particularly in pretrial detention. Prisons generally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although in some large urban areas dedicated pretrial facilities were available.

According to JICS, there were 569 prison deaths from April 1, 2017, through March 31, a 55-percent decrease from the prior 12 months. Natural causes accounted for 487 deaths, a 5-percent decline from the prior 12 months. The JICS report drew a correlation between deaths from natural causes and overcrowding, noting that less crowded conditions would likely result in a decrease of natural deaths. Inmate violence sometimes resulted in deaths.

JICS was the primary monitoring group for prisons but was not autonomous since the DCS controlled its budget. According to JICS, from April 1, 2017, through March 31, ICCVs collectively handled 119,836 cases, a 74-percent decrease from the prior 12 months. NGOs claimed the failure of the DCS to follow up on ICCV recommendations hindered the program’s effectiveness. They also claimed many ICCVs lacked independence in their oversight or reporting of abuses.

Local NGO Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) criticized conditions at the Lindela Repatriation Center, the country’s largest immigrant detention facility. According to LHR, detainees were subject to physical and verbal abuse, corruption and demands for bribes, insufficient food, lack of reading and writing materials, lack of access to recreational facilities or telephones, lack of access to and poor quality of medical care, indefinite detention without judicial review, and lack of procedural safeguards such as legal guidelines governing long-term detention.

The DCS required doctors to complete and sign reports of inmate deaths to lessen the likelihood that a death caused by neglect would be reported as natural. Nevertheless, the DCS failed to investigate many deaths due to an insufficient number of doctors.

Prisons provided detainees in cells with felt mattresses and blankets. Most cells had toilets and basins but often lacked chairs, adequate light, and ventilation. Food, sanitation, and medical care in detention centers were similar to those in prisons.

Prisoners with mental illness sometimes failed to receive psychiatric care.

Administration: Authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. JICS recommended the DCS have an ombudsman to address juvenile confinement and improve procedures to make confinement unnecessary, but the DCS had not implemented the change by year’s end.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions, including visits by human rights organizations, which were required to apply for permission to gain access. Organizations’ requests for permission to visit prisons to conduct specific research were sometimes granted.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. Unlike in prior years, the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

SAPS has primary responsibility for internal security. The police commissioner has operational authority over police. The president appoints the police commissioner, but the minister of police supervises the commissioner. The South African National Defense Force, under the civilian-led Department of Defense, is responsible for external security but also has domestic security responsibilities, such as patrolling the borders. Border Control Operational Coordinating Committees–composed of SAPS, Department of Home Affairs (DHA), defense force, South African Revenue Service, Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Department of Transportation, Department of Trade and Industry, State Security Agency, and Department of Environmental Affairs representatives–are charged with overall migration and border enforcement. A committee representative is present at all land, air, and sea ports of entry to facilitate an interagency approach to border enforcement and migration management. The departments each have a representative at major border crossings; regional representatives covered lesser border crossings. The SAPS Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the “Hawks”) coordinates efforts against organized crime, priority crimes, and official corruption. Despite efforts to professionalize, SAPS remained understaffed, ill equipped, and poorly trained. Corruption continued to be a problem (see section 4).

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The government investigated and prosecuted security force members who committed abuses, although there were numerous reports of police impunity, including of high-ranking members. IPID investigates complaints and makes recommendations to SAPS and to the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) on which cases to prosecute. IPID examines all SAPS killings and evaluates whether they occurred in the line of duty and if they were justifiable. IPID also investigates cases of police abuse, although it was unable to fulfill its mandate due to inadequate cooperation by police, lack of investigative capacity, and other factors. When it did complete investigations, the NPA often declined to prosecute cases involving criminal actions by police and rarely obtained convictions. In cases in which IPID recommended disciplinary action, SAPS often failed to follow IPID disciplinary recommendations.

The law provides IPID with additional enforcement powers and requires SAPS and metropolitan police departments to report any suspected legal violations by their own officers to IPID. The law criminalizes the failure to report wrongdoing; from April 2017 to April 2018 IPID recorded 69 cases in which SAPS or metropolitan police departments failed to report wrongdoing to IPID.

Security forces failed to prevent or adequately respond to societal violence, particularly in response to attacks on foreign nationals (see sections 2.d. and 6).

Some SAPS and metropolitan police department officers received training in ethics, human rights, corruption, sexual offenses, domestic violence, gender violence, and violence against LGBTI persons. SAPS also provided officers with access to social workers, psychologists, and chaplains. SAPS investigations of gender-based violence (GBV) crimes and crimes against LGBTI individuals were often insufficient.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that a judge or magistrate issue arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence. Police must promptly inform detainees of the reasons for their detention, their right to remain silent, and the consequences of waiving that right. Police must charge detainees within 48 hours of arrest, hold them in conditions respecting human dignity, allow them to consult with legal counsel of their choice at every stage of their detention (or provide them with state-funded legal counsel), and permit them to communicate with relatives, medical practitioners, and religious counselors. The government often did not respect these rights. Police must release detainees (with or without bail) unless the interests of justice require otherwise, although bail for pretrial detainees often exceeded what suspects could pay.

Human rights groups, judges, and judicial scholars expressed concern regarding the Criminal Procedure Second Amendment Act, which allows pretrial detention of children and prohibits bail in certain cases. Some judges also expressed concern that police and the courts often construed the exercise of the right to remain silent as an admission of guilt.

Arbitrary Arrest: During the year there were numerous cases of arbitrary arrest, particularly of foreign workers, asylum seekers, and refugees. For example, in May, Department of Home Affairs officers detained 25 irregular migrants during raids at China City and Canal Walk in Cape Town. Human rights activists condemned the arrests and complained that some of the individuals were undocumented because the Department of Home Affairs failed to reopen a refugee center in Cape Town, despite a court order.

Legal aid organizations reported police frequently arrested persons for minor crimes for which the law stipulates the use of a legal summons. Arrests for offenses such as common assault, failure to provide proof of identity, or petty theft sometimes resulted in the unlawful imprisonment of ordinary citizens alongside hardened criminals, which created opportunities for physical abuse.

NGOs and media outlets reported security forces arbitrarily arrested migrants and asylum seekers–even those with documentation–often because police were unfamiliar with asylum documentation. In some cases police threatened documented migrants and asylum seekers with indefinite detention and bureaucratic hurdles unless they paid bribes to obtain quick adjudication of their cases. The law prohibits the detention of unaccompanied migrant children for immigration law violations, but NGOs reported that the DHA and SAPS nevertheless detained them.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common. According to the DCS 2017-18 annual report, there were 46,142 pretrial detainees in the prison system–equal to 29 percent of the inmate population. According to the DCS, detainees waited an average of 176 days before trial. Observers attributed the high rate of pretrial detention to arrests based on insufficient evidence, overburdened courts, poor case preparation, irregular access to public defenders, and prohibitive bail amounts. Police often held detainees while prosecutors developed cases and waited for court dates. Legal scholars estimated less than 60 percent of those arrested were convicted. The law requires a review of pretrial detention once it exceeds two years.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. These rights, however, do not apply to undocumented residents in the country.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. The judiciary, however, was understaffed and underfunded. There were numerous reports that legal documents used in trials were lost, particularly when the accused was a government official. NGOs stated judicial corruption was a problem, although there were no proven cases of corruption during the year. According to the presidentially mandated Criminal Justice System Working Group (composed of ministers and deputy ministers), two-thirds of the estimated two million criminal cases reported annually never resulted in verdicts.

Government agencies sometimes ignored orders from provincial high courts and the Constitutional Court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence; to be informed promptly of the charges; a fair, timely, and public trial; to be present at their trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice; to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; free assistance of an interpreter; to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Police did not always inform detainees promptly and in detail of the charges against them, nor did they always accurately complete corresponding paperwork. Provision of free assistance of an interpreter depended on the availability and cost of interpreters. Interpretation standards were low and sometimes compromised the veracity of exchange between the defendant and the court. Judges sometimes transferred cases from rural to urban areas to access interpreters more easily. Limited access to qualified interpreters sometimes delayed trials. Judges and magistrates hear criminal cases and determine guilt or innocence.

Detainees and defendants have the right to legal counsel provided and funded by the state when “substantial injustice would otherwise result,” but this right was limited due to a general lack of information regarding rights to legal representation and the government’s inability to adequately budget for such services. There is no automatic right to appeal unless the accused is younger than age 16, but courts may give defendants permission to do so. Additionally, the law requires a judge to review automatically all prison sentences longer than three months.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The opposition Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) maintained the government had imprisoned 384 of its members since 1994 for political reasons, although international human rights organizations did not list these persons as political prisoners or detainees. In 2010 then president Zuma announced he approved 154 and rejected 230 IFP applications for pardon. Following his announcement, the government considered and rejected an additional six cases. The presidency considered the remaining pardon requests on a case-by-case basis.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through the South African Human Rights Commission, but the government did not always comply with court decisions. Individuals and organizations may not appeal domestic court decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, because the government has not recognized the competence of the court.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports that the government failed to respect this prohibition. The “Right 2 Know” (R2K) campaign reported that government surveillance targeted whistleblowers, activists, and journalists who uncovered corruption, including “state capture,” a World Bank term often used to describe systemic political corruption, in which private interests influence the state’s decision-making process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, a generally effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. Nevertheless, several apartheid-era laws and the Law on Antiterrorism permit authorities to restrict reporting on the security forces, prisons, and mental institutions.

In a March court judgment, Vicki Momberg was convicted of “crimen injuria” (unlawfully, intentionally, and seriously injuring the dignity of another person) for repeatedly addressing black police officers with a racial slur. She was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment without parole. Many human rights groups applauded the ruling–the first of its kind–but the Afrikaner rights group AfriForum called it a case of “double standards… a white person who insults a black person goes to prison, while a senior officer in the defense force who says that white people’s eyes and tongues must be stabbed out is simply asked nicely not to repeat it.”

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

According to the South African Advertising Research Foundation, print media reached 49 percent of the adult population. Despite the number and diversity of publications, the concentration of media ownership in a few large media groups drew criticism from the government and some political parties, which complained print media did not always adequately cover their points of view.

The state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) was criticized for violating its stated editorial independence in favor of progovernment reporting (see section 4, elections, and political participation). In January former independent television station (eNCA) presenter and journalist Chris Maroleng was hired as the SABC’s chief operating officer, and stated he was committed to promoting fair, balanced, and impartial coverage, to limit political interference, and to regain public trust in the SABC.

Nonprofit community radio stations played an important role in informing the mostly rural public, although these stations often had difficulty producing adequate content and maintaining quality staff. Community activists complained some community radio stations self-censored their programming because they were dependent on government advertising for revenue. Government broadcast regulators withdrew community radio licenses on a regular basis for noncompliance with the terms of issuance.

Talk radio broadcast in the country’s 11 official languages played a significant role in public debate, providing a forum for discussion by government officials, politicians, commentators, and average citizens.

Many in the public credited media with exposing corruption in former president Zuma’s administration and with his eventual resignation. For example, the online Daily Maverick’s investigative unit “amaBhungane and Scorpio” ran a series of stories exposing details regarding state capture by the politically connected Gupta family and the family’s level of influence on government officials and institutions.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists covering the ANC’s national elective conference reported security officers manhandled them to prevent their access to delegates. SABC journalists covering protests in North West Province reported being attacked and robbed by protesters. SABC journalists reported that soccer fans in Durban destroyed some of their media equipment. These incidents did not appear to be orchestrated attacks on media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political officials often criticized media for lack of professionalism and reacted sharply to media criticism, frequently accusing black journalists of disloyalty and white journalists of racism. Some journalists believed the government’s sensitivity to criticism resulted in increased media self-censorship.

Jacques Pauw, an investigative journalist and author of an expose of corruption in former president Zuma’s administration, was investigated by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation for allegedly using secret government documents as material for his book. The South African Revenue Service also filed charges against Pauw for violating confidentiality laws. Human rights activists charged that Pauw was targeted for exposing the corruption.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes state monitoring of telecommunication systems, however, including the internet and email, for national security reasons. The law requires all service providers to register on secure databases the identities, physical addresses, and telephone numbers of customers.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 56.2 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. According to SAPS, from April 2017 through March there were 11,058 peaceful protests and an additional 3,583 demonstrations that turned violent. Protest action was most common in Gauteng, North West, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, and the government generally respected this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The ruling ANC’s elective conference in December 2017 elected then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the ANC. On February 14, Jacob Zuma stepped down as the country’s president, and on February 15, the National Assembly elected Ramaphosa to replace him. In 2016 the country held municipal elections to elect councils for all district, metropolitan, and local municipalities in each of the nine provinces. The ANC won 54 percent of the vote, the leading opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party 27 percent, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 8 percent. According to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, voter turnout was 58 percent, the highest local election turnout since the end of apartheid. The institute stated the elections were transparent, fair, credible, and in line with the constitutional and legal framework for elections.

Nevertheless, violent protests occurred prior to the election in Pretoria after some ANC members rejected the party’s choice of mayoral candidate. Protests marked by intermittent violence and looting lasted for three days. Five persons died and approximately 200 were arrested and charged with public violence, possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition, possession of stolen property, and malicious damage to property.

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, which were the most recent national elections, the ruling ANC won 62 percent of the vote and 249 of 400 seats in the National Assembly, the dominant lower chamber of parliament. Election observers, including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, characterized the election as generally free and fair. The government, however, for the first time restricted diplomatic election observers to chiefs of mission only, effectively prohibiting diplomatic missions from observing elections. Following the general election, parliament re-elected Jacob Zuma as the country’s president. The DA won 89 parliamentary seats, the EFF won 25, and the IFP won 10. The remaining 27 seats in parliament were allocated to nine other political parties based on a proportional vote-count formula. In the National Council of Provinces, the upper house of parliament, the ANC held 33 seats, the DA 13 seats, and the EFF six seats. The remaining two seats were allocated to two other parties.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Opposition parties accused the SABC, the state-owned public broadcaster, of favoring the ruling party in its news coverage and advertising policies. Prior to the municipal elections, smaller political parties criticized the SABC for not covering their events. SABC regulations, however, dictate coverage should be proportional to the percentage of votes won in the previous election, and independent observers did not find the SABC violated this regulation.

Opposition parties claimed the ANC and the DA used state resources for political purposes in the provinces under their control. Prior to the municipal and national elections, the ANC reportedly handed out government food parcels to potential voters at political rallies, tied social grants to voting for the ANC, began (but did not complete) infrastructure projects, and created temporary government jobs for ANC voters during the election period. Through a cadre deployment system, the ruling party controls and appoints party members to thousands of civil service positions in government ministries and in provincial and municipal governments. During the year the ANC requested political contributions from some civil servants. One NGO reported that ANC members told residents of a community in rural Eastern Cape that if they did not vote for the ANC, the local government would withhold the distribution of free solar panels it was directed to provide to them.

There were reports government officials publicly threatened to boycott private businesses that criticized government policy.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. There were an estimated 93 minority (nonblack) members in the 400-seat National Assembly. There were 14 minority members among the 54 permanent members of the National Council of Provinces and nine minority members in the 72-member cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, and the government continued efforts to curb corruption, but officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: During the year the Office of the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated body designed to investigate government abuse and mismanagement, investigated thousands of cases, some of which involved high-level officials. The public and NGOs considered the Office of the Public Protector independent and effective, despite limited funding. According to the NPA’s 2017-2018 Annual Report, it recovered 410,000 rand ($31,700) from government officials involved in corruption, a 92-percent decrease from the previous year. Courts convicted 213 government officials of corruption.

The Constitutional Court ruled in August that former president Jacob Zuma’s appointment of Shaun Abrahams as head of the NPA was invalid and ordered President Ramaphosa to replace Abrahams within 90 days. The court also ordered former NPA head Mxolisi Nxasana to repay a “golden handshake” (an illegal departure bonus) of 10.2 million rand ($788,000) he received when Zuma replaced him with Abrahams in 2015. Most political parties and civil society organizations celebrated the court’s ruling and acknowledged the challenges facing the NPA. In September 2017 Zuma’s lawyers conceded in an appeals court that the NPA’s dropping of 783 corruption charges against the president in 2009 was irrational. In October 2017 the Supreme Court of Appeal reinstated the charges, opening the door for future prosecution of Zuma.

In August the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture began an investigation of public-sector corruption and fraud. Popularly known as the “Zondo Commission” because it was led by Constitutional Court Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the commission was formed to investigate concerns raised by the former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her 2016 “state of capture” report. Numerous former senior officials had already testified before the commission; a number of them directly implicated former president Jacob Zuma in corruption cases.

Corruption remained a problem in prisons. At least 10 agencies, including the SAPS Special Investigation Unit, Public Service Commission, Office of the Public Prosecutor, and Office of the Auditor General, were involved in anticorruption activities.

In August, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane called on SAPS to improve its protection of whistleblowers after Thabiso Zulu and Les Stuta claimed former ANC youth league secretary general Sindiso Magaqa was killed because he wanted to expose corruption in the multimillion-rand renovation of the uMzimkhulu memorial hall on KwaZulu-Natal Province’s south coast. Mkhwebane accused the police minister of gross negligence and of exposing whistleblowers to possible retaliatory killings.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials, including members of national and provincial legislatures, all cabinet members, deputy ministers, provincial premiers, and members of provincial executive councils, are subject to financial disclosure laws and regulations, but some failed to comply, and departments filed the majority of their reports late. The declaration regime clearly identifies which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare. Government officials are required to declare publicly their financial interests when they enter office, and there are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance, but no defined unit is mandated to monitor and verify disclosures of government officials. The government made public declarations by government officials but not those of their spouses or children. Public service regulations prohibit employees of departments from doing business with the state, a prohibition not always respected. Annual disclosure of financial interests may be done electronically through the eDisclosure system to simplify the process of disclosure of financial interests.

The auditor general’s 2016-17 report noted cases of public servants who had private or business interest in contracts awarded by the National Department of Health and the National Department of Education who failed to disclose such interests. Audits revealed that officials of 31 departments and state-owned enterprises failed to declare their interests in awards totaling 54 million rand ($4.2 million) either as part of the procurement processes or through annual declarations. Another 44 officials failed to declare family members’ interests in awards totaling 274 million rand ($21.2 million). These findings were most common in national government (27 instances) and the North West Province (nine instances) entities.

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.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Although created by the government, the South African Human Rights Commission operated independently and was responsible for promoting the observance of fundamental human rights at all levels of government and throughout the general population. The commission also has the authority to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas, and take sworn testimony. Due to a large backlog of cases, the failure of government agencies to adhere to its recommendations and fund it adequately, the commission was considered only moderately effective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal and remained a serious and pervasive problem. The minimum sentence for conviction of rape is 10 years in prison for the first offense. Under certain circumstances, such as second or third offenses, multiple rapes, gang rapes, or the rape of a minor or a person with disabilities, conviction requires a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence. Perpetrators with previous rape convictions and perpetrators aware of being HIV positive at the time of the rape also face a minimum sentence of life imprisonment, unless substantial and compelling circumstances exist to justify a lesser sentence.

In most cases attackers were acquaintances or family members of the victim, which contributed to a reluctance to press charges, as did a poor security climate and societal attitudes. In June, Khensani Maseko, a Rhodes University student, committed suicide after being raped by her boyfriend. In response the Department of Higher Education drafted a policy that requires institutions to expand support for victims of sexual violence and that perpetrators be prosecuted. From April 2017 through March, 40,525 cases of rape were reported. According to the 2017-2018 NPA Annual Report, the conviction rate for sexual offense crimes was 73 percent based on a sample of 6,879 cases that were “finalized” or investigated first as rape cases before being passed to the NPA and tried. A Medical Research Council study on the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of reported rape cases concluded that only 18.5 percent of cases reported went to trial and only 8.6 percent of cases resulted in a verdict of guilty. Prosecutors chose not to prosecute many cases due to insufficient evidence. Poor police training, insufficient forensic lab capacity, a lack of trauma counseling for victim witnesses, and overburdened courts contributed to the low conviction rate.

The Department of Justice operated 58 dedicated sexual-offenses courts throughout the country. Although judges in rape cases generally followed statutory sentencing guidelines, women’s advocacy groups criticized judges for using criteria such as the victim’s behavior or relationship to the rapist as a basis for imposing lighter sentences.

The NPA operated 55 rape management centers, or TCCs (Thuthuzela Care Centers). All TCCs were located at hospitals. Of rape cases brought to TCCs, 47 percent went to trial and were terminated–by either conviction or acquittal–within nine months from the date a victim reported the case.

Domestic violence was pervasive and included physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as harassment and stalking. The government prosecuted domestic violence cases under laws governing rape, indecent assault, damage to property, and violating a protection order. The law requires police to protect victims from domestic violence, but police commanders did not always hold officers accountable. Conviction of violating a protection order is punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years, or up to 20 years if additional criminal charges apply. Penalties for conviction of domestic violence include fines and sentences of between two and five years’ imprisonment.

The government financed shelters for abused women, but NGOs reported a shortage of such facilities, particularly in rural areas, and that women were sometimes turned away from shelters. The government conducted rape and domestic violence awareness campaigns, including a first-of-its-kind GBV summit. In August the government hosted numerous events focused on empowering women in business, government, health, sports, and the arts; however, many civil society organizations were critical of the Ministry of Women’s general focus on women’s economic empowerment while neglecting the issue of GBV.

On August 1, women across the country participated in #TotalShutdown, a one-day protest against violence against women. According to SAPS, the number of incidents of violence against women and children drastically increased nationwide during the year. In November, SAPS arrested two suspects in connection with the killing of three women and four children from one family in Vlakfontein (south of Johannesburg).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of girls and women, but girls in isolated zones in ethnic Venda communities in Limpopo Province were subjected to the practice. The government continued initiatives to eradicate the practice, including national research and sensitization workshops in areas where FGM/C was prevalent. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Harassment: Although the law prohibits sexual harassment, it remained a widespread problem. With criminal prosecution a rare secondary step that the complainant must request, the government left enforcement primarily to employers. The Department of Labor issued guidelines to employers on how to handle workplace complaints that allow for remuneration of a victim’s lost compensation plus interest, additional damages, legal fees, and dismissal of the perpetrator in some circumstances.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of forced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Discrimination against women remained a serious problem despite legal equality in family, labor, property, inheritance, nationality, divorce, and child custody matters. Women experienced economic discrimination in wages, extension of credit, and ownership of land.

Traditional patrilineal authorities, such as a chief or a council of elders, administered many rural areas. Some traditional authorities refused to grant land tenure to women, a precondition for access to housing subsidies. Women could challenge traditional land tenure decisions in courts, but access to legal counsel was costly.

According to the Employment Equity Amendment Act, any difference in the terms or conditions of employment among employees of the same employer performing the same, substantially similar, or equal value work constitutes discrimination. The act expressly prohibits unequal pay for work of equal value and discriminatory practices, including unequal pay and separate pension funds for different groups in a company.

The minister of women in the Presidency, the Commission for Gender Equality, the Commission for Employment Equity, and a number of other government bodies monitored and promoted women’s rights, as did numerous NGOs and labor unions.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for citizenship by birth (if at least one parent is a permanent resident or citizen), descent, and naturalization. Nevertheless, registration of births was inconsistent, especially in remote rural areas or among parents who were unregistered foreign nationals. Children without birth registration had no access to free government services such as education or health care, and their parents had no access to financial grants for their children. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Public education is compulsory and universal until age 15 or grade nine. Public education is fee-based and not fully subsidized by the government. Nevertheless, the law provides that schools may not refuse admission to children due to a lack of funds; disadvantaged children, who were mainly black, were eligible for assistance. Even when children qualified for fee exemptions, low-income parents had difficulty paying for uniforms and supplies. In violation of law, noncitizen children were sometimes denied access to education.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The penalties for conviction of child abuse include fines and up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Violence against children, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, remained widespread.

Some teachers and other school staff harassed, abused, raped, and assaulted students in schools, according to reports. The law requires schools to disclose sexual abuse to authorities, but administrators sometimes concealed sexual violence or delayed disciplinary action.

In April a Hermanus (Western Cape) schoolteacher was tried for the rape and kidnapping at gunpoint of a female pupil. The trial continued at year’s end.

Early and Forced Marriage: By law parental or judicial consent to marry is required for individuals younger than 18. Nevertheless, ukuthwala, the practice of abducting girls as young as age 12 and forcing them into marriage, occurred in remote villages in Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. The law prohibits nonconsensual ukuthwala and classifies it as a trafficking offense. According to the 2016 State of the World’s Children Report of the UN Children’s Fund, 6 percent of girls in the country were married before age 18. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Penalties for conviction of sexual exploitation of a child include fines and imprisonment of up to 20 years. By law the age of consent is 16. The statutory sentence for conviction of rape of a child is life in prison, although the law grants judicial discretion to issue sentences that are more lenient.

The law prohibits child pornography and provides for penalties including fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years. The Film and Publications Board maintained a website and a toll-free hotline for the public to report incidents of child pornography.

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

Anti-Semitism

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies estimated the Jewish community at 75,000 to 80,000 persons. There were reports of verbal abuse, hate speech, harassment, and attacks on Jewish persons or property. Government and political representatives made anti-Semitic statements.

Twin brothers Brandon Lee Thulsie and Tony Lee Thulsie, arrested in 2016 for allegedly planning to set off explosives at Jewish establishments, continued to await trial at year’s end. They were charged with contravening the Protection of Constitutional Democracy Against Terror and Related Activities law and with having ties to a foreign terrorist organization.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disability in employment or access to health care, the judicial system, and education. Persons identified by the courts as having a mental disability, however, are prohibited by law from voting. Department of Transportation policies on providing services to persons with disabilities were consistent with the constitution’s prohibition on discrimination. The Department of Labor ran vocational centers at which persons with disabilities learned skills to earn a living. Nevertheless, government and private-sector discrimination existed. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, but such regulations were rarely enforced, and public awareness of them remained minimal.

According to the 2017-2018 Annual Report of the Department of Basic Education, there were numerous barriers to education for students with disabilities, primarily a policy of channeling students into specialized schools at the expense of inclusive education. Separate schools frequently charged additional fees (making them financially inaccessible), were located long distances from students’ homes, and lacked the capacity to accommodate demand. Children often were housed in dormitories with few adults, many of whom had little or no training in caring for children with disabilities. When parents attempted to force mainstream schools to accept their children with disabilities–an option provided for by law–schools sometimes rejected the students outright because of their disabilities or claimed there was no room. Many blind and deaf children in mainstream schools received only basic care rather than education.

The law prohibits harassment of persons with disabilities and, in conjunction with the Employment Equity Act, provides guidelines on the recruitment and selection of persons with disabilities, reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities, and guidelines on proper handling of employees’ medical information. Enforcement of this law was limited.

Persons with disabilities were sometimes subject to abuse and attacks, and prisoners with mental disabilities often received no psychiatric care. According to the 2016 Optimus Study, children with disabilities were 78 percent more likely than children without disabilities to have experienced sexual abuse in the home. According to media reports, in June a mute 11-year-old boy was raped at the Golden Hours Special Needs School in Durban North.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Incidents of racism continued. In March, Vicki Momberg was convicted of crimen injuria (see section 2.a.) for repeatedly addressing black police officers with a racial slur and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment without parole. She was recorded on video using the “K-word” 48 times at the officers who were trying to assist her after she was a victim of a theft in Johannesburg. Momberg’s conviction was the first under the 2000 Promotion of Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.

Some advocacy groups asserted that white farmers were targeted for burglaries, home invasions, and killing because of their race. Some analysts attributed the incidents to the country’s high and growing crime rate. According to the Institute for Security Studies, “farm attacks and farm murders have increased in recent years in line with the general upward trend in South Africa’s serious and violent crimes.” A report by the NGO AgriSA stated that killings on farms during the year were at their lowest level in the past 19 years. According to SAPS 2017/2018 crime statistics, farm killings represented only 0.3 percent of all killings in the country (62 of 20,336).

Xenophobic attacks on foreign African migrants and ethnic minorities occurred and sometimes resulted in death, injury, and displacement. Incidents of xenophobic violence generally were concentrated in areas characterized by poverty and lack of services. Citizens blamed immigrants for increased crime and the loss of jobs and housing. According to researchers from the African Center for Migration and Society, perpetrators of crimes against foreign nationals enjoyed relative impunity. In August, Soweto and other Johannesburg-area townships saw a spate of looting and violence targeted against small foreign-owned convenience shops. SAPS confirmed that four residents died and at least 27 were arrested on charges of murder, possession of firearms, and public disorder in connection with the violence. At year’s end their trial date had yet to be set.

Local community or political leaders who sought to gain notoriety in their communities allegedly instigated some attacks. The government sometimes responded quickly and decisively to xenophobic incidents, sending police and soldiers into affected communities to quell violence and restore order, but responses were often slow and inadequate. Since 2013 the government significantly reduced the number of assaults and deaths by evacuating foreign nationals from communities affected by xenophobic violence, although little was done to protect their property. Civil society organizations criticized the government for failing to address the causes of violence, for not facilitating opportunities for conflict resolution in affected communities, for failing to protect the property or livelihoods of foreign nationals, and for failing to deter such attacks by vigorous investigation and prosecution of perpetrators.

Indigenous People

The NGO Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa estimated there were 7,500 indigenous San and Khoi in the country, some of whom worked as farmers or farm laborers. By law the San and Khoi have the same political and economic rights as other citizens, although the government did not always effectively protect those rights or deliver basic services to indigenous communities. Indigenous groups complained of exclusion from land restitution, housing, and affirmative action programs. They also demanded formal recognition as “first peoples” in the constitution. Their lack of recognition as “first peoples” excluded them from inclusion in government-recognized structures for traditional leaders. Their participation in government and the economy was limited due to fewer opportunities, lack of land or other resources, minimal access to education, and relative isolation.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care.

Despite government policies prohibiting discrimination, there were reports of official mistreatment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Security force members, for example, reportedly raped LGBTI individuals during arrest. A 2018 University of Cape Town report underscored violence and discrimination, particularly against lesbians and transgender individuals. The report documented cases of “secondary victimization” of lesbians, including cases in which police harassed, ridiculed, and assaulted victims of sexual violence and GBV who reported abuse. LGBTI individuals were particularly vulnerable to violent crime due to anti-LGBTI attitudes within the community and among police. Anti-LGBTI attitudes among junior members of SAPS affected how they handled complaints by LGBTI individuals.

The multisector network of civil society organizations Hate Crimes Working Group analyzed 945 cases of hate crimes from across five provinces and found that 17 percent of victims were targeted due to their sexual orientation. According to the NGO, approximately 66 percent of hate crimes were not reported to police. Of those reported there were numerous abuses similar to the following example. In February media reported that during the annual gathering in Tongaat of pastors of the Shembe Nazareth Church, 50 male parishioners were beaten for being gay.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV and HIV-related social stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education and health care remained a problem, especially in rural communities. In 2015 the South African National AIDS Council–a joint body composed of government, academic, and civil society representatives–released a landmark People Living with HIV Stigma Index. The council surveyed a representative sampling of more than 10,000 HIV-positive individuals regarding their experiences with social stigma. The survey revealed a large majority of respondents had never been excluded from social gatherings. Nevertheless, those who reported exclusion cited their HIV status as the main reason. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports that persons accused of witchcraft were attacked, driven from their villages, and in some cases killed, particularly in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and Eastern Cape Provinces. Victims were often elderly women. Traditional leaders generally cooperated with authorities and reported threats against persons suspected of witchcraft.

Persons with albinism faced discrimination and were sometimes attacked in connection with ritual practices.

Ritual (muthi) killings to obtain body parts believed by some to enhance traditional medicine persisted. Police estimated organ harvesting for traditional medicine resulted in 50 deaths per year.

Incidents of vigilante violence and mob killings occurred. For example, in August, two men were killed in separate incidents of mob justice in Brits (North West Province). In one case the victim of an armed robbery caught the perpetrator and took him to the night vigil of the victim’s congregation, where he was assaulted and later died of his injuries. In the second case, police arrested a man for assault. Hundreds of community members surrounded the police vehicle in which the suspect was being held, poured hot wax on the vehicle, pelted police with stones, and removed the suspect, whom they set on fire and killed.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, with the exception of members of the National Intelligence Agency and the Secret Service, to form and join independent unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. According to Statistics South Africa’s2018 Second Quarter Labor Force Survey, 4.15 million workers reported themselves as belonging to unions. According to the Department of Labor, as of July there were 196 registered unions. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides for the right to strike, but it prohibits workers in essential services from striking, and employers are prohibited from locking out essential service providers. The government characterizes essential services as: (a) a service, the interruption of which endangers the life, personal safety, or health of the whole or part of the population; (b) the parliamentary service; or (c) members of SAPS.

The law allows workers to strike due to matters of mutual interest, such as wages, benefits, organizational rights disputes, socioeconomic interests of workers, and similar measures. Workers may not strike because of disputes where other legal recourse exists, such as through arbitration. Labor rights NGOs operated freely.

The law protects collective bargaining and prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or applicants on the basis of past, present, or potential union membership or participation in lawful union activities. The law provides for automatic reinstatement of workers dismissed unfairly for conducting union activities. The law provides a code of good practices for dismissals that includes procedures for determining the “substantive fairness” and “procedural fairness” of dismissal. The law includes all groups of workers, including illegal and legally resident foreign workers.

The government respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Labor courts and labor appeals courts effectively enforced the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. According to Statistics South Africa’s 2018 Second Quarter Labor Force Survey, unions negotiated salary increments for 75 percent of workers in sectors where unions organized. Employers solely determined the salary increments for 55 percent of workers surveyed, and 6.2 percent of workers had no regular salary increment.

Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties, although the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest labor federation, is a member of a tripartite alliance with the governing ANC party and the South African Communist Party. Some COSATU union affiliates lobbied COSATU to break its alliance with the ANC, arguing the alliance had done little to advance workers’ rights and wages. In April 2017 COSATU’s breakaway unions, unhappy with the ANC alliance, launched an independent labor federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions.

The minister of labor has the authority to extend agreements by majority employers (one or more registered employers’ organizations that represent 50 percent plus one of workers in a sector) and labor representatives in sector-specific bargaining councils to the entire sector, even if companies or employees in the sector were not represented at negotiations. Companies not party to bargaining disputed this provision in court. Employers often filed for and received labor department exemptions from collective bargaining agreements.

If not resolved through collective bargaining, independent mediation, or conciliation, disputes between workers in essential services and their employers were referred to arbitration or the labor courts.

Workers frequently exercised their right to strike. Trade unions generally followed the legal process of declaring a dispute (notifying employers) before initiating a strike. Sectors affected by strikes during the year included transportation, health care, academia, municipal services, and mining. Strikes were sometimes violent and disruptive. For example, in June union members at Eskom, the country’s national electricity company, engaged in unlawful industrial actions, including sabotage to power plants and intimidation of nonparticipants, which resulted in a significant disruption to the country’s power grid and rolling nationwide blackouts. In August, Eskom signed a three-year wage agreement with the unions.

In March 2017 the government announced it had set aside 1.1 billion rand ($83 million at the time) to compensate surviving family members and victims of the 2012 Marikana Massacre in labor protests at a platinum mine. As of August only 67 million rand ($5.2 million) had been paid, according to the Government Communication and Information System.

During the year there were no credible cases of antiunion discrimination or employer interference in union functions, although anecdotal evidence suggested farmers routinely hampered the activities of unions on farms.

Rivalry and intolerance between unions were common. From mid-2017 to year’s end, a succession of killings and attacks of union leaders of both the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and NUM occurred (most likely born of rivalries between the two main unions in the platinum sector). The killings were considered violent aftershocks of the 2012 police killings of 34 striking platinum miners in Marikana. On January 18, the NUM leader at a Lonmin mine was shot and subsequently died in the hospital. In 2017 at least five AMCU members were killed in the platinum belt.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor and provides for penalties ranging from fines to three years in prison for perpetrators convicted of forced labor. The penalties were insufficient to deter violations, in part because inspectors typically levied fines and required payment of back wages in lieu of meeting evidentiary standards of criminal prosecution. The Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2013 increased maximum fines for forced labor to 100,000 rand ($7,720) and the maximum criminal sentence to life in prison.

The government did not always effectively enforce the law. Boys, particularly migrant boys, were reportedly forced to work in street vending, food services, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture (see section 7.c.). Women from Asia and neighboring African countries were recruited for legitimate work, but some were subjected to domestic servitude or forced labor in the service sector. There was also evidence of forced labor in the agricultural sector.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children under age 15 and prohibits anyone from requiring or permitting a child under age 15 to work. The law allows children under age 15 to work in the performing arts, but only if their employers receive permission from the Department of Labor and agree to follow specific guidelines. The law also prohibits children between ages 15 and 18 from work that threatens a child’s wellbeing, education, physical or mental health, or spiritual, moral, or social development. Children may not work more than eight hours a day or before 6 a.m. or after 6 p.m. A child not enrolled in school may not work more than 40 hours in any week, and a child attending school may not work more than 20 hours in any week.

The law prohibits children from performing hazardous duties, including lifting heavy weights, meat or seafood processing, underground mining, deep-sea fishing, commercial diving, electrical work, working with hazardous chemicals or explosives, in manufacturing, rock and stone crushing, and work in casinos or other gambling and alcohol-serving establishments. Employers may not require a child to work in a confined space or to perform piecework and task work. Conviction of violation of child labor law is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of six years and a fine of 15,000 rand ($1,160).

The government enforced child labor laws in the formal sector of the economy that strong and well organized unions monitored, but enforcement in the informal and agricultural sectors was inconsistent. The Department of Labor deployed specialized child labor experts in integrated teams of child labor intersectoral support groups to each province and labor center.

In September 2017 Department of Labor inspectors opened 22 cases of child labor against a broker who recruited seasonal workers from poverty-stricken villages in North West Province on behalf of farmers in Wesselsbron, Free State Province. Prosecution of the broker was pending at year’s end. Cases of the worst forms of child labor were rare and difficult to detect, and neither the Department of Labor nor NGOs confirmed any cases during the year. The Department of Labor investigated a number of complaints but was unable to develop enough evidence to file charges. According to the department, the government made significant progress in eradicating the worst forms of child labor by raising awareness, putting strict legal measures in place, and increasing penalties for suspected labor violators.

Children were found working in domestic work, street work, and garbage scavenging for food items and recyclable items. Boys, particularly migrant boys, were reportedly forced to work in street vending, food services, begging, criminal activities, and agriculture. The government had yet to collect comprehensive data on child labor, but NGOs and inspectors considered it rare in the formal sectors of the economy.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Employment Equity Act protects all workers against unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, age, gender, religion, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, disability, conscience, belief, political, opinion, culture, language, HIV status, birth, or any other arbitrary ground. The legal standard used to judge discrimination in all cases is whether the terms and conditions of employment between employees of the same employer performing the same or substantially similar work, or work of equal value, differ directly or indirectly based on any of the grounds listed above. Employees have the burden of proving such discrimination. The amendment increases fines incrementally for noncompliance to 2 percent of company revenue, or 1.5 million rand ($116,000), for a first offense. Authorities may fine up to 10 percent of company revenue, or 2.7 million rand ($208,000), for a fourth offense on the same provision within three years. The government has a regulated code of conduct to assist employers, workers, and unions to develop and implement comprehensive, gender-sensitive, and HIV/AIDS-compliant workplace policies and programs.

The government did not consistently enforce the law and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, HIV status, and country of origin (see section 6).

Discrimination cases were frequently taken to court or the Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration, and Mediation.

In its 2017-18 annual report containing the results of 27,163 employment equity reports submitted by designated employers (representing almost half of the country’s employed), the Commission for Employment Equity cited data indicating discrimination by ethnicity, gender, age, and disability in all sectors of the economy. According to the report, whites–who constituted only 9.9 percent of the economically viable population–held 67 percent of top management positions in the private sector. Blacks–who constituted 77 percent–held only 14 percent of top management positions in the private sector. The implementation of the Black Economic Empowerment law, which aims to promote economic transformation and enhance participation of blacks in the economy, continued. The public sector better reflected the country’s ethnic and gender demographics. Traditional gender stereotypes, such as “mining is a man’s job” and “women should be nurses” persisted. Bias against foreign nationals was common in society and the workplace. In 2016-17 labor department officials reportedly reviewed 849 companies for compliance with the employment equity law. The Department of Labor inspected 4,747 employers for compliance with the employment equity law. It found and “dealt with” (the official term) violations at 877 locations. No further information was provided as to the nature of the violation or enforcement.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legally mandated national minimum wage, although the law gives the Department of Labor authority to set wages by sector, which it has done in approximately 13 employment sectors. For example, effective in March the department increased the minimum wage for farm workers to 16.25 rand ($1.25) per hour. The minimum hourly wage for domestic workers employed more than 27 hours per week was raised to 13.05 rand ($1.00) per hour for employees in the urban areas and to 11.8 rand ($0.91) for employees in semiurban and rural areas. Established minimum wages exceeded the poverty level. The government provided free housing for some employees earning less than 3,500 rand ($270) per month, free health care, and, in some areas, no-fee schooling to assist the children of low-income earners. The law protects migrant workers, and they are entitled to all benefits and equal pay.

The law establishes a 45-hour workweek, standardizes time-and-a-half pay for overtime, and authorizes four months of maternity leave for women. No employer may require or permit an employee to work overtime except by agreement, and overtime may not be more than 10 hours a week. The law stipulates rest periods of 12 consecutive hours daily and 36 hours weekly and must include Sunday. The law allows adjustments to rest periods by mutual agreement. A ministerial determination exempted businesses employing fewer than 10 persons from certain provisions of the law concerning overtime and leave. Farmers and other employers could apply for variances from the law by showing good cause. The law applies to all workers, including workers in informal sectors, foreign nationals, and migrant workers, but the government did not prioritize labor protections for workers in the informal economy.

The government set appropriate occupational health and safety standards through the Department of Mineral Resources for the mining industry and through the Department of Labor for all other industries.

There are harsh penalties for violations of occupational health laws in the mining sector. Employers are subject to heavy fines or imprisonment for serious injury, illness, or the death of employees due to unsafe mine conditions. The law allows mine inspectors to enter any mine at any time to interview employees and audit records. The law provides for the right of mine employees to remove themselves from work deemed dangerous to health or safety. The law prohibits discrimination against a mining employee who asserts a right granted by law and requires mine owners to file annual reports providing statistics on health and safety incidents for each mine. Conviction of violation of the mining health and safety law is punishable by two years’ imprisonment, and the law empowers the courts to determine a fine or penalty applicable for perjury. The Department of Mineral Resources was responsible for enforcing the mining health and safety law.

The government set separate standards for compensation of occupational diseases for the mining industry and for other industries. The Department of Health’s fund related to the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act reported that only 33,045 former mineworkers were certified as having silicosis as of 2014, but the final figure could be between 50,000 and 100,000. The fund has set aside 3.7 billion rand ($286 million) to deal with the backlog and compensate former mineworkers. Additionally, in 2016 the Johannesburg High Court certified class action against 32 gold-mining companies operating in the country from 1965 to the present by mineworkers suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis contracted at the companies’ mines. The companies were accused of insufficiently protecting black workers in particular from contracting lung-related diseases. The class-action certification paved the way for nearly 500,000 existing and former mineworkers to receive compensation from mining companies. In May, six major mining companies and their workers agreed on a five billion rand ($386 million) settlement. Beneficiaries are to receive between 70,000 rand ($5,400) each for claimants in early stages of silicosis and 500,000 rand ($38,600) each for those with a “special aggravated medical condition.”

Outside the mining industry, no laws or regulations permit workers to remove themselves from work situations deemed dangerous to their health or safety without risking loss of employment, although the law provides that employers may not retaliate against employees who disclose dangerous workplace conditions. Employees were also able to report unsafe conditions to the labor department, which used employee complaints as a basis for prioritizing labor inspections. Conviction of violation of health and safety regulations outside the mining sector is punishable by a fine of 100,000 rand ($7,720), imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, or both. The Department of Labor was responsible for enforcing safety laws outside the mining sector.

The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing wage standards outside the mining sector, and a tripartite Mine Health and Safety Council and an Inspectorate of Mine Health and Safety enforced such standards in the mining sector. Penalties for violations of wages and work-hour laws outside the mining sector were not sufficient to deter abuses.

The Department of Labor employed 1,295 labor inspectors, an insufficient number to enforce compliance. For example, 107 government labor inspectors in Western Cape Province had responsibility for more than 6,600 farms as well as other businesses and sectors. Labor inspectors conducted routine and unannounced inspections at various workplaces that employed vulnerable workers. Labor inspectors investigated workplaces in both the formal and informal sectors. Labor inspectors and unions reported having difficulty visiting workers on private farms.

In 2016-17 the Department of Labor reported it conducted 144,061 labor inspections and identified 20,515 cases of noncompliance. The department issued violation notices and referred cases for prosecution. In 2016-17 officials audited 22,967 workplaces to determine their compliance with occupational and safety laws; 15,929 were in compliance.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. Occupational safety and health regulations were frequently violated in the mining sector, and compensation for injuries was erratic and slow. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Unions in the agriculture sector noted their repeated attempts to have the Labor Department fine farms that failed to shield workers from hazardous chemicals sprayed on crops. Although labor conditions improved on large commercial farms, COSATU and leading agricultural NGOs reported that labor conditions on small farms remained harsh. Underpayment of wages and poor living conditions for workers, most of whom were black, were common. Many owners of small farms did not measure working hours accurately, 12-hour workdays were common during harvest time, and few farmers provided overtime benefits. Amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act attempted to address some labor abuses at farms. For example, changes prohibited farms from selling farm employees’ goods from farm-operated stores on credit at inflated prices.

Farm workers also reported health and sanitation concerns. In a 2017 report, the NGO Women on Farms Project reported that 63 percent of the female farm workers surveyed did not have access to bathroom facilities and were forced to seek a bush or a secluded spot. The report also included the responses of female farm workers and their children who reported suffering from health problems such as skin rashes, cholinesterase depression, poisoning, harmful effects on the nervous system, and asthma due to pesticides to which they were exposed.

Mining accidents were common. Mine safety improved over prior decades, however. In 1995, 553 miners lost their lives in the country. As of July only 130 miners had died from accidents during the preceding 18 months.

In June, five miners died of heat and exhaustion after entering an area not being used for mining. Parts of the gold mine, located near Westonaria, were considered unsafe and were supposed to be cordoned off.

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