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Indonesia

Executive Summary

Indonesia is a multiparty democracy. In April 2019, Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) won a second five-year term as president. Voters also elected new members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Domestic and international observers deemed the elections to be free and fair. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, elections for some provincial and local executives originally scheduled for September 23 were postponed until December 9 to allow for implementation of health safety protocols.

The Indonesian National Police is responsible for internal security and reports directly to the president. The Indonesian National Armed Forces, which also report to the president, are responsible for external defense and combatting separatism, and in certain conditions may provide operational support to police, such as for counterterrorism operations, maintaining public order, and addressing communal conflicts. Civilian authorities maintained control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed abuses.

In Papua and West Papua Provinces, government forces continued security operations following a 2018 attack by the Free Papua Movement in which 19 civilians and one army soldier were killed. This led to the displacement of thousands of provincial residents, further Free Papua Movement attacks that caused civilian and security force deaths, and created serious humanitarian concerns.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of torture by police; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; crimes involving violence or threats of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons; and the existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute some officials who committed human rights abuses, impunity for historic and continuing serious human rights abuses remained a significant concern, especially as some of those implicated in past abuses received promotions and occupied senior official positions.

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

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

Allegations the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings included media reports that security personnel used excessive force that resulted in deaths during counterinsurgency operations against armed groups in Papua. In these and other cases of alleged misconduct, police and the military frequently did not conduct any investigations, and when they did, failed to disclose either the fact or the findings of these internal investigations. Official statements related to abuse allegations sometimes contradicted civil society organization accounts, and the frequent inaccessibility of areas where violence took place made confirming the facts difficult.

Internal investigations undertaken by security forces are often opaque, making it difficult to know which units and actors are involved. Internal investigations are sometimes conducted by the unit that is accused of the arbitrary or unlawful killing, or in high-profile cases by a team sent from police or military headquarters in Jakarta. Cases involving military personnel can be forwarded to a military tribunal for prosecution, or in the case of police, to public prosecutors. Victims, or families of victims, may file complaints with the National Police Commission, National Commission on Human Rights, or National Ombudsman to seek an independent inquiry into the incident.

On April 13, security forces shot dead two university students near the Grasberg mine in Mimika, Papua. Security forces allegedly mistook the students, who were reportedly fishing at the time, as separatist militants. Military and police began a joint investigation following the incident, but no results were released as of October, prompting families of the victims to call for an independent investigation into the killings (see also section 2.a., Libel/Slander).

On July 18, military personnel shot and killed a father and son, Elias and Selu Karungu, who with neighbors were trying to return to their home village in Keneyam District, Nduga Regency, Papua. Media reported witnesses claimed the civilian group hid for a year in the forest to avoid conflict between security forces and the Free Papua Movement (OPM). The two were allegedly shot at a military outpost where the son Selu was detained. The armed forces (TNI) claimed the two were members of the OPM and had been spotted carrying a pistol shortly before the shooting.

Members of the OPM attacked medical personnel and others. At least six persons died in militant attacks during the year. On August 16, members of the armed forces and national police shot and killed Hengky Wamang, the alleged mastermind behind several high-profile attacks in Papua. At least three other insurgents were injured in the firefight but escaped into the nearby jungle, along with villagers who fled the battle.

In August the military command of Merauke, Papua, charged four military personnel from the East Java-based 516th Mechanized Infantry Battalion with battery that led to eventual death for their alleged involvement in killing 18-year-old Oktovianus Warip Betera on July 24. The incident began when a shop owner reported Betera, whom the shop owner said was stealing, to the military. The soldiers beat Betera, brought him to their command post, and continued torturing him. He was taken to a clinic and pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

On September 19, a Christian pastor, Yeremia Zanambani, was fatally shot in the Intan Regency in Papua Province. TNI officials maintained that members of the West Papua National Liberation Army were responsible for Yeremia’s death. Members of the community and prominent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged members of TNI were responsible for the killing. The president of the Papuan Baptist Churches Fellowship, Socrates Sofyan Yoman, claimed this was the third case since 2004 in which members of TNI were involved in the killing of a pastor in Papua. In October an interagency fact-finding team concluded there was strong evidence that security force personnel were involved in the death but did not completely rule out the involvement of the OPM. In November the National Commission on Human Rights reported that its investigation indicated TNI personnel had tortured Yeremia before shooting him at close range and categorized the incident as an extrajudicial killing.

Land rights disputes sometimes led to unlawful deaths. For example in March, two farmers were killed by a member of the private security staff of a palm oil plantation company in Lahat District, South Sumatra Province. The victims were members of the local community involved in a land rights dispute, and were attempting to negotiate with the company for the return of their land. A local NGO alleged local police were present at the scene of the attack and did not intervene. The attacker was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to nine years in prison.

On March 30, three employees of PT Freeport Indonesia were shot by OPM-affiliated militants–one fatally–during an attack on a housing compound in Kuala Kencana, Papua, a company town in the lowlands area of Timika housing local and expatriate Freeport employees.

The lack of transparent investigations and judicial processes continued to hamper accountability in multiple past cases involving security forces.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government and civil society organizations, however, reported little progress in accounting for persons who disappeared in previous years or in prosecuting those responsible for such disappearances.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices. The law criminalizes the use of violence or force by officials to elicit a confession; however, these protections were not always respected. Officials face imprisonment for a maximum of four years if they use violence or force illegally. No law specifically criminalizes torture, although other laws, such as on witness and victim protection, include antitorture provisions.

NGOs reported that police used excessive force during detention and interrogation. Human rights and legal aid contacts alleged, for example, that some Papuan detainees were treated roughly by police, with reports of minor injuries sustained during detention.

National police maintained procedures to address police misconduct, including alleged torture. All police recruits undergo training on the proportional use of force and human rights standards.

The Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), a local NGO, reported 921 cases of police brutality reported to it between July 2019 and June 2020, resulting in injury to 1,627 persons and 304 deaths.

On April 9, police in Tangerang arrested Muhammad Riski Riyanto and Rio Imanuel Adolof for vandalism and inciting violence. NGOs reported that police forced the suspects to confess by beating them with steel rods and helmets and placing plastic bags over their heads. In July, six police officials from the Percut Sei Tuan police headquarters in North Sumatra were convicted of torturing a construction worker who was a witness in a murder case. They could face up to seven years in prison. All the officials involved were discharged from the police force after an internal investigation. Human rights groups demanded police also compensate the victim’s family.

On August 7, Balerang police detained Hendri Alfred Bakari in Batam for alleged drug possession. During a visit with Hendri while he was in detention, Hendri’s family claims that they saw bruises all over Hendri’s body and heard him complain about chest pains. He died in the hospital on August 8.

Aceh Province has special authority to implement sharia regulations. Authorities there carried out public canings for violations of sharia in cases of sexual abuse, gambling, adultery, alcohol consumption, consensual same-sex activities, and sexual relations outside of marriage. Sharia does not apply to non-Muslims, foreigners, or Muslims not resident in Aceh. Non-Muslims in Aceh occasionally chose punishment under sharia because it was more expeditious and less expensive than secular procedures. For example, in February a Christian man convicted of illegal possession of alcohol requested punishment under sharia in exchange for a reduction in his sentence.

Canings were carried out in mosques in Aceh after Friday prayers or, in one instance, at the district attorney’s office. Individuals sentenced to caning may receive up to 100 lashes, depending on the crime and any prison time served. Punishments were public and carried out in groups if more than one individual was sentenced for punishment.

Security force impunity remains a problem. During the year, military courts tried a few low-level and some mid-level soldiers for offenses that involved civilians or occurred when the soldiers were off duty. In such cases military police investigate and pass their findings to military prosecutors, who decide whether to prosecute. Military prosecutors are accountable to the Supreme Court and the armed forces for applying the law. NGOs and other observers criticized the short length of prison sentences usually imposed by military courts in cases involving civilians or off-duty soldiers. In September brigadier generals Dadang Hendryudha and Yulius Silvanus were appointed to armed forces leadership positions, despite being convicted in 1999 (and serving prison sentences) for their roles, as part of the army special forces’ Rose Team, in the kidnapping, torture, and killing of students in 1997-98. In January Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto appointed as his staff assistant Chairawan Kadarsyah Kadirussalam Nusyirwan, the former Rose Team commander.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in the country’s 525 prisons and detention centers were often harsh and sometimes life threatening, due especially to overcrowding.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a serious problem, including at immigration detention centers. According to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, as of January there were 293,583 prisoners and detainees in prisons and detention centers designed to hold a maximum of 133,931. Overcrowding posed hygiene and ventilation problems and varied at different facilities. Minimum- and medium-security prisons were often the most overcrowded; maximum-security prisons tended to be at or below capacity. Prison officials reported that overcrowding was one cause of a February prison riot in North Sumatra.

Concern about the rapid spread of COVID-19 in prisons led officials to release nearly 40,000 prisoners across the country. This mass sentence reduction, however, did not apply to inmates convicted for “political crimes,” such as Papuan and Moluccan activists.

By law prisons are supposed to hold those convicted by courts, while detention centers hold those awaiting trial. In fact most prisons have two facilities on the same compound, one designed for pretrial detainees and one for convicted prisoners. Persons held at the two facilities do not normally mix. At times, however, officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners due to overcrowding.

By law children convicted of serious crimes serve their sentences in juvenile prison, although some convicted juvenile prisoners remained in the adult prison system despite continuing efforts to end this practice.

Authorities generally held female prisoners at separate facilities. In prisons with both male and female prisoners, female prisoners were confined in separate cellblocks. According to NGO observers, conditions in prisons for women tended to be significantly better than in those for men. Women’s cellblocks within prisons that held prisoners of both genders, however, did not always grant female prisoners access to the same amenities, such as exercise facilities, as their male counterparts.

NGOs noted authorities sometimes did not provide prisoners adequate medical care. Human rights activists attributed this to a lack of resources. International and local NGOs reported that in some cases prisoners did not have ready access to clean drinking water. There were widespread reports the government did not supply sufficient food to prisoners, and family members often brought food to supplement relatives’ diets.

Guards in detention facilities and prisons regularly extorted money from inmates, and prisoners reported physical abuse by guards. Inmates often bribed or paid corrections officers for favors, food, telephones, or narcotics. The use and production of illicit drugs in prisons were serious problems, with some drug networks basing operations out of prisons.

Administration: The law allows prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and to request investigation of alleged deficiencies. Complaints are submitted to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights where they are investigated and are subject to independent judicial review.

Independent Monitoring: Some NGOs received access to prisons but were required to obtain permission through bureaucratic mechanisms, including approval from police, attorneys general, courts, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and other agencies. NGOs reported that authorities rarely permitted direct access to prisoners for interviews. There is no regular independent monitoring of prisons.

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. The government generally observed these requirements, but there were notable exceptions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Security forces must produce warrants during an arrest. Exceptions apply, for example, if a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime. The law allows investigators to issue warrants, but at times authorities, especially police Criminal Investigation Department, made questionable arrests without warrants. By law suspects or defendants have the rights to contact family promptly after arrest and to legal counsel of their choice at every stage of an investigation. Court officials are supposed to provide free legal counsel to persons charged with offenses that carry the death penalty or imprisonment for 15 years or more, and to destitute defendants facing charges that carry a penalty of imprisonment for five years or more. Such legal resources were limited, however, and free counsel was seldom provided. Lack of legal resources has been particularly problematic for persons involved in land disputes. Local government officials and large landowners involved in land grabs reportedly turned to accusing community activists of crimes, hoping the community’s lack of legal and financial resources and resulting detentions would hamper efforts to oppose the land grab.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest by police, primarily by the Criminal Investigation Department. There were multiple media and NGO reports of police temporarily detaining persons for participating in peaceful demonstrations and other nonviolent activities advocating self-determination, notably in Papua and West Papua (see section 2.b.). The majority were released within 24 hours.

In one case police detained 10 students of Khairun University for participating in a Papua Independence Day protest in Ternate in December 2019.

Pretrial Detention: The legal length of pretrial detention depends on factors such as whether the suspect is a flight risk or a danger or is charged with certain crimes. Terrorism suspects are governed by special rules.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary remained susceptible to corruption and influence from outside parties, including business interests, politicians, the security forces, and officials of the executive branch.

Decentralization created difficulties for the enforcement of court orders, and at times local officials ignored them.

Four district courts are authorized to adjudicate cases of systemic gross human rights violations upon recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission. None of these courts, however, has heard or ruled on such a case since 2005.

Under the sharia court system in Aceh, 19 district religious courts and one court of appeals hear cases. The courts usually heard cases involving Muslims and based their judgments on decrees formulated by the local government rather than the national penal code.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but judicial corruption and misconduct hindered the enforcement of this right. The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty, although this was not always respected. Defendants are informed promptly and in detail of the charges at their first court appearance. Although suspects have the right to confront witnesses and call witnesses in their defense, judges may allow sworn affidavits when distance is excessive or the cost of transporting witnesses to the court is too expensive, hindering the possibility of cross-examination. Some courts allowed forced confessions and limited the presentation of defense evidence. Defendants have the right to avoid self-incrimination. The prosecution prepares charges, evidence, and witnesses for the trial, while the defense prepares their own witnesses and arguments. A panel of judges oversees the trial and can pose questions, hear evidence, decide on guilt or innocence, and impose punishment. Both the defense and prosecution may appeal a verdict.

The law gives defendants the right to an attorney from the time of arrest and at every stage of investigation and trial. By law indigent defendants have the right to public legal assistance, although they must prove they have no funds for private legal assistance. NGO lawyer associations provided free legal representation to many, but not all, indigent defendants. All defendants have the right to free linguistic interpretation. In some cases, procedural protections were inadequate to ensure a fair trial. With the notable exceptions of sharia court proceedings in Aceh and some military trials, trials are public.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

NGOs estimated that 56 political prisoners from Papua and West Papua were incarcerated, either awaiting trial or after being convicted under treason and conspiracy statutes, including for actions related to the display of banned separatist symbols. Eight Moluccan political prisoners remained in prison, according to Human Rights Watch.

A small number of the many Papuans detained briefly for participating in peaceful protests were charged with treason or other criminal offenses. On June 16, seven National Committee for West Papua and United Liberation Movement for West Papua activists were convicted under treason articles and sentenced to a minimum of 10 months in prison for their role in allegedly inciting violence during the protests in late 2019. In the case of the 10 Khairun University students detained (see section 1.d.) in December 2019, prosecutors charged one student, Arbi M. Nur, with treason for his involvement in the Papuan Independence Day protests.

Local activists and family members generally were able to visit political prisoners, but authorities held some prisoners on islands far from their families.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Victims of human rights abuses may seek damages in the civil court system, but widespread corruption and political influence limit victims’ access to justice.

Property Restitution

An eminent domain law allows the government to expropriate land for the public good, provided the government properly compensates owners. NGOs accused the government of abusing its authority to expropriate or facilitate private acquisition of land for development projects, often without fair compensation.

Land access and ownership were major sources of conflict. Police sometimes evicted those involved in land disputes without due process, often siding with business-related claimants over individuals or local communities. In April local police accompanied and assisted employees of a palm oil company in destroying rice storage huts on land belonging to the Mafan Farmers Group in Sedang village, South Sumatra. Members of the farmers’ group reported that this destruction was part of the company’s effort to force them off their land.

In August in South Central Timor District, East Nusa Tenggara, the provincial government evicted 47 households of the Pubabu indigenous community from their land, allegedly without due process. Local media reported that the indigenous community had leased the land to an Australian livestock company, and later the provincial government, but refused to extend the lease after it expired in 2012.

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

The law requires judicial warrants for searches except in cases involving subversion, economic crimes, and corruption. Security forces generally respected these requirements. The law also provides for searches without warrants when circumstances are “urgent and compelling.” Police throughout the country occasionally took actions without proper authority or violated individuals’ privacy.

NGOs claimed security officials occasionally conducted warrantless surveillance on individuals and their residences and monitored telephone calls.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution broadly provides for freedom of expression, with some limitations.

Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes speech deemed insulting to a religion or advocating separatism. The law also criminalizes hate speech, defined as “purposeful or unlawful dissemination of information aimed to create hatred or animosity against an individual or a particular group based on their race, beliefs, and ethnicity.”

By law “spreading religious hatred, heresy, and blasphemy” is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. Protests by Islamist groups or conservative clerical councils often prompted local authorities to act under the law. According to the legal aid foundation, between January and May there were at least 38 blasphemy-related cases arising from at least 25 arrests.

In February, North Maluku resident Mikael Samuel Ratulangi was arrested for a 2019 Facebook post viewed as insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The case has been passed to the attorney general’s office, pending trial.

Although the law permits flying a flag symbolizing Papua’s cultural identity generally, a government regulation specifically prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the Republic of South Maluku flag in Molucca, and the Free Aceh Movement Crescent Moon flag in Aceh. In May an activist, Sayang Mandabayan, was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of nine months. He had been arrested in September 2019 at the Manokwari airport for traveling with 1,500 small Morning Star flags.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The government, however, sometimes used regional and national regulations, including those on blasphemy, hate speech, and separatism, to restrict the media. Permits for travel to Papua and West Papua Provinces remained a problem for foreign journalists, who reported bureaucratic delays or denials, ostensibly for safety reasons. The constitution protects journalists from interference, and the law requires that anyone who deliberately prevents journalists from doing their job shall face a maximum prison sentence of two years or a substantial fine.

Violence and Harassment: From January to July, the Alliance of Independent Journalists reported 13 cases of violence against journalists that included doxing, physical assaults, and verbal intimidation and threats perpetrated by various actors, including government officials, police, and security personnel, members of mass organizations, and the general public. The alliance and other NGOs reported that journalists faced increased hostility because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, noting that in April and May there were three cases of violence against journalists.

On April 22, Ravio Patra, a researcher and activist with the United Kingdom-based Westminster Foundation for Democracy, was arrested in Jakarta on charges of incitement after a message calling for riots was sent from his WhatsApp account. Patra claimed before his arrest that his account had been hacked and that he was being framed, possibly by police. Patra, released on bail after two days, was as of November awaiting trial and still waiting to learn the results of the police investigation into the hacking of his account.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Attorney General’s Office has authority to monitor written material and request a court order to ban written material; this power was apparently not used during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal defamation provisions prohibit libel and slander, which are punishable with five-year prison terms.

Elements within the government, including police and the judiciary, selectively used criminal defamation and blasphemy laws to intimidate individuals and restrict freedom of expressions. In May, South Kalimantan police arrested and detained journalist Diananta Putra Sumedi for online defamation, accusing him of misquoting the head of a local Dayak ethnic group association in a November 2019 article about a dispute with a palm oil company. In August he was sentenced to three months and 15 days in prison for “inciting hatred.” On July 13, district police of Mimika, Papua, referred a slander investigation involving a Papuan identified only by the initials ST and the chief of Papua provincial police to local prosecutors. Police had arrested ST on May 27 in the Kuala Kencana area for a Facebook post that accused the police chief of using the COVID-19 pandemic to incite the killing of students near the Grasberg mine in Mimika (see section 1.a.) and medical workers in Intan Jaya Regency.

National Security: The government used legal provisions barring advocacy of separatism to restrict the ability of individuals and media to advocate peacefully for self-determination or independence in different parts of the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Hardline Muslim groups sometimes intimidated perceived critics of Islam. In August several Islamic organizations associated with the South Sulawesi chapter of the United Islam Community Forum released a statement condemning the Shia community and their plans to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Ashura. In their statement, the constituent organizations said they would disperse any events that the Shia community planned.

In May a group of law students (the Constitutional Law Society) from Gajah Mada University were forced to cancel an academic discussion with the theme, “Dismissing the President in a Pandemic, a Constitutional Perspective,” after speakers and event coordinators received death threats.

Media organizations complained of hacking attacks following the publication of articles critical of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Independent Journalist Alliance, at least four media organizations have been targeted in digital attacks, ranging from denial of service attacks to doxing and the hacking of media servers and the removal of stories. For example, in August the Tempo.co website was hacked and the site’s welcome page was replaced with the text, “stop hoaxes, do not lie to the Indonesian people. Return to the proper journalistic ethical code.” An August attack against Tirto.id after publishing articles critical of the State Intelligence Agency and the armed forces’ involvement in formulating a COVID-19 treatment led to the sudden disappearance of articles from the website.

Internet Freedom

The government prosecuted individuals for free expression under a law that bans online crime, pornography, gambling, blackmail, lies, threats, and racist content and prohibits citizens from distributing in electronic format any information deemed by the court defamatory. The law carries maximum penalties of six years in prison, a substantial fine, or both. NGOs have criticized the law’s vague and ambiguous provisions, which they note have been misused by authorities and private individuals to silence and punish critics, leading to increased self-censorship by journalists and activists.

Moreover, officials used direct pressure on internet service providers to degrade perceived opponents’ online communications. In June, however, courts determined that government officials exceeded their authority in directing internet service providers to slow internet connections in Papua and West Papua in response to protests in August and September 2019. The court determined that the government failed to prove that the country was in a true “state of emergency” when it chose to impose the internet restrictions.

In June multiple NGOs and Papuan activists reported repeated disruptions of online discussions on Papuan issues. Unnamed actors attempted to dox Papuan activists and hacked into Zoom discussions to threaten meeting participants. During August and September, protests in Papua, Jakarta, and elsewhere, authorities limited access to the internet or to particular social media sites, stating this was done to prevent the spread of disinformation.

National police increased social media monitoring to prevent the spread of false information and acts of contempt against President Jokowi and his administration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Human rights contacts noted that the police established several task forces dedicated to combating false information and executed more than 9,000 “cyber patrols,” resulting in blocking or deleting more than 2,000 social media accounts. Those alleged to have insulted the president or government officials could be charged with defamation and insult, with a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison. In May former army officer Ruslan Buton was arrested in Southeast Sulawesi for criticizing President Jokowi’s leadership during the pandemic and calling for his resignation.

The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology continued to request that internet service providers block access to content containing “prohibited electronic information,” including pornography, radical religious content, extortion, threats, and hate speech. Failure to enforce these restrictions could result in the revocation of a provider’s license. The government also intervened with social media, search engines, app stores, and other websites to remove offensive and extremist content and revoked the licenses of those that did not promptly comply with government demands.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government generally did not place restrictions on cultural events or academic freedom, but occasionally disrupted sensitive cultural events or activities or failed to prevent hardline groups from doing so. Universities and other academic institutions also sometimes succumbed to pressure from Islamist groups seeking to restrict sensitive events and activities.

The government-supervised Film Censorship Institute censored domestic and imported movies for content deemed religiously or otherwise offensive.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted these freedoms.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and outside Papua the government generally respected this right. The law requires demonstrators to provide police with written notice three days before any planned demonstration and requires police to issue a receipt for the written notification. This receipt acts as a de facto license for the demonstration. Police in Papua routinely refused to issue such receipts to would-be demonstrators out of concern the demonstrations would include calls for independence, an act prohibited by law. A Papua provincial police decree prohibits rallies by seven organizations labeled as proindependence, including the National Committee of West Papua, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and the Free Papua Movement. Restrictions on public gatherings imposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic limited the public’s ability to demonstrate.

In July police aggressively dispersed members of the Papuan Student Alliance in Denpasar, Bali; local student activists uploaded videos of this to Facebook. The videos showed police using a water cannon against students peacefully commemorating members of the Free Papua Movement killed during a military operation in 1998 in Biak, Papua. The director of a local legal aid foundation reported that police used force against multiple participants and confiscated participants’ and organizers’ banners and posters.

In December 2019 the University of Khairun in Ternate, North Maluku, expelled students Fahrul Abdulah Bone, Fahyudi Kabir, Ikra S Alkatiri, and Arbi M Nur for joining a demonstration outside of Muhammidiyah University in Ternate that supported Papuan dissidents. The university released a statement confirming the dismissal of the four students, arguing they had “defamed the good name of the university, violate[d] student’s ethics, and threaten[ed] national security.” In April the dismissed students, with the help of Ambon Ansor Legal Aid, sued the university in the Ambon state administrative court. Local courts dismissed the students’ lawsuit, leading the students to appeal the decision in the Makassar administrative court. Proceedings continued as of October.

In October mass protests erupted nationwide in opposition to a newly passed omnibus law on economic reforms. A wide range of civil society groups participated in the protests, including the Anti-Communist National Alliances, which includes the Islamic Defenders Front and the (Islamist) 212 Alumni, labor activists and unions, including the Indonesian Worker’s Union, and student organizations. Protesters voiced concerns regarding provisions affecting environmental protection, civil liberties, and labor rights. Some demonstrations turned violent, and property damage was notable in several neighborhoods in Jakarta. Police were criticized for their use of tear gas against demonstrators.

Freedom of Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, which the government generally respected. The regulations on registration of organizations were generally not onerous. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) advocacy groups, however, reported that when attempting to register their organizations, they were unable to state explicitly that they were LGBTI advocacy groups on their registration certificate.

To receive official registration status, foreign NGOs must have a memorandum of understanding with a government ministry. Some organizations reported difficulties obtaining these memoranda and claimed the government withheld them to block their registration status, although cumbersome bureaucracy within the Ministry of Law and Human Rights was also to blame.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and generally allows for travel outside of the country. The law gives the military broad powers in a declared state of emergency, including the power to limit land, air, and sea traffic. The government did not use these powers during the year.

In-country Movement: The government continued to impose administrative hurdles for travel by NGOs, journalists, foreign diplomats, and others to Papua and West Papua. After the COVID-19 pandemic began, authorities severely limited movement in and out of Papua and West Papua, enforcing these restrictions far more strictly and for a longer period than elsewhere.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

The government collects data on displacement caused by natural hazards and conflict through the National Disaster Management Authority, although the lack of systematic monitoring of return and resettlement conditions made it difficult to estimate reliably the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported there were 104,000 IDPs due to disasters and 40,000 IDPs due to conflict and violence as of December 2019.

The law stipulates the government must provide for “the fulfillment of the rights of the people and displaced persons affected by disaster in a manner that is fair and in line with the minimum service standards.” IDPs in towns and villages were not abused or deprived of services or other rights and protections, but resource and access constraints delayed or hindered the provision of services to IDPs in some cases, notably for those who fled to the countryside and forests to escape conflict in Papua and West Papua.

The return of persons displaced by conflict in Papua and West Papua has been slow and difficult. More than 10,000 residents of Wamena who fled violence there in 2019 had not returned to their homes as of September. Other groups of civilians who reportedly fled government-insurgent clashes faced potential violence from security forces when attempting to return to their homes, as was the case for a group of dozens of persons attempting to return to the Keyenam District of West Papua in July.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrant workers were often subjected to police extortion and societal discrimination.

Rohingya Muslims were a small but growing segment of the refugee and asylum-seeker population. In August some Rohingya refugees and supporters in Makassar, South Sulawesi, protested in front of the city legislature, demanding greater recognition and respect for their human rights. Members of the community stated they were often denied proper medical treatment and received no support when filing for asylum. Community representatives also alleged the government aggressively monitored them and that they faced severe restrictions on their freedom of movement–for example, Rohingya who married locals were not permitted to leave refugee housing–and challenges finding work.

Access to Asylum: The country is not a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention and does not allow permanent local settlement or naturalization of asylum seekers or persons judged to be refugees. The government allows refugees to settle temporarily while awaiting permanent resettlement. The law acknowledges UNHCR’s role in processing all refugee status determinations in the country. Regulations establish a detailed refugee management process, outlining the specific responsibilities of national and subnational agencies from the time of refugee arrival to departure for resettlement or repatriation. UNHCR officials reported 13,612 known refugees and asylum seekers were in the country as of July.

Employment: The government prohibits refugees from working, although it did not strictly enforce this prohibition.

Access to Basic Services: The government does not generally prohibit refugees from accessing public elementary education, although many barriers prevented enrollment of more than a small number of refugee children, including lack of access to government-issued student identification numbers. A small number of refugees enrolled in language and other classes in private, refugee-run schools or in NGO-sponsored programs. Refugees have access to basic public health services through local health clinics, which the government subsidizes. Treatment for more serious conditions or hospitalization, however, is not covered under this program.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2019 Joko Widodo (popularly known as Jokowi) won a second five-year term as president. Voters also elected new members of the House of Representatives and the Regional Representative Council, as well as provincial and local legislatures. Domestic and international observers deemed the elections free and fair.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, elections for some provincial and local executives originally scheduled for September 23 were postponed until December 9 to allow the government to implement heightened health safety protocols.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are no inordinate restrictions on parties and political participation, although NGOs raised concerns about the growing number of uncontested races in the regional head elections, which they attribute in part to the high costs of launching successful political campaigns.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law on political parties mandates that women comprise a minimum of 30 percent of the founding membership of a new political party. As of November, 10.6 percent of candidates for the December local elections were women, lower than the 20.5 percent rate for the 2019 national elections, but higher than the 8.8 percent rate in the 2018 local elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but government efforts to enforce the law were insufficient. Despite the arrest and conviction of many high-profile and high-ranking officials, there was a widespread perception that corruption remained endemic. The Corruption Eradication Commission, national police, the armed forces’ Special Economics Crime Unit, and the Attorney General’s Office may all investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Coordination between these offices, however, was inconsistent and in the case of the armed forces unit, nonexistent. The Corruption Eradication Commission does not have authority to investigate members of the military, nor does it have jurisdiction in cases where state losses are valued at less than one billion Indonesia rupees (IDR) ($70,900).

Many NGOs and activists maintained that amendments in 2019 to the Corruption Commission statute weakened its ability to investigate corruption. The amendments established a supervisory body selected and appointed by the president, whose responsibilities include approving commission wiretaps and removed the commission’s independent status by making it part of the executive branch. In the past, Corruption Eradication Commission investigators were sometimes harassed, intimidated, or attacked due to their anticorruption work.

Corruption: The Corruption Eradication Commission investigated and prosecuted officials suspected of corruption at all levels of government. Several high-profile corruption cases involved large-scale government procurement or construction programs and implicated legislators, governors, regents, judges, police, and civil servants. From mid-2019 to early in the year, the commission recovered state assets worth approximately IDR 385 billion ($27.3 million). In 2019 the commission conducted 142 investigations, initiated 234 prosecutions, and completed 136 cases resulting in convictions.

On January 14, the Attorney General’s Office arrested four persons for corruption at distressed state-owned insurer PT Asuransi Jiwasraya (Jiwasraya). According to the Supreme Audit Agency, all of the suspects were being investigated for receiving kickbacks in return for including high-risk stocks in Jiwasraya’s investment mix and engaging in stock market rigging.

On July 16, a Jakarta court sentenced one officer to two years’ and another to 18 months’ imprisonment for throwing acid in the face of corruption investigator Novel Baswedan in 2017. Baswedan’s face was badly scarred, and he lost 75 percent of his vision in the attack. Baswedan’s work for the Corruption Eradication Commission had led to the conviction of numerous high-level officials. He denounced the court for not pursuing the masterminds of the attack and called for an independent commission to investigate.

In September local courts in Kendari, Southeast Sulawesi, formally charged Syaifullah (one name only), the former acting head of the Communication and Information Agency, with corruption. According to the district attorney, Syaifullah stole funds from the 2019 “Pokok Pikiran” program totaling IDR 50 million ($3,550). Syaifullah faced a maximum sentence of five years and a fine. Police have not yet arrested Syaifullah because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to NGOs and media reports, police commonly demanded bribes ranging from minor payoffs in traffic cases to large amounts in criminal investigations. Corrupt officials sometimes subjected Indonesian migrants returning from abroad, primarily women, to arbitrary strip searches, theft, and extortion.

Bribes and extortion influenced prosecution, conviction, and sentencing in civil and criminal cases. Anticorruption NGOs accused key individuals in the justice system of accepting bribes and condoning suspected corruption. Legal aid organizations reported cases often moved very slowly unless a bribe was paid, and in some cases prosecutors demanded payments from defendants to ensure a less zealous prosecution or to make a case disappear.

The National Ombudsman Commission received complaints related to litigation favors and maladministration in court decisions. In 2019 the Judicial Commission received 1,544 public complaints of judicial misconduct and recommended sanctions against 130 judges accused of manipulating trials.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires senior government officials and other officials working in certain agencies to file financial disclosure reports. The law requires that the reports include all assets held by the officials, their spouses, and their dependent children. The law requires reports be filed when the official takes office, every two years thereafter, within two months of leaving office, and immediately upon request by the corruption commission. The commission is responsible for verifying disclosures and publicizing them in the State Gazette and on the internet. There are criminal sanctions for noncompliance in cases involving corruption and compliance is generally high. Not all assets were verified due to commission resource limitations.

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

Domestic and international human rights organizations generally operated without government restriction (except in Papua and West Papua), investigating and publishing findings on human rights cases and advocating improvements to the government’s human rights performance. Government representatives met with local NGOs, responded to their inquiries, and took some actions in response to NGO concerns. Some officials, particularly those based in Papua and West Papua, subjected NGOs to monitoring, harassment, interference, threats, and intimidation. In the aftermath of August/September 2019 unrest in Papua, then coordinating minister for political, legal, and security affairs Wiranto said that the government would “temporarily limit access to Papua,” due to security concerns. As of September access for journalists, foreign diplomats and nonresidents remained heavily restricted.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government permitted UN officials to monitor the human rights situation in the country. Security forces and intelligence agencies, however, tended to regard foreign human rights observers with suspicion, especially those in Papua and West Papua, where their operations were restricted.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Many independent agencies addressed human rights problems, including the Office of the National Ombudsman, the National Commission on Violence against Women, and the National Human Rights Commission. The government is not required to adopt their recommendations and at times avoided doing so. Some agencies, including the human rights and violence against women commissions, may refer cases to police or prosecutors.

The Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to investigate human rights violations perpetrated by the government and the then active Free Aceh Movement between 1976 and 2005, has taken 3,040 statements from victims, former separatists, and witnesses. Since 2018 the commission has conducted three sets of public hearings; one local hearing in Lhokseumawe, North Aceh; and two thematic hearings in Banda Aceh in which victims of human rights abuses gave public testimony. Budget constraints continued to pose challenges for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and its budget was further reduced during the year to reallocate funds for COVID-19 emergency response.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, domestic abuse, and other forms of violence against women. The legal definition of rape covers only forced penetration of sexual organs, and filing a case requires a witness or other corroboration. Rape is punishable by four to 14 years in prison. While the government imprisoned some perpetrators of rape and attempted rape, sentences were often light, and many convicted rapists received the minimum sentence. Marital rape is not a specific criminal offense in law but is covered under “forced sexual intercourse” in national legislation on domestic violence and may be punished with criminal penalties.

The National Commission on Violence against Women’s annual report recorded a 6-percent increase in known cases of all types of violence against women over the 2019 report. According to the report, the majority of incidents were domestic violence cases. Civil society activists underscored that many cases go unreported, as many victims do not report abuse because of fear of social stigma, shame, and lack of support from friends and family. According to the national commission, from January to May there were 892 reported cases of violence against women, with the majority occurring after lockdown policies were implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This figure is equivalent to 63 percent of total cases reported during the entirety of 2019.

Civil society organizations operated integrated service centers for women and children in all 34 provinces and approximately 436 districts and provided counseling and support services of varying quality to victims of violence. Larger provincial service centers provided more comprehensive psychosocial services. Women living in rural areas or districts with no such center had difficulty receiving support services, and some centers were only open for six hours a day, not the required 24 hours. Nationwide, police operated “special crisis rooms” or “women’s desks” where female officers received reports from female and child victims of sexual assault and trafficking and where victims found temporary shelter.

In addition to 32 provincial-level anti-trafficking-in-persons task forces, the government has 251 task forces at the local (district or city) level, which were usually chaired by the head of the local integrated service center or of the local social affairs office.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C reportedly occurred regularly. A 2017 UNICEF report based on 2013 government data estimated that 49 percent of girls age 11 and younger underwent some form of FGM/C, with the majority of girls subjected to the procedure before they were six months old. Media reports said that annual mass circumcisions still occur, including ceremonies organized by the As-Salaam Foundation, which paid parents to allow their daughters to undergo the Type IV procedure which, according to the World Health Organization, includes pricking, scraping, or piercing for nonmedical reasons. National law prohibiting this practice has never been tested in court as nobody has ever been charged for performing FGM/C.

The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection continued to lead official efforts to prevent FGM/C. In 2019 the ministry created an intergovernmental roadmap with the aim of eliminating FGM/C by 2030. The strategy involves building an anti-FGM/C consensus from the bottom up, beginning with efforts to develop more complete data on FGM/C to attract public attention, dispel old myths, and measure progress on stopping the practice. The roadmap also involves working with local religious and community leaders to educate the public about the harmful effects of FGM/C.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibiting indecent public acts serves as the basis for criminal complaints stemming from sexual harassment. Violations are punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and eight months and a small fine. Civil society and NGOs reported sexual harassment was a problem countrywide. In July the House of Representatives dropped a long-sought sexual violence eradication bill from the year’s legislative program, using delays imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse. Sexual violence victims and victim rights activists were disappointed by this decision, and a coalition of organizations (the Women’s Anti-Violence Movement Alliance) organized weekly protests in front of House of Representatives to push for the bill’s passage.

Reproductive Rights: While the law recognizes the basic right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, other regulations impact its effective implementation for women.

By law the government must provide information and education on reproductive health that do not conflict with religious or moral norms. NGOs reported that government officials attempted to restrict the provision of reproductive health information related to contraceptives and other services deemed as conflicting with religious or moral norms.

According to 2017 data from the Ministry of Health, 57 percent of married women used modern contraception. WHO data from 2019 showed that 78 percent of women of reproductive age (15 to 49 years old) believed their family planning needs were satisfied with modern methods. While condoms were widely available, regulations require husbands’ permission for married women to obtain other forms of birth control. Local NGOs reported that unmarried women found it difficult to obtain contraceptives through health care systems. Media and NGOs reported such women were stigmatized, including by health-care staff who repeatedly asked about marital status and sometimes turned away unmarried women seeking routine procedures such as pap smears.

The United Nations Population Fund reported that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted access to family planning and reproductive services. The National Agency for Population and Family Planning reported that approximately 10 percent of its clients dropped out of its programs during the pandemic and warned of a “pandemic baby boom.”

NGOs reported that reproductive health services are not consistently provided to victims of sexual violence. NGOs reported rape victims sometimes experienced difficulties obtaining emergency contraceptives from medical providers.

According to 2017 World Health Organization (WHO) data, the maternal mortality rate was 177 per 100,000 live births, down from 184 in 2016. According to Ministry of Health data from 2019, 91 percent of live births were attended by health professionals, of whom 63 percent were midwives, 30 percent doctors or nurses, and 6 percent traditional healers. The ministry estimated in the same year that 89 percent of pregnant women received four or more prenatal care visits. In 2017 UNICEF reported that 87 percent of women received postnatal care within two days of giving birth. According to 2018 WHO data, the adolescent birth rate was 36 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.

The Ministry of Health and NGOs identified several factors contributing to the maternal mortality rate, including lack of training for midwives and traditional birth attendants, continued lack of access to basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care, and limited availability of essential maternal and neonatal medications. Hospitals and health centers did not always properly manage complicated procedures, and financial barriers and the limited availability of qualified health personnel caused problems for referrals in case of complications. A woman’s economic status, level of education, and age at first marriage also affected maternal mortality.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men in family, labor, property, and nationality law, but it does not grant widows equal inheritance rights. The law states that women’s work outside their home must not conflict with their role in improving family welfare and educating the younger generation. The law designates the man as the head of the household.

Divorce is available to both men and women. Many divorced women received no alimony, since there is no system to enforce such payments. The law requires a divorced woman to wait 40 days before remarrying; a man may remarry immediately.

The National Commission on Violence against Women viewed many local laws and policies as discriminatory. These included “morality laws” and antiprostitution regulations. More than 70 local regulations in various locations throughout the country require women to dress conservatively or wear a headscarf. In June the regent of Central Lombok ordered all female Muslim civil servants to wear a cadar or niqab Islamic face covering instead of a facemask as part of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Human rights activists viewed this instruction as discriminatory since male civil servants and non-Muslim women faced no restrictions on their attire. The Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for “harmonizing” local regulations that are not in line with national legislation and may recommend to the Constitutional Court that local regulations be overturned. To date the ministry has not invoked this authority.

Women faced discrimination in the workplace, both in hiring and in gaining fair compensation (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents or through birth in national territory. Birth registration may be denied if the citizenship of the parents cannot be established. Without birth registration, families may face difficulties in accessing government-sponsored insurance benefits and enrolling children in schools.

The law prohibits fees for legal identity documents issued by the civil registry. Nevertheless, NGOs reported that in some districts local authorities did not provide free birth certificates.

Education: Although the constitution states that the government must provide free education, it does not cover fees charged for schoolbooks, uniforms, transportation, and other nontuition costs. The Ministry of Education and Culture, representing public and private schools, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs for Islamic schools and madrassahs, operated a system giving students from low-income families a financial grant for their educational needs. Nonetheless, high poverty rates nationwide put education out of reach for many children.

According to the National Statistics Agency’s most recent data, in 2017 approximately two million children ages seven to 15 did not attend primary or secondary school, and the enrollment rate in some districts was as low as 33 percent.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse, but NGOs criticized the slow police response to such allegations. The law also addresses economic and sexual exploitation of children. Some provincial governments did not enforce these provisions. In June a church caretaker was arrested for allegedly molesting at least 20 altar boys between the ages of 11 and 15 since 2002. He faced five to 15 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine. The same month police arrested a French retiree resident in Jakarta on charges he molested more than 300 children and beat those who refused to have sex with him. He was also accused of videotaping these children, and police were investigating whether he attempted to sell the videos. According to police, he committed suicide in July while in custody before his trial was completed.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: In September 2019 the national legislature raised the minimum marriage age for women from 16 to 19; it was already 19 for men. Exceptions to the minimum age requirements are allowed with court approval. The courts officially permitted more than 33,000 child marriages with parental consent between January and June of this year, a significant increase over the 24,000 child marriages permitted in the whole of 2019. Children’s rights activists are concerned that increased economic pressure from COVID-19 may be leading parents to resort to child marriage to reduce the economic burden on their households. The National Statistics Agency reported in 2018 that approximately 11 percent of girls in the country marry before the age of 18. Provinces with the highest rates of early marriage include West Sulawesi, Central Kalimantan, Southeast Sulawesi, South Kalimantan, and West Kalimantan. The main drivers of early marriage are poverty, cultural tradition, religious norms, and lack of sexual reproductive health education.

The reduction of child marriage is one of the targets set in the National Mid-Term Development Plan 2020-2024. The government aims to reduce new child marriages in the country to 8.7 percent of all marriages by 2024. On February 4, the government launched a National Strategy on the Prevention of Child Marriage.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law forbids consensual sex outside of marriage with girls younger than 15. It does not address heterosexual acts between women and boys, but it prohibits same-sex sexual acts between adults and minors.

The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and the use of children in illicit activities. It also prohibits child pornography and prescribes a maximum sentence of 12 years and a substantial fine for producing or trading in child pornography.

According to 2016 data, the most recent available from the Ministry of Social Affairs, there were 56,000 underage sex workers in the country; UNICEF estimated that nationwide 40,000 to 70,000 children were victims of sexual exploitation and that 30 percent of female commercial sex workers were children.

Displaced Children: The most recent Ministry of Social Affairs data from 2017 estimated there were 16,000 street children in the country. The government continued to fund shelters administered by local NGOs and paid for the education of some street children. The social welfare ministry in 2019 indicated that 183,104 children were registered in its Integrated Social Welfare Data system, of whom 106,406 were residing in child welfare institutions, with 76,698 in family placement. The ministry indicated that 8,320 street children were receiving assistance, although NGOs noted that the actual number of street children was significantly higher.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population was extremely small, estimated at approximately 200. There were no significant reports of anti-Semitism during the year, but studies in recent years indicated a high level of anti-Semitic sentiment.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities and mandates accessibility to public facilities for persons with disabilities. The law applies to education, employment, health services, and other state services but was seldom enforced. Comprehensive disability rights law provisions impose criminal sanctions for violators of the rights of persons with disabilities.

Vulnerable segments of society, including persons with disabilities, have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis. They have experienced difficulties accessing information on the pandemic, adopting virus-related public health strategies, and receiving health care from service providers.

According to government data, approximately 30 percent of the 1.6 million children with disabilities had access to education. More than 90 percent of blind children reportedly were illiterate. In February and July, the government issued new regulations requiring courts be made accessible for persons with disabilities and that educational facilities at all levels be made accessible for persons with disabilities.

According to the General Election Commission, there were potentially 137,247 voters with disabilities out of 105 million voters registered to vote in regional head elections. The numbers, however, may change as voter verification continues. The law provides persons with disabilities the rights to vote and run for office and election commission procedures provide for access to the polls for voters with disabilities.

Despite a government ban, NGOs reported that families, traditional healers, and staff in institutions continued to shackle individuals with psychosocial disabilities, in some cases for years. The government continued to prioritize elimination of this practice, and the Ministry of Social Affairs signed memoranda of understanding with relevant ministries and law enforcement agencies to increase coordination to address the issue. While recognizing incidents of “shackling” continued to decline, NGOs noted a lack of public awareness of the issue.

Indigenous People

The government views all citizens as “indigenous” but recognizes the existence of several “isolated communities” and their right to participate fully in political and social life. The Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago estimated that between 50 and 70 million indigenous persons were in the country. These communities include the Dayak tribes of Kalimantan, families living as sea nomads, and the 312 officially recognized indigenous groups in Papua. Indigenous persons, most notably in Papua and West Papua, were subjected to discrimination, and there was little improvement in respect for their traditional land rights. The government failed to prevent companies, often in collusion with local military and police units, from encroaching on indigenous persons’ land. Central and local government officials were also alleged to have extracted kickbacks from mining and plantation companies in exchange for land access at the expense of indigenous peoples.

Mining and logging activities, many of them illegal, posed significant social, economic, and legal problems for indigenous communities. Melanesians in Papua cited racism and discrimination as drivers of violence and economic inequality in the region.

Since 2016 the government has granted more than 50,000 acres of forest concessions to nine local indigenous groups. These hutan adat (customary forest) land grants were a new land classification specifically designated for indigenous groups. Nevertheless, access to ancestral lands remained a major source of tension throughout the country, and large corporations and the government continued to displace individuals from ancestral lands.

On February 17, police arrested Dilik Bin Asap and Hermanus Bin Bison following allegations by palm oil company PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada that the two men had harvested fruit on land claimed by the company in Lamandau District, Central Kalimantan. The land is also claimed by local Dayak villagers who said the government improperly issued a land concession to the company that overlaps with Dayak lands. Community lobbying efforts to resolve the dispute have remained unsuccessful.

On March 7, Jakarta police also arrested farmer and land rights activist James Watt, who had gone to Jakarta to report the arrests of Dilik and Hermanus to the National Human Rights Commission. Following Watt’s arrest, he was returned to Kalimantan and charged with orchestrating the alleged improper use of land. On April 26, Watt’s codefendant Bin Bison died in pretrial detention. Authorities denied petitions from his lawyers for his release for medical treatment as his condition worsened. On June 15, a local court convicted Bin Asap and Watt of the theft. The two announced plans to appeal.

In August in connection with the same dispute, police arrested Effendi Buhing, leader of the local Dayak indigenous community, for directing locals to steal equipment from the palm oil company. Police released Effendi after two days in detention. Effendi subsequently reported his arrest to the National Human Rights Commission.

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

No national law criminalizes same-sex sexual activity, except between adults and minors. Aceh’s sharia law makes consensual same-sex sexual activities illegal and punishable by a maximum of 100 lashes, a considerable fine, or a 100-month prison term. According to Aceh’s sharia agency chief, at least four witnesses must observe individuals engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activities for them to be charged. Local organizations held anti-LGBTI protests.

Producing media depicting consensual same-sex sexual activity–vaguely and broadly defined in the law–is often prosecuted as a crime under the antipornography act. Penalties include potentially extremely large fines and imprisonment from six months to 15 years, with heavier penalties for crimes involving minors.

In September police arrested nine persons suspected of organizing a gay party at a Jakarta hotel. Police officials stated the nine were charged under pornography provisions of the criminal code. A coalition of NGOs protested the arrest, arguing that the activities did not constitute pornography under the law and that police exceeded their authority by arresting individuals for private conduct. Media reported police set up a special task force to investigate alleged homosexual activity.

Antidiscrimination law does not protect LGBTI individuals, and discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons continued. Families often put LGBTI minors into therapy, confined them to their homes, or pressured them to marry persons of the opposite sex.

According to media and NGO reports, local authorities harassed transgender persons, including by forcing them to conform to the cultural behavior associated with their biological sex, and forced them to pay bribes following detention. In many cases officials failed to protect LGBTI persons from societal abuse. Police corruption, bias, and violence caused LGBTI persons to avoid interaction with police. Officials often ignored formal complaints by victims and affected persons, including refusing to investigate bullying directed at LGBTI individuals. In criminal cases with LGBTI victims, police investigated the cases reasonably well, as long as the suspect was not affiliated with police. Human Rights Watch Indonesia noted anti-LGBTI rhetoric in the country has increased since 2016.

In April a transgender woman was burned to death in Jakarta after she was accused of stealing. Police arrested four individuals and the cases were with the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution.

Police arrested a social media personality after he posted a video of himself distributing boxes full of garbage disguised as food aid to transgender women. The victims settled the case and the charges were dropped. Members of the LGBTI community noted an increased level of intolerance after police in East Java opened six pedophilia cases against members of the LGBTI community in January and February.

Transgender persons faced discrimination in employment and access to public services and health care. NGOs documented government officials’ refusal to issue identity cards to transgender persons. The law only allows transgender individuals officially to change their gender after the completion of sex reassignment surgery. Some observers claimed the process was cumbersome and degrading because it is permissible only in certain undefined special circumstances and requires a court order declaring that the surgery is complete.

LGBTI NGOs operated but frequently held low-key public events because the licenses or permits required for holding registered events were difficult to obtain.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigmatization and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were pervasive, despite government efforts to encourage tolerance. Societal tolerance varied widely and official fear of a backlash from religious conservatives often resulted in muted prevention efforts. Societal barriers to accessing antiretroviral drugs compounded expenses and put these drugs beyond the reach of many. Persons with HIV/AIDS reportedly continued to face employment discrimination. Closer collaboration between the Ministry of Health and civil society organizations increased the reach of the government’s awareness campaign; however, some clinics refused to provide services to persons with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Individuals diagnosed with or suspected of having the COVID-19 virus faced discrimination in their communities.

Individuals suspected of using black magic were often targets of violence. In May a man was stabbed by someone accusing him of being a shaman. In July a mob attacked two men who were accused of using magic to multiply money.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law, with restrictions, provides for the rights of workers to join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination.

Workers in the private sector have, in law, broad rights of association and formed and joined unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law places restrictions on organizing among public-sector workers. Civil servants may only form employee associations with limitations on certain rights, such as the right to strike. Employees of state-owned enterprises may form unions, but because the government treats most such enterprises as essential national interest entities, their right to strike is limited.

The law stipulates that 10 or more workers have the right to form a union, with membership open to all workers, regardless of political affiliation, religion, ethnicity, or gender. The Ministry of Manpower records, rather than approves, the formation of a union, federation, or confederation and provides it with a registration number.

The law allows the government to petition the courts to dissolve a union if it conflicts with the constitution or the national ideology of Pancasila, which encompasses the principles of belief in one God, justice, unity, democracy, and social justice. Authorities may compel a union to dissolve if its leaders or members, in the name of the union, commit crimes against the security of the state and they may receive a minimum of five years in prison. Once a union is dissolved, its leaders and members may not form another union for at least three years. The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted its concern that dissolving a union could be disproportionate to the seriousness of the violation.

The law includes some restrictions on collective bargaining, including a requirement that a union or unions represent more than 50 percent of the company workforce to negotiate a collective labor agreement (CLA). Workers and employers have 30 days to conclude a CLA before negotiations move to binding arbitration. CLAs have a two-year lifespan that the parties may extend for one year. Unions noted that the law allows employers to delay the negotiation of CLAs with few legal repercussions.

The right to strike is legally restricted. By law workers must give written notification to authorities and to the employer seven days in advance for a strike to be legal. The notification must specify the start and end time of the strike, venue for the action, and reasons for the strike, and it must include signatures of the chairperson and secretary of the striking union. Before striking, workers must engage in mediation with the employer and then proceed to a government mediator or risk having the strike declared illegal. In the case of an illegal strike, an employer may make two written requests within a period of seven days for workers to return. Workers who do not return to work after these requests are considered to have resigned.

All strikes at “enterprises that cater to the interests of the general public or at enterprises whose activities would endanger the safety of human life if discontinued” are deemed illegal. Regulations do not specify the types of enterprises affected, leaving this determination to the government’s discretion. Presidential and ministerial decrees enable companies or industrial areas to request assistance from police and the military in the event of disruption of or threat to “national vital objects” in their jurisdiction. The ILO has observed that the definition of “national vital objects” was expanding and consequently imposing overly broad restrictions on legitimate trade union activity, including in export-processing zones. Regulations also classify strikes as illegal if they are “not as a result of failed negotiations.” Unions alleged that the government’s recent increase of the number of “national vital objects” was done to justify the use of security forces to restrict strike activity.

The government did not always effectively enforce provisions of the law protecting freedom of association or preventing antiunion discrimination. Antiunion discrimination cases moved excessively slowly through the court system. Bribery and judicial corruption in workers’ disputes continued, and unions claimed that courts rarely decided cases in the workers’ favor, even in cases in which the Ministry of Manpower recommended in favor of the workers. While such workers sometimes received severance pay or other compensation, they were rarely reinstated. Authorities used some legal provisions to prosecute trade unionists for striking, such as the crime of “instigating a punishable act” or committing “unpleasant acts,” which criminalized a broad range of conduct.

Penalties for criminal violations of the law protecting freedom of association and the right to enter into collective labor agreements include a prison sentence and fines, and they were generally commensurate with similar crimes. Local Ministry of Manpower offices were responsible for enforcement, which was particularly difficult in export-promotion zones. Enforcement of CLAs varied based on the capacity and interest of individual regional governments.

Several common practices undermined freedom of association. Antiunion intimidation most often took the form of termination, transfer, or filing unjustified criminal charges. Labor activists claimed that companies orchestrated the formation of multiple unions, including “yellow” (employer-controlled) unions, to weaken legitimate unions. Some employers threatened employees who contacted union organizers. Companies often sued union leaders for losses suffered in strikes. Unions also alleged that employers commonly reassigned labor leaders deemed to be problematic.

Many strikes were unsanctioned or “wildcat” strikes that broke out after a failure to settle long-term grievances or when an employer refused to recognize a union. Unions reported that employers also used the bureaucratic process required for a legal strike to obstruct unions’ right to strike. Unions noted that employers’ delays in negotiating CLAs contributed to strike activity and legal measures taken against union members in the event of a failed CLA negotiation. The ILO cited the lack of a strong collective bargaining culture as a factor contributing to many labor disputes.

The increasing use of contract labor directly affected workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively. Under the law, contract labor is to be used only for work that is “temporary in nature”; a business may outsource work only when such work is an auxiliary activity of the business. Government regulations limit employers’ ability to outsource jobs to five categories of workers (cleaning services, security, transportation, catering, and work related to the mining industry). Nevertheless, many employers violated these provisions, sometimes with the assistance of local offices of the Ministry of Manpower. For example, unions reported that hotel owners often attempted to use the cleaning services exemption to justify terminating unionized hotel housekeeping staff and outsourcing those services.

On November 3, President Jokowi signed into law the Omnibus Bill on Job Creation, which made sweeping changes to more than 70 labor, tax, and other laws to cut red tape and make the country more open to investment. Labor unions and civil society organizations protested passage of the law, which they say weakens worker protections and allows encroachment on indigenous and protected land.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, prescribing penalties of imprisonment and a fine, which were commensurate with similar crimes.

In order to limit prospects for forced labor among Indonesian workers abroad, the National Social Security Administration enrolls these migrant workers and their families in the national social security program, enables authorities to prosecute suspects involved in illegal recruitment and placement of workers, and limits the role of private recruitment and placement agencies by revoking their authority to obtain travel documents for migrant workers. Government agencies may suspend the licenses of recruitment agencies for coercive or deceptive recruitment practices and contract signings, sending migrant workers to an unauthorized destination country, document forgery, underage recruitment, illegal fees (such as requesting several months of workers’ salaries), and other violations.

The government continued its moratorium on sending domestic workers to certain countries where its citizens had been subjected to forced labor. Some observers noted this moratorium resulted in an increasing number of workers seeking the services of illegal brokers and placement agencies to facilitate their travel, increasing their vulnerability to human trafficking. The government has asserted such moratoriums are needed until receiving countries can guarantee protections against the abuse and exploitation of its migrant workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were credible reports that forced labor occurred, including forced and compulsory labor by children (see section 7.c.). Forced labor occurred in domestic servitude and in the mining, manufacturing, fishing, fish processing, construction, and plantation agriculture sectors.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Law and regulations prohibit all labor by children between the ages of five and 12. Children ages 13 and 14 may work up to 15 hours per week; children ages 15 to 17 may work up to 40 hours per week (not during school or evening hours and with written permission from parents). The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor, as defined by the ILO. It does not, however, extend to the informal economy, where most child labor takes place. Companies which legally employ children for the purpose of artistic performances and similar activities are required to keep records of their employment. Companies that legally employ children for other purposes are not required to keep such records. In 2019 through its Family Hope Program, the government removed 18,000 children from child labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law prohibiting the worst forms of child labor, since it did not effectively investigate, prosecute, or sanction persons who involve children in the production, sale, or trafficking of illicit drugs. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Child labor commonly occurred in domestic service, rural agriculture, light industry, manufacturing, and fishing. The worst forms of child labor occurred in commercial sexual exploitation, including the production of child pornography (also see section 6, Children); other illicit activities, including forced begging and the production, sale, and trafficking of drugs; and in fishing and domestic work.

According to a 2019 National Statistics Agency report, there were approximately 1.6 million children ages 10 to 17 working, primarily in the informal economy.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation but not specifically with respect to sexual orientation or gender identity, national origin or citizenship, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status. There were no legal restrictions against women in employment to include limiting working hours, occupations, or tasks.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for violations of similar laws, but they were not applied outside the formal sector. According to NGOs, antidiscrimination protections were not always observed by employers or the government. Human rights groups reported some government ministries discriminated against pregnant women, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and HIV-positive persons in hiring. For example, in November 2019 the Attorney General’s office openly stated it would not accept applications from persons with disabilities or LGBTI applicants. The Ministry of Manpower, the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Agency, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the National Development Planning Board worked in partnership to reduce gender inequality, including supporting equal employment opportunity task forces at the provincial, district, and municipal levels. Women, however, still lagged behind men in wages.

Migrant workers and persons with disabilities commonly faced discrimination in employment and were often only hired for lower status jobs.

Some activists said that in manufacturing, employers relegated women to lower paying, lower level jobs. Jobs traditionally associated with women continued to be significantly undervalued and unregulated. NGOs reported discriminatory behavior toward domestic workers continued to be rampant.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages varied throughout the country, since provincial governors had authority to set a minimum wage floor and district heads had authority to set a higher rate. Minimum wages were above the official poverty line.

Government regulations exempt employers in certain sectors, including small and medium enterprises and labor-intensive industries such as textiles, from minimum wage requirements.

The overtime rate for work in excess of a 40-hour workweek was 1.5 times the normal hourly rate for the first hour and twice the hourly rate for additional overtime, with a maximum of three hours of overtime per day and a maximum of 14 hours per week.

The law requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace and to treat workers with dignity. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Local officials from the Ministry of Manpower are responsible for enforcing minimum wage, work hours, and health and safety regulations. Penalties for violations include fines and imprisonment (for violation of the minimum wage law), which were generally commensurate with those for similar crimes. Government enforcement remained inadequate, particularly at smaller companies, and supervision of labor standards continued to be not fully enforced. Provincial and local officials often did not have the technical expertise needed to enforce labor law effectively. The number of inspectors was inadequate to enforce compliance, although in 2019 the government substantially increased its labor inspectorate funding, with a specific budget for enforcing child labor regulations.

Authorities enforced labor regulations, including minimum wage regulations, only for the estimated 43 percent of workers in the formal sector. Workers in the informal sector did not receive the same protections or benefits as workers in the formal sector, in part because they had no legal work contract that labor inspectors could examine.

The law does not mandate that employers provide domestic workers with a minimum wage, health insurance, freedom of association, an eight-hour workday, a weekly day of rest, vacation time, or safe work conditions.

Plantation agriculture workers often worked long hours without government-mandated health insurance benefits. They lacked proper safety gear and training in pesticide safety. Most plantation operators paid workers by the volume of crop harvested, which resulted in some workers receiving less than minimum wage and working extended hours to meet volume targets.

Unions continued to urge the government, especially the Ministry of Manpower, to do more to address the country’s poor worker safety record and lax enforcement of health and safety regulations, particularly in the construction sector. There were no reliable national estimates for workplace deaths or injuries. In April the Confederation of Worker’s Union urged the government to require business owners to comply with government requirements to suspend operations during COVID-19 lockdowns because many factory workers were required to report to work by their employers in defiance of government lockdown orders.

Malaysia

Executive Summary

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It has a parliamentary system of government selected through regular, multiparty elections and is headed by a prime minister. The king is the head of state, serves a largely ceremonial role, and has a five-year term. The kingship rotates among the sultans of the nine states with hereditary Malay rulers. In 2018 parliamentary elections, the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, resulting in the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Before and during the campaign, then opposition politicians and civil society organizations alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups due to lack of media access and malapportioned districts favoring the then ruling coalition. In February the Pakatan Harapan coalition collapsed, and power transferred to the new Malay-dominated Perikatan Nasional coalition; Muhyiddin Yassin became prime minister.

The Royal Malaysian Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Home Affairs. State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to enforce some criminal aspects of sharia. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or its agents; reports of torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on and intolerance of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; violence against transgender persons; criminalization of consensual adult same-sex sexual activities; and child labor.

The government arrested and prosecuted some officials engaged in corruption, malfeasance, and human rights abuses, although civil-society groups alleged continued 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 scattered reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, mostly in the prison system. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together stated that Dhan Bahdur, a 26-year-old Nepali citizen, died on May 31, five days after he was detained in Kuala Lumpur. The NGO declared police did not properly notify the coroner of the death as required by law, and called on authorities to make details of the case public. In August, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin revealed that 23 detainees, including two children, died in immigration detention centers from January to June. In a 2018 report on custodial deaths, the NGO Lawyers for Liberty described a “broken system that abets the perpetrators of these crimes.”

Investigation by the Criminal Investigation Division within the Royal Malaysian Police into the use of deadly force by a police officer occurs only if the attorney general initiates the investigation or approves an application for an investigation by family members of the deceased. When the attorney general orders an official inquiry, a coroner’s court convenes, and the hearing is open to the public. In such cases, courts generally issued an “open verdict,” meaning that there would be no further action against police.

In July the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) urged the release of a September 2019 government report on the Wang Kelian mass grave site found along the Thai border in 2015, in which according to NGOs that investigated, a transnational crime syndicate committed murder, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, and rape as part of a “widespread and systematic attack” against Rohingya migrants.

b. Disappearance

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

In February, SUHAKAM initiated a public inquiry into the 2016 disappearance of Christian converts Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife, Ruth Sitepu. Police continued to make little progress in their investigation, citing a lack of information in the case. One witness testified that Pastor Hilmy had previously told him “religious authorities were looking for him” due to his Christian faith, although he had not been threatened. Another testified the couple received threats by phone before their disappearance. SUHAKAM’s inquiry was suspended in March after two of its commissioners tested positive for COVID-19. In February, Susanna Liew, the wife of Pastor Raymond Koh, who disappeared in 2017, initiated civil action against the government and several senior officials for failing to properly investigate her husband’s kidnapping, accusing them of negligence, misfeasance, and conspiracy to injure.

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

No law specifically prohibits torture; however, laws that prohibit “committing grievous hurt” encompass torture. More than 60 offenses are subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, and judges routinely mandated caning as punishment for crimes, including kidnapping, rape, and robbery, and nonviolent offenses, such as narcotics possession, criminal breach of trust, migrant smuggling, immigration offenses, and others.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Police abuse of suspects in custody and a lack of accountability for such offenses remained a serious problem.

In August the Perikatan Nasional administration withdrew a bill the Pakatan Harapan government had introduced in July 2019 to create an Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission with the power to discipline police misconduct and instead introduced a bill for an Independent Police Conduct Commission lacking enforcement powers. The NGO Transparency International Malaysia described the new proposal as a watered-down version of the original, “with no bite.”

According to SUHAKAM, 15 persons died in police lockups and prison from 2019 through September, while more than 55 individuals died in immigration detention centers. The government claimed that deaths caused by police were rare, but civil-society activists disputed this claim.

Civil and criminal law exempt men older than 50, unless convicted of rape, and all women from caning. Male children between the ages of 10 and 18 may receive a maximum of 10 strokes of a “light cane” in a public courtroom.

Some states’ sharia provisions, which govern family issues and certain crimes under Islam and apply to all Muslims, also prescribe caning for certain offenses. Women are not exempt from caning under sharia, and national courts have not resolved conflicts between the constitution, the penal code, and sharia.

Kelantan and Terengganu states allow courts to sentence individuals to public caning for certain civil offenses, although there were no reports of such punishment.

In February, Jasnih Ali, an auxiliary police officer at Kota Kinabalu International Airport, accused police of torturing him for two weeks while in custody following his arrest in 2018 for trafficking in illegal immigrants. His lawyer said police assaulted Ali to elicit a confession, and that the abuse stopped only after Ali agreed to give a “cautioned statement” mentioning the facts on which he intended to rely for his defense at trial. Ali said authorities hit him on the face, head and body, kicked him in the stomach and back, spat into his mouth, shoved a mop into his mouth, and applied electricity to his feet, all done while his eyes were blindfolded, his hands handcuffed behind his back, and his pants pulled down to his knees.

In July a high court judge set aside a lower-court decision adding caning to a jail sentence for 27 Rohingya men, six of them teenagers, for arriving in the country without valid permits. The judge declared that because the defendants were not habitual offenders and had not committed any acts of violence, it was “inhumane” to impose caning and that their refugee status afforded them international protection from persecution. Earlier, human rights groups had called on the court to drop the caning sentence, calling the punishment cruel and inhumane.

In October the Malaysian Insight internet news site, citing accounts from former inmates and watchdogs, reported that “torture by prison staff is rampant” in jails and that prisoners are subjected to sexual attacks. “It’s not like you are punished for some mistake. They will beat you for no reason…they will use batons and their favorite spots are at the stomach, feet, and back,” a former prisoner told media. A transgender former prisoner termed her community the most vulnerable group inside the prison system, forced to provide sex to prison guards in return for safety: “Do we have a choice? No, we don’t. They will ask you to perform all sorts of sex acts. Sometimes it happens three times a day. If we go out and lodge a report, who will believe our stories?” Sevan Doraisamy, executive director of the human rights NGO Suaram, declared that the government must take such complaints more seriously and allow independent investigators from SUHAKAM and the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission to conduct immediate investigations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers could be harsh and life threatening.

The government as part of its restrictions on movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cracked down on migrants, particularly Rohingya, who were put into detention centers for “quarantine.” In May media and human rights groups reported mass arrests and rising numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases inside the centers.

In August, Suaram reported that custodial deaths in immigration detention “remained serious,” increasing from 24 in 2018 to 55 in 2019.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons and immigration detention centers, particularly in facilities near major cities, remained a serious problem. According to the Home Ministry, 20 of the country’s 37 prisons were overcrowded. In Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, and Kelantan, prisons were overcrowded by 45 to 50 percent. According to World Prison Brief, as of December 2019 the country had 75,000 inmates in 52 prisons designed to hold only 52,000.

On May 29, Suaram listed a “notably higher number” of deaths in immigration detention facilities, with most deaths reported to be attributable to health and medical reasons.

As of October, 8 percent of Malaysia’s COVID-19 positive cases were prison inmates and prison staff. Former deputy defense minister Liew Chin Tong stated that the COVID-19 outbreak was turning prisons into “death traps” exacerbated by overcrowding problems. A Sabah state prison recorded more than 60 percent of inmates testing positive for COVID-19.

Administration: The law allows for investigations into allegations of mistreatment; however, this did not always function in practice. Officers found responsible for deaths in custody did not generally face punishment.

Authorities restricted rights to religious observance for members of all non-Sunni practices of Islam, which the government bans as “deviant.”

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally did not permit NGOs and media to monitor prison conditions; the law allows judges to visit prisons to examine conditions and ask prisoners and prison officials about conditions. The government’s Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and SUHAKAM monitored prisons on a case-by-case basis.

In August the new government abandoned a 2019 bill to establish an Independent Police Complaints of Misconduct Commission, and instead submitted a much weaker bill. Civil society organizations viewed this as a sign the government was not serious about an independent commission.

The new government did not grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to detention facilities where migrant laborers and refugees were being held.

Improvements: Police announced in January a pilot project establishing custodial medical units in five detention facilities as part of an effort to prevent deaths in custody.

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, and the government generally observed these requirements.

Police may use certain preventive detention laws to detain persons suspected of terrorism, organized crime, gang activity, and trafficking in drugs or persons without a warrant or judicial review for two-year terms, renewable indefinitely. Within seven days of the initial detention, however, police must present the case for detention to a public prosecutor. If the prosecutor agrees “sufficient evidence exists to justify” continued detention and further investigation, a fact-finding inquiry officer appointed by the minister of home affairs must report within 59 days to a detention board appointed by the king. The board may renew the detention order or impose an order to restrict, for a maximum of five years, a suspect’s place of residence, travel, access to communications facilities, and use of the internet. In other cases the law allows investigative detention for up to 28 days to prevent a criminal suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence during an investigation. In August, Suaram reported that 1,032 individuals were detained without trial under security laws.

In November, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin reported to parliament that 756 children were detained in immigration detention centers. Of these children, 405 were being held without guardians, including 326 children of Burmese nationality. Lawyers for Liberty coordinator Zaid Malek decried the continued detention of children as “inhumane,” stating it was “unfathomable as to why the authorities deem it fit and proper to detain hundreds of migrant and refugee children…in overcrowded detention centers during a worldwide health pandemic.” Immigration law allows authorities to arrest and detain noncitizens for 30 days, pending a deportation decision.

In November student activist Wong Yan Ke was arrested for “obstructing the police from carrying out their duties” by recording a Facebook live video of a raid on the residence of a Universiti Malaya student, in connection with a sedition investigation into a statement made by a student group questioning the role of the king. After being held overnight in a police lockup, Wong was transferred to a detention center and released that day. Wong criticized police for his “arbitrary arrest and detention.” The NGO Lawyers for Liberty expressed concern about the arrest, contending that the law “must not be used as a blanket provision to simply arrest anyone who records police conduct.” The charge carries a maximum penalty of one month’s jail, a fine, or both. A court date was set for February 2021.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law permits police to arrest and detain individuals for some offenses without a warrant, even outside situations of a crime in progress or other urgent circumstances. To facilitate investigations, police can hold a suspect for 24 hours, which can be extended for a maximum of 14 days by court order under general criminal law provisions. NGOs reported a police practice of releasing suspects and then quickly rearresting them to continue investigative custody without seeking judicial authorization.

Some NGOs asserted that a police approach of “arrest first, investigate later” was prevalent, particularly in cases involving allegations of terrorism. By law a person must be informed of the grounds for arrest by the arresting officer.

Bail is usually available for persons accused of crimes not punishable by life imprisonment or death. The amount and availability of bail is at the judge’s discretion. Persons granted bail usually must surrender their passports to the court.

Police must inform detainees of the rights to contact family members and consult a lawyer of their choice. Nonetheless, police often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel and questioned suspects without allowing a lawyer to be present. Police justified this practice as necessary to prevent interference in investigations in progress, and the courts generally upheld the practice.

While authorities generally treated attorney-client communications as privileged, Malaysian Anticorruption Commission officials may question lawyers who accompanied their clients to nonjudicial commission hearings about their interaction with their clients and the content of their discussions.

Police sometimes did not allow detainees prompt access to family members or other visitors.

The law allows the detention of a material witness in a criminal case if that person is likely to flee.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities sometimes used their powers to intimidate and punish opponents of the government. Activists and government critics were often subjected to late-night arrests, long hours of questioning, and lengthy remand periods, even if they were not ultimately charged with an offense. In July, according to the NGO Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), police carried out a late-night arrest of anticorruption and social activist K. Sudhagaran Stanley at his home, which C4 labelled a “chilling” action “aimed at instilling fear and silencing voices that are critical of the administration of this country.”

Pretrial Detention: The International Center for Prison Studies reported that pretrial detainees comprised approximately 27 percent of the prison population in 2018. Crowded and understaffed courts often resulted in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Three constitutional articles provide the basis for an independent judiciary; however, other constitutional provisions, legislation restricting judicial review, and executive influence over judicial appointments limited judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary. The judiciary frequently deferred to police or executive authority in cases those parties deemed as affecting their interests.

Members of the Malaysian Bar Council, NGO representatives, and other observers expressed serious concern about significant limitations on judicial independence, citing a number of high-profile instances of arbitrary verdicts, selective prosecution, and preferential treatment of some litigants and lawyers. Representatives of these groups argued that the lines between the executive, the judiciary, and the state were very blurred and that the judiciary needed to exert more independence and objectivity.

In August, Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat issued a show-cause notice to court of appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer requiring that he explain an affidavit he filed in February 2019 as part of a lawsuit against then chief justice Richard Malanjum. In the affidavit Hamid alleged government interference in previous judicial decisions and complicity by judges in sham cases designed to reward government supporters with large settlements. Hamid’s request for an open hearing was rejected, which caused Suaram to further question the independence of the judiciary; the hearing has been postponed due to COVID-19 measures.

Many viewed the July 28 conviction of former prime minister Najib Razak, whose government reportedly misappropriated at least $4.5 billion of the country’s state investment fund, in the first of his corruption trials as a victory (see section 4.). NGO leaders stated, however, that the verdict could not be seen as a positive sign of judicial independence. Suaram asserted, “The High Court is the worst place to determine judicial independence as there are very different extremes of judges and everything can be dismantled upon appeal.”

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The civil law system is based on British common law and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them, to a timely trial, and to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have counsel appointed at public expense if they face charges that carry the death penalty. Defendants also may apply for a public defender in certain other cases.

According to the Malaysian Bar Council, defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense if they had the means to engage private counsel. Otherwise, defendants must rely on legal aid and the amount of time to prepare for trial is at the discretion of the judge. Authorities provide defendants free interpretation in Mandarin, Tamil, and some other commonly used dialects from the moment charged through all appeals. The right to confront witnesses is limited by provisions allowing the identity of prosecution witnesses to be kept secret from the defense before a trial, which inhibits cross-examination of those witnesses. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Limited pretrial discovery in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Strict rules of evidence apply in court. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Defendants may appeal court decisions to higher courts, but only if the appeal raises a question of law or if material circumstances raise a reasonable doubt regarding conviction or sentencing. The Malaysian Bar Council claimed these restrictions were excessive.

In cases related to terrorism or national security, the law allows police to hold persons, even after acquittal, against the possibility of appeal by the prosecution.

Many NGOs complained women did not receive fair treatment from sharia courts, especially in divorce and child custody cases (see section 6).

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may sue the government and officials in court for alleged violations of human rights; however, a large case backlog often resulted in delays in civil actions, to the disadvantage of plaintiffs. The courts have increasingly encouraged the use of mediation and arbitration to speed settlements.

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

Laws prohibit such actions; nevertheless, authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy. Under national security laws, police may enter and search the homes of persons suspected of threatening national security without a warrant. The government monitored the internet and threatened to detain anyone sending or posting content the government deemed a threat to public order or security (see section 2.a.).

Islamic authorities may enter private premises without a warrant to apprehend Muslims suspected of engaging in offenses such as gambling, consumption of alcohol, and sexual relations outside marriage.

The government does not recognize marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims and considers children born of such unions illegitimate.

In February the Federal Court held that the National Registration Department was not bound by an edict issued by the National Fatwa Committee, a government body responsible for issuing fatwas on issues of national interest, regarding a case in the state of Johor, as that state had not yet gazetted (published) the national fatwa forbidding registration of the father’s last name for a Muslim child born or conceived less than six months after the parents’ marriage. The Federal Court also held that in this instance the department could decide not to record a surname instead of using the last names “bin Abdullah” or “binti Abdullah,” names commonly applied to children declared to be illegitimate, removing a longstanding source of social stigma.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution allows restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the security of the Federation…[or] public order.” The government regularly restricted freedom of expression for members of the public, media, and civil society, citing reasons such as upholding Islam and the special status of ethnic Malays, protecting national security, maintaining public order, and preserving friendly relations with other countries. The new ruling Perikatan Nasional coalition has shown a propensity to curb freedom of expression, particularly freedom of the press.

Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits sedition and public comment on issues defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans. The law prohibits speech “with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.”

In June police questioned anticorruption activist Cynthia Gabriel while investigating a letter she and her NGO C4 published in an online media outlet criticizing the ruling coalition government. Gabriel told media that the policy action was “harassment and intimidation,” adding, “they are trying to keep us from expressing critical views as politicians focus on grabbing power.” In June police also called in lawyer and human rights activist Siti Kassim for questioning after she posted a Facebook comment critical of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, part of the ruling coalition, a post police said was “intended to disrupt peace.” Also in June a sessions court charged Malaysian Crime Watch Task Force (MyWatch) chairperson R. Sri Sanjeevan with “spreading false information about the police on social media with the intent to annoy.”

In July the Department of Immigration detained a Bangladeshi national, Md Rayhan Kabir, after he spoke in an al-Jazeera documentary about the treatment of illegal immigrants by the authorities during implementation of the movement control order to curb the spread of COVID-19. Rayhan was deported in August. The immigration authorities investigated six of the Qatar-based al-Jazeera’s Malaysia-based reporters and staff for alleged sedition and defamation, subsequently declining to renew the visas of reporters Drew Ambrose and Jenni Henderson, both Australian nationals.

The new government imposed limits on public gatherings, which slowed the spread of COVID-19, garnering some public support, but it also prevented protests and minimized opportunities for opponents to mobilize against it. While there was backlash against the government’s tight controls from opposition parties, civil society groups, and members of the public, the government’s successful handling of the epidemic and its curbs on criticism largely silenced those voices.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Political parties and individuals linked to the ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all English and Malay language print and broadcast media, many of which were overtly progovernment. Online media outlets were more independent but were often the target of legal action and harassment.

The previous Pakatan Harapan coalition had opened the space for dissenting views, and journalists and bloggers expressed views and reported stories critical of the government without reprisal. With the change to the Perikatan Nasional government, however, there was a sharp decline in press freedom. One reporter said a communications officer from the prime minister’s office regularly convened journalists in Putrajaya to align messaging and “make the government look as good as possible.”

The government maintained and at times exerted control over news content, both in print and broadcast media. The government banned, restricted, or limited circulation of publications it considered a threat to public order, morality, or national security. The government has the power to suspend publication for these reasons and retained effective control over the licensing process.

The government used the COVID-19 pandemic to clamp down on media freedom and freedom of expression. On April 11, the National Security Council instructed police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (communications commission) “to take stern action on news portals that broadcast and publish confusing, inaccurate news,” purportedly to stop the spread of misinformation about the virus. In response the International Federation of Journalists stated: “The government’s ‘stern action’ will hinder the media’s oversight of the government and decrease transparency, ultimately endangering society amid the global [COVID-19] pandemic.”

In June, Attorney General Idrus Harun initiated contempt of court proceedings against online media outlet Malaysiakini and its editor in chief, Steven Gan, because of readers’ comments posted to a June 9 Malaysiakini article. The attorney general stated Malaysiakini facilitated the publication of comments that wrongfully alleged “the judiciary committed wrongdoings, is involved in corruption, does not uphold justice, and compromised its integrity.” Gan went on trial July 13 facing a possible jail term and fine set at the discretion of the courts. Judgment on the case was deferred to an unspecified date.

In a June 3 news release, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated that the COVID-19 pandemic had seen a further tightening of censorship in Malaysia, along with reported arrests for spreading discontent or allegedly spreading false information through the press and social media. The press release cited the investigation of Tashny Sukumaran, the Kuala Lumpur correspondent for the South China Morning Post, “for alleged improper use of network facilities or services and alleged intentional insult with the intent to provoke a breach of peace for reporting on the detention of undocumented migrants, reportedly despite Ministerial instructions not to act against the correspondent.” The release added that according to official estimates, the communications commission had opened “at least 265 investigation papers in connection with the dissemination of alleged fake news on COVID-19, with 29 individuals reportedly charged in court.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to harassment and intimidation. In response to a documentary on the government’s mistreatment of undocumented migrants during the COVID-19 lockdown, al-Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur offices were raided and their computers were seized. The government also announced it was investigating the outlet for sedition, defamation, and other violations of the law.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained the ability to censor media. The law requires a permit to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government due to fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with antidefamation laws, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in self-censorship in the print and broadcast media.

The new ruling coalition rolled back progress in press freedoms. One commentary in ASEAN Today concluded in August, “The recent crackdown on prominent journalists and media outlets is meant to send a clear message to others in the field: fall in line or face the consequences.”

The government occasionally censored foreign magazines, newspapers, and news programming, most often due to sexual content.

Government restrictions on radio and television stations mirrored those on print media, and the electronic media predominantly supported the government. Television stations censored programming to follow government guidelines.

The government generally restricted publications it judged might incite racial or religious disharmony. The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained a list of more than 1,700 banned publications as of November. In May the ministry banned the book Rebirth: Reform, Resistance, and Hope in New Malaysia for purportedly insulting the national coat of arms. The cover of the book bore artwork that resembled the national coat of arms but which displayed a naked child, two human-faced tigers, and a crocodile at the bottom in place of the national motto.

In February the court of appeal overturned the government’s ban on three books by the Islamic Renaissance Front, an organization promoting Islamic reform. The Ministry of Home Affairs originally banned the books in 2017, a decision the high court upheld in 2019.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law includes sections on civil and criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. True statements can be considered defamatory if they contravene the “public good.” The government and its supporters used these laws, along with provisions against sedition, to punish and suppress publication of material critical of government officials and policies.

In May police probed former minister Xavier Jayakumar over a video clip of his assertion that the one-day parliamentary sitting in May was “worthless” and “rubbish” as it was “a charade being played by a bunch of traitors and pirates” to safeguard the government’s interest. In July social activist Heidy Quah was investigated for defamation over a social media post alleging mistreatment of refugees at immigration detention centers. Neither investigation resulted in criminal charges. Also in July a retiree was fined for posting “insulting” comments about the health minister on social media, even though the court noted that the criticism “was not overboard or malicious in nature.”

National Security: Authorities often cited national security laws to restrict media distribution of material critical of government policies and public officials. The government used the COVID-19 pandemic to further this practice.

Nongovernmental Impact: NGOs sympathetic to the current government sought to limit freedom of expression through criminal complaints of allegedly seditious speech. Such NGOs also sometimes attempted to intimidate opposition groups through demonstrations.

In August, the NGO Gagasan Pulau Pinang (Penang Ideas) filed police reports alleging contempt of court against opposition leaders Tony Pua and Liew Chin Tong over their remarks, quoted by an online news portal, on a corruption case involving former finance minister Lim Guan Eng. In September several NGO leaders lodged a police report against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for claiming the Perikatan Nasional government had fallen after losing majority support from members of parliament. Mohamad Riduwan Md Amin of Penggerak Komuniti Negara Kota Melaka (Malacca Community Movers) said Anwar’s claims were seditious in nature and could instigate disharmony and political instability in the country.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the internet. Curtailing internet freedom to combat dissenting political views online, authorities blocked some websites and monitored the internet for messages and blog postings deemed a threat to public security or order.

The government warned internet users to avoid offensive or indecent content and sensitive matters such as religion and race, and it aggressively pursued charges against those criticizing Islam, the country’s royalty, or its political leaders. In March federal police arrested at least three individuals for separate social media posts insulting the king.

In June federal police questioned parliamentarian and former deputy minister of women, family, and community development Hannah Yeoh for a post on Twitter questioning the prospects for the national roadmap to fight child marriage under her successor from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. Commenting on police action against her, Yeoh posted, “Nowadays even asking questions is not allowed …during the Parliament sitting in May we were also not allowed to ask questions.”

Sedition and criminal defamation laws led to self-censorship by local internet content sources, including bloggers, news providers, and NGO activists.

The law requires internet and other network service providers to obtain a license and permits punishment of the owner of a website or blog for allowing offensive racial, religious, or political content. The government regards those who post content as publishers, thereby placing the burden of proof on the poster. NGOs and members of the public criticized the law, noting it could cause self-censorship due to liability concerns.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government placed some restrictions on academic freedom, particularly the expression of unapproved political views, and enforced restrictions on teachers and students who expressed dissenting views. The government requires all civil servants, university faculty, and students to sign a pledge of loyalty to the king and government. Some politicians and human rights activists claimed the government used the loyalty pledge to restrain political activity among these groups. Although faculty members sometimes publicly criticized the government, public university academics whose career advancement and funding depended on the government practiced self-censorship. Self-censorship took place among academics at private institutions as well, spurred by fear the government might revoke the licenses of their institutions. The law imposes limitations on student associations and on student and faculty political activity. Students remain prohibited from “expressing support or sympathy” for an unlawful society or organization.

The authorities arrested two student leaders of the Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth for sedition and misuse of network facilities regarding a post on social media discussing the scope of the king’s powers. Police orchestrated a raid on the home of the student group’s president and summoned six committee members to police headquarters for further questioning. According to the lawyer representing the student leaders, police also questioned the background, organizational structure, and operations of the student group as a student body of University Malaya. Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia Katrina Maliamauy commented, “It is a violation of their right to freedom of expression, especially considering that the Facebook post they made was intended to be part of an academic debate.”

The government censored films for certain political and religious content, not allowing, for example, screening of films in Hebrew or Yiddish, or from Israel. Although the government allowed foreign films at local film festivals, it sometimes censored content by physically blocking screens until the objectionable scene was over. Media censorship rules forbid movies and songs that promote acceptance of gay persons (see section 6). In February the National Art Gallery, under government orders, responded to public criticism and reinstated artworks previously pulled from Ahmad Fuad Osman’s At the End of The Day Even Art Is Not Important exhibition that featured nudity and political content. The National Art Gallery maintained its right to take down works that touch on the “dignity of any individual, religion, politics, race, culture, and country.”

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but allows restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of security, public order, or (in the case of association) morality. Abiding by the government’s restrictions did not protect some protesters from harassment or arrest.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides citizens “the right to assemble peaceably and without arms”; however, several laws restricted this right. Although the law does not require groups to obtain a permit for assemblies, police frequently placed time, location, and other restrictions on the right to assemble. Authorities banned street protests, and police sometimes confronted civil society and opposition demonstrations with mass arrests.

Protests deemed acceptable by the government usually proceeded without interference. The government restricted the right to freedom of assembly due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, as well as temporarily closing businesses, schools, and other public places.

On March 1, the day after the appointment of Perikatan Nasional leader Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister, approximately 100 protesters defied police warnings and rallied against what they termed Muhyiddin’s “backdoor” government. Police were present but did not stop the protest. Activist lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri said she was later “singled out” by police for posting a video of the protest and was being investigated for sedition and improper use of network facilities.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for the right of association; however, the government placed significant restrictions on this right, and certain statutes limit it. By law only registered organizations of seven or more persons may legally function. The government often resisted registering organizations deemed particularly unfriendly to the government or imposed strict preconditions. The government may revoke registrations for violations of the law governing societies.

The government bans membership in unregistered political parties and organizations.

Many human rights and civil society organizations had difficulty obtaining government recognition as NGOs. As a result, many NGOs registered as companies, which created legal and bureaucratic obstacles to raising money to support their activities. Authorities frequently cited a lack of registration as grounds for action against organizations. Some NGOs also reported the government monitored their activities to intimidate them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak States.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required foreigners and citizens from peninsular Malaysia to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained its ban on Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic preacher; Mandeep Karpal Singh, formerly of the fair-election NGO coalition Bersih; current Bersih chair Thomas Fann; former chairs Maria Chin and Ambiga Sreenevasan; Wong Chin Huat, an academic and Bersih resource chair; Jerald Joseph, a SUHAKAM commissioner; and activists Colin Nicholas and Jannie Lasimbang, among others. There were some restrictions on in-country movement by refugees and asylum seekers (see section 2.f.) and some internal travel restrictions related to COVID-19.

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes.

In March in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government placed restrictions on entering the country; citizens were required to quarantine upon returning, and there were restrictions on any foreigners entering the country.

In September the country implemented entry and movement restrictions on all foreign nationals from countries reporting more than 150,000 COVID-19 cases at that time through December 31 in response to the pandemic outbreak. Affected travelers include short-term visitors, permanent residents, students, foreign workers, and long-term residents. Foreign nationals were permitted to depart the country.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not Applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. The government cooperated to a limited extent with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. As there is no legal framework for dealing with refugees and asylum seekers in the country, UNHCR conducted all activities related to protection, including registration and status determination.

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: As of August 31, there were 178,140 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in the country, of whom 153,430 were from Burma. Of those from Burma, 101,530 were Rohingyas. There were some 24,700 refugees and asylum seekers from 50 countries, including Pakistanis, Yemenis, Syrians, Somalis, Afghans, Sri Lankans, Iraqis, Palestinians, and others. There were some 46,500 children younger than age 18.

Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR, NGOs, community-based organizations, refugee support networks, or illegal or informal labor. The government held thousands of individuals in immigration detention centers and other facilities. Access to those in detention centers was often significantly limited.

Between April and July, with the rise in public hostility toward migrant foreigners, particularly Rohingyas, over fears they were a burden on public resources and a COVID-19 vector, the government arrested undocumented migrant workers, including children, and held thousands in confined and congested cells at immigration detention centers and other facilities. Access to those in detention centers was often significantly limited. NGOs called the crackdown an “appalling violation of human rights” and noted the mass detention could further spread COVID-19 cases within detention facilities, stressing also that the roundups could discourage many from coming forward voluntarily for testing or treatment. On May 27, the NGO Lawyers for Liberty stated: “Undocumented migrants are not ‘acceptable casualties’ of the COVID-19 pandemic.” In February, UNHCR said that since August 2019, authorities had disallowed visits by its staff to detention centers to meet refugees and asylum seekers, determine those in need of international protection, and advocate for their release.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding in the immigration detention centers. In August the Indonesian civil society organization Coalition of Sovereign Migrant Workers accused Malaysian immigration officials of subjecting detained Indonesian migrant workers in Sabah to “systematic torture on an immense scale” in inhuman conditions and without adequate food and water. The group claimed detainees who disobeyed the guards were punched and kicked, then expected to say “thank you, teacher” to the officers; if they did not say thank you when they were hit, they would be hit again. They were also punished by being forced to squat on the floor all day long.

Local and international NGOs estimated most of the country’s 17 immigration detention centers were at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings, 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty, the cost of deportation generally fell to the detainee, which led to prolonged detention for those unable to pay.

The government on several occasions forcibly expelled boats with refugees and asylum seekers from a country where their lives or freedom could be threatened based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The NGO Fortify Rights reported that on April 16, the Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 396 Rohingya from a boat that was adrift for weeks, sustaining up to 60 fatalities; earlier Malaysian authorities had forced it back out to sea. They also reported that on April 16, the Royal Malaysian Air Force and Royal Malaysian Navy forced another boat with more than 200 Rohingya back to sea. On June 8, Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob reported that authorities had blocked the arrival of 22 boats with foreigners, excluding the boats carrying Rohingya refugees, since May 1.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allows UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent.

As “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others are subject to deportation at any time. They also face a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both, and mandatory caning with a maximum six strokes if convicted of immigration-law violations. In June, 40 Rohingya refugees were sentenced to seven months in jail for arriving in the country by boat without a valid permit. Of them, 27 men were also sentenced to three strokes with a cane. The high court later set aside the caning following an outcry from human rights defenders.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards nonetheless reported limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges, in a few cases, against employers for hiring refugees. Refugees employed in the informal sector were paid lower wages than comparable employees and were vulnerable to exploitation.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to persons without UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated static and mobile clinics, but their number and access were limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR staff members conducted numerous visits to prisons and immigration detention centers to provide counseling, support, and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, renewable residence permits to a group of Syrian refugees. The permit allows for legal residency and conveys work rights, but it must be renewed annually. The migrant rights NGO Tenaganita, however, said the Syrian refugees often were unable fully to access the rights awarded to them through this permit and experienced difficulty accessing health care and academic institutions.

g. Stateless Persons

The National Registration Department did not maintain records of stateless persons. In 2019 UNHCR estimated there were 12,400 stateless persons residing in peninsular Malaysia and 450,000 in Sabah. Baseline figures of stateless persons and persons “at risk” of statelessness in the eastern state of Sabah, where approximately 80,000 Filipino Muslim refugees reside, were unavailable.

Citizenship law and birth registration rules and procedures created a large class of stateless children in the migrant and refugee population. When mothers did not have valid proof of citizenship, authorities entered the child’s citizenship as “unknown” on the birth certificate. UNHCR deemed this a widespread problem.

Even if the father is a citizen, the marriage may be considered invalid and the children illegitimate if the mother lacks proof of citizenship; such children were also considered stateless.

Some observers indicated that children born to Muslim refugees and asylum seekers often had an easier time obtaining citizenship than non-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. For refugees in Muslim marriages, the observers claimed authorities often accepted a UNHCR document or other documentation in lieu of a passport as proof of citizenship.

Persons who lacked proof of citizenship were not able to access government services, such as reduced-cost health care, or own property. The federal government continued, however, to permit stateless children to enroll in public schools if parents were able to prove the child’s father was Malaysian. The minister of education stated there were 2,635 undocumented children in schools nationwide as of October 2019.

On August 5, the Home Ministry granted a prominent 20-year-old e-sports gamer, Muhammad Aiman Hafizi Ahmad, citizenship after taking three years to refuse the first application made on his behalf by his adoptive parents when he was 12 and taking three more years to consider a second application. Born in country to an Indonesian mother and unknown father, Aiman was legally adopted by a Malaysian couple, but his documents described him as stateless. While the constitution allows the government to register anyone younger than age 21 as a citizen, Aiman’s lawyer said the process is “opaque and takes a very long time…the government often rejects applications without reasons,” adding that there were many other stateless persons who were treated as “invisible” and that without publicity Aiman’s case would have been much more difficult.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In 2018 the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in general elections, marking the first federal transition of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. Prior to the 2018 elections, then opposition political parties were disadvantaged due to the Barisan Nasional government control over traditional media outlets and malapportionment of constituencies, among other issues.

While authorities generally recorded votes accurately, there were irregularities perpetrated by the former Barisan Nasional coalition government that affected the fairness of elections.

The constitution also provides for transfers of power without new legislative elections. This occurred in February when the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition collapsed, resulting in a transfer of power to the new Perikatan Nasional coalition. The king determined that Perikatan Nasional commanded a parliamentary majority and appointed Muhyiddin Yassin prime minister, in conformity with constitutional parameters. The new coalition sought no popular mandate through a general election during its first eight months in office, and convened three sessions of parliament–one session lasting less than a day in May, when the prime minister permitted no motions, including an attempted vote of no confidence, a second sitting in August focusing on adopting a COVID-19 economic stimulus package, and a third sitting in November and December to consider the budget.

The constitution fixes the number of seats in parliament assigned to each state to the advantage of rural states and regardless of population shifts over time. Moreover, it does not require equal populations in electoral constituencies in any given state. Each constituency elects one member of parliament. The Electoral Commission has established constituencies with widely varying populations, further to the advantage of rural populations. For example the rural district of Igan had 18,000 registered voters, while the urban district of Kapar had more than 144,000 registered voters. Local and municipal officials are appointed at the state or federal level.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s most recent general election was held in 2018 amid allegations of partisanship on the part of public institutions, in particular the Election Commission and the Registrar of Societies. A consortium of NGOs released a formal report later in 2018 detailing irregularities in the election, including vote buying, the use of public funds for partisan activity, and allegations of biased behavior by public officials. According to the NGOs, none of which were formally accredited to observe the polls, federal and state governments spent more than five billion ringgit (RM) ($1.2 billion) on “handouts” after legislatures had been dissolved and lawmakers were ostensibly prohibited from making new financial commitments. The report also alleged that one accredited election observer actively campaigned for the former Barisan Nasional government.

Despite strong objections by opposition political parties and civil society, in 2018 the former Barisan Nasional coalition government approved redrawn parliamentary districts that critics said unfairly advantaged Barisan Nasional through gerrymandering and malapportionment. By law the government was not allowed to redraw the electoral boundaries until 2026 unless members of parliament amended the federal constitution, a process which requires a two-thirds majority vote. Despite alleged electoral irregularities and systemic disadvantages for opposition groups, Barisan Nasional lost the election to Pakatan Harapan, the first transfer of power between coalitions since independence in 1957.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Many opposition candidates were unable to compete on equal terms with the then ruling Barisan Nasional coalition and were subject to restrictions and outside interference during the 2018 election campaign. Registering a new political party remained difficult because of government restrictions on the process.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation by women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In parliament 33 women hold 14.8 percent of the seats, an increase from 10.8 percent in the previous election cycle. Eight out of 14 Federal Court judges are women. In March the number of non-Muslim judges serving on the Federal Court rose to four; the number was previously limited to two. In May, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat was appointed chief justice, the first woman to ascend to the highest judicial office of the country. In July, Dato’ Sri Azalina binti Othman Said was appointed as the first female deputy speaker of parliament.

The political environment was hostile towards women. Attacks on female politicians and women who were critical of the country’s politics were common, including sexist remarks in parliament against female members, threats of rape and murder via Facebook and other social media platforms, and stereotyping female political candidates. The advent of the new Perikatan Nasional administration saw reduced female influence in the highest echelons of government, including the position of deputy prime minister previously held by Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Nine cabinet positions are held by women, compared with 10 held by women under the Pakatan Harapan administration. A significant portion of female leaders in state agencies were also replaced by men.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; prior to the February change of government, the government charged several former government officials with corruption, including the former prime minister, although there remained a broadly held perception of widespread corruption and cronyism in government institutions. Media outlets reported numerous cases of alleged official corruption.

The Malaysian Anticorruption Commission is responsible for investigating corruption in both private and public bodies but does not have prosecutorial authority. An auditor general is responsible, per the constitution, for auditing the accounts of the federal and state governments, government agencies, and other public authorities.

Corruption: In the first criminal trial in the country’s history involving a former prime minister, in July the high court convicted Najib Razak on all seven counts brought against him in the first of five corruption trials tied to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) investment fund scandal. Najib was charged with giving government guarantees on a loan from the country’s retirement fund to a subsidiary of the 1MDB, misappropriation of funds, and money laundering. Suits filed against Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor on 19 counts of money laundering and tax evasion remained underway.

In May a sessions court granted Riza Aziz, stepson to Najib, a discharge not amounting to acquittal in relation to five counts of laundering nearly $250 million from the 1MDB investment fund. As part of the agreement, Riza will return $108 million in assets. Former attorney general Tommy Thomas, who initiated the charges against Riza and Najib, called it “a sweetheart deal for Riza but terrible for Malaysia.” Many members of the legal community condemned the court’s decision.

In June the high court acquitted former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman on all 46 criminal charges of corruption and money laundering leveled against him, citing its failure to obtain key banking documents and the unavailability of several witnesses. Musa was charged in 2018 with 35 counts of accepting gratification amounting to RM 243 million ($63 million). In 2019 he was charged with 16 counts of money laundering involving RM 160 million ($38.4 million).

According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, authorities arrested 867 public officials for corruption and bribery from January 2019 to September 2020.

Financial Disclosure: Cabinet members must declare their assets to the prime minister. Senior civil servants are required to declare their assets to the chief secretary of the government. Junior civil servants must declare their assets to the head of their department. The assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare are clearly defined and do not include the assets and incomes of spouses and dependent children, except in the case of members of parliament. Public officials must declare their assets annually, but not upon entering or leaving office. Those who refuse or fail to declare their assets face disciplinary actions and are ineligible for promotion. Such declarations are made public.

In March, Prime Minister Muhyiddin announced that all elected representatives in the government must declare their assets within three months of the date they were sworn in. In July, the government released information on all declared assets publicly. As of August, 57 of the 70 officials in the Perikatan Nasional government had their monthly income and total asset value listed on the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission’s portal, which was accessible to the public.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups operated subject to varying levels of government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases; however, the government was not always cooperative or responsive to their views.

Outside the political and human rights fields, the government generally allowed NGOs to function independently, met with representatives from some NGOs, and responded to some NGO requests. The government, however, also took action against some NGOs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The official human rights commission SUHAKAM is headed by a chairperson and commissioners appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister. Observers generally considered SUHAKAM a credible human rights monitor. It conducted training, undertook investigations, issued reports, and made recommendations to the government. SUHAKAM may not investigate court cases in progress and must cease its inquiries if a case becomes the subject of judicial action. Representatives of SUHAKAM asserted that the Perikatan Nasional coalition was reluctant to engage with them, making implementation of reforms impossible.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women or men is a criminal offense, as are most forms of domestic violence. Rape is punishable by a maximum 20 years’ imprisonment and caning. The law does not recognize marital rape as a crime.

Women’s groups asserted the courts were inconsistent in punishing rapists. According to the latest statistics from the NGO Women’s Aid Organization, there were 1,582 recorded rape cases in 2017, and 5,421 recorded cases of gender-based violence in 2018. There was a lack of investigation into accusations of rape and gender-based violence, and little accountability. After the movement control order to combat COVID-19 was implemented in March, the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development experienced a 57 percent spike in calls from women in distress.

In April a police inspector was arrested and suspended for abducting and raping two Mongolian women in Petaling Jaya. He reportedly stopped their taxi at a COVID-19 movement control order roadblock and, finding that they had no valid travel documents, took them forcibly to a hotel where he raped them. He was charged with eight counts of rape, carrying a maximum term of 30 years’ imprisonment and caning. He was separately charged with trafficking in persons for the purpose of exploitation through the abuse of power, with a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Initially set for July hearings, both cases were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the government and NGOs maintained shelters and offered other assistance to victims of domestic violence, activists asserted that support mechanisms remained inadequate. Many government hospitals had crisis centers where victims of rape and domestic abuse could file reports without going to a police station. There is also a sexual investigations unit at each police headquarters to help victims of sexual crimes and abuse, and police sometimes assign psychologists or counselors to provide emotional support. NGOs reported that the government does not take action in cases of domestic violence; victims must keep evidence, gather witness testimony, and ensure their own safety.

The NGO Women’s Aid Organization reported that 9 percent of women who have ever been in a relationship experience domestic violence and that such violence was “symptomatic of a deeper problem: gender inequality.” In June the NGO stated that inquiries to its domestic-violence hotline had spiked to more than three times levels since February, before the COVID-19 movement control order was carried out. The NGO’s executive director, Sumitra Visvanathan, termed the sharp rise “extremely concerning,” noting that survivors in isolation with their abusers faced circumstances “where it is even easier for the abuser to exert control physically, emotionally, and socially.” In July, SUHAKAM cited the increased risk of violence faced by domestic workers, who were primarily migrant women, “exacerbated by restrictions on their travel and mobility, as well as by language barriers and xenophobia.”

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, and it was a common practice. While recent data was very limited, a 2012 study by a professor at the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Malaya, found that more than 93 percent of approximately 1,000 Muslim women surveyed in three of the country’s 13 states had undergone the procedure. Ministry of Health guidelines allow the practice in general but only at government health-care facilities, which was not always the case. Advocates and the international medical community remained concerned that the Health Ministry endorsement legitimizes the harmful practice and contributes to the “medicalization” of FGM. Women’s rights groups said a 2009 fatwa by the National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs declaring the practice obligatory made FGM/C more prevalent. According to an investigation published by local media in 2018, there are no standard procedures for the practice and “in some cases box cutters and stationery store blades are used.” Government officials defended the practice during a UN review in 2018, when a Ministry of Health official stated that the practice was performed only by medical professionals and compared it to immunization programs for female babies. The UN panel urged the country to abolish the practice.

Sisters in Islam reaffirmed its concern with a 2009 fatwa from the Malaysian Islamic Development Department requiring Muslim girls to be circumcised. In conjunction with the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation in February, Sisters in Islam stated: “Even though this fatwa was not gazetted, the reality is that in general, fatwas have a strong influence over individuals and communities in their personal decision-making.” Azrul Mohd Khalib of the Galen Center for Health and Social Policy called on the government to ban the practice. “We should prohibit and criminalize the act of female circumcision to protect our infant daughters and girls from harm,” he said.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits a person in authority from using his or her position to intimidate a subordinate by any conduct that is sexual in nature. The law classifies some types of workplace sexual harassment as criminal offenses (see section 7.d.). A government voluntary code of conduct provides a detailed definition of sexual harassment intended to raise public awareness of the problem. Observers noted that authorities took claims seriously, but victims were often reluctant to report sexual harassment because of the difficulty of proving the offense and the lengthy trial process.

Reproductive Rights: Married couples have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to manage their reproductive health, but they did not always have the information and means to do so. Family planning services and programs were provided by the Ministry of Health, the National Population and Family Development Board under the Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development, and the Federation of Reproduction Health Associations.

Sexual and reproductive health services were available at health ministry primary, secondary, and tertiary health care facilities, and included contraception, pregnancy tests, subfertility treatment, pap smears, screening and treatment for sexually transmittable diseases, HPV vaccination, and counseling. Government-run family planning clinics often did not provide contraceptive services to unmarried young people. Birth control pills were available at private pharmacies without prescription but at higher prices than at government clinics.

One-Stop Crisis Centers, an integrated multiagency service in the emergency department of most major public hospitals, provided support to victims of sexual violence.

Sexual health education remained a sensitive topic, with a majority of the population viewing abstinence as the only permissible form of contraception. Reproductive awareness activists and NGOs that provided sexual health education were frequently accused of encouraging sin and eliciting sexual behaviors.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination against citizens based on gender and gives men and women equal property rights although sharia, which deviates from these principles in some areas, was sometimes applied. For instance, Islamic inheritance law generally favors male offspring and male relatives. Sharia also generally requires a husband’s consent for divorce, but a small and steadily increasing number of women obtained divorces under sharia without their husband’s consent. Non-Muslims are not subject to sharia. Civil law gives non-Muslim mothers and fathers equal parental rights, while sharia favors fathers. Nevertheless, four states–Johor, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang–extend equal parental rights to Muslim mothers.

The law requires equal pay for male and female workers for work of equal value. Nonetheless, NGOs reported continued discrimination against women in the workplace in terms of promotion and salary (see section 7.d.).

The law does not permit mothers to transmit citizenship automatically to children born overseas. Children born overseas can only be registered as citizens if the father of the child is a citizen.

Children

Birth Registration: A child born in the country obtains citizenship if one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth and the parents are married. Parents must register a child within 14 days of birth. Parents applying for late registration must provide proof the child was born in the country. According to UNHCR, children born to citizen mothers outside the country may only acquire citizenship at the discretion of the federal government through registration at an overseas Malaysian consulate or at the National Registration Department in country. Authorities do not register children born to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. UNHCR registered children born to refugees (see section 2.d.).

Education: Education is free, compulsory, and universal through primary school (six years) for citizens and permanent residents, although there was no mechanism to enforce attendance. Public schools are not open to the children of illegal immigrants or refugees, whether registered with UNHCR or not.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 18 for men and 16 for women. Muslim women younger than 16 may marry with the approval of a sharia court. Indigenous persons are governed by customary laws with no fixed minimum age for marriage. In some cases authorities treated early marriage as a solution to statutory rape. Advocates remained concerned that Rohingya refugee families were resorting to child marriage for their girls to cope with economic hardship.

The federal government launched a national five-year roadmap in January targeting the issue of child marriage. The plan outlined policies to increase access to education and attendance in schools, increase access to health education, address stigma and social norms on child marriage, and ensure laws and guidelines on child marriages are in line with government policies guarding the well-being of children.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law outlaws child pornography and states that a child is considered a victim of sexual abuse if he or she has taken part as a participant or an observer in any activity that is sexual in nature for the purposes of a photograph, recording, film, videotape, or performance. Federal police reported approximately 20,000 internet addresses in the country uploading and downloading child pornography. Under the law the minimum age for consensual, noncommercial sex is 16 for both boys and girls. The involvement in making or producing child pornography carries a penalty of up to 30 years’ imprisonment and not less than six strokes of a cane; conviction for accessing or possessing child pornography carries a punishment of five years’ imprisonment or a fine; conviction for trafficking in persons involving a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation carries a punishment of three to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine.

There is a special court for sexual crimes against children, established to speed up trials that often took years to conclude. Child prostitution existed, and a local NGO estimated in 2015, the last year with reported data, that 5,000 children were involved in sex work in Kuala Lumpur and surrounding areas. Authorities, however, often treated children engaged in prostitution as offenders or undocumented immigrants rather than as victims.

The government focused on preventing sexual exploitation of children, including commercial sexual exploitation.

The law provides for six to 20 years’ imprisonment and caning for persons convicted of incest.

As of October federal police recorded 1,721 sexual crime cases involving children, while 813 cases were with the special court handling sexual crimes against children.

A child’s testimony is acceptable only if there is corroborating evidence, which posed special problems for molestation cases in which the child victim was the only witness.

Displaced Children: Street children were most prevalent in Sabah. Estimates of the street-child population ranged from a few thousand to 15,000, many of whom were born in the country to illegal immigrant parents. Authorities deported some of these parents, leaving their children without guardians. Lacking citizenship, access to schooling, or other government-provided support, these children often resorted to menial labor, criminal activities, and prostitution to survive; those living on the streets were vulnerable to forced labor, including forced begging.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population was estimated at between 100 and 200 persons, consisting mostly of expatriates and foreigners. Anti-Semitism was a serious problem across the political spectrum and attracted wide support among segments of the population.

A 2015 Anti-Defamation League survey found 61 percent of citizens held anti-Jewish attitudes. A newspaper reported in April 2019 the statement in parliament of the then home minister that the number of Israelis entering Malaysia for business and technology-related events dwindled from 33 in 2016 to only three in 2019. Former prime minister Mahathir defended his right to be anti-Semitic in interviews. Restrictions on Israeli citizens from entering Malaysia remain.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law affords persons with disabilities the right to equal access and use of public facilities, amenities, services, and buildings open or provided to the public. The Ministry of Women, Family, and Community Development is responsible for safeguarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

New government buildings generally had a full range of facilities for persons with disabilities. The government, however, did not mandate accessibility to transportation for persons with disabilities, and authorities retrofitted few older public facilities to provide access to persons with disabilities. Recognizing public transportation was not “disabled friendly,” the government maintained its 50 percent reduction of excise duty on locally made cars and motorcycles adapted for persons with disabilities.

Employment discrimination occurred against persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).

Students with disabilities attended mainstream schools, but accessibility remained a serious problem. Separate education facilities also existed but were insufficient to meet the needs of all students with disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The constitution gives ethnic Malays and indigenous groups, collectively known as bumiputra, a “special position” in the country. Government regulations and policies provided extensive preferential programs to boost the economic position of bumiputra, who constituted a majority of the population. Such programs limited opportunities for non-bumiputra (primarily ethnic Chinese and Indians) in higher education and government employment. Many industries were subject to race-based requirements that mandated bumiputra ownership levels. Government procurement and licensing policies favored bumiputra-owned businesses. The government claimed these policies were necessary to attain ethnic harmony and political stability.

Indigenous People

The constitution provides indigenous and nonindigenous people with the same civil and political rights, but the government did not effectively protect these rights.

Indigenous people in peninsular Malaysia, known as Orang Asli, who number approximately 200,000, constitute the poorest group in the country and had very little ability to participate in decisions that affected them. A constitutional provision provides for “the special position of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak” but does not refer specifically to the Orang Asli. This ambiguity over the community’s status in the constitution led to selective interpretation by different public institutions.

The courts have ruled that the Orang Asli have rights to their customary lands under the constitution, but NGOs said the government failed to recognize these judicial pronouncements. The government can seize this land if it provides compensation. There were confrontations between indigenous communities and logging companies over land, and uncertainty over their land tenure made indigenous persons vulnerable to exploitation.

In June, two Orang Asli communities set up blockades at the entrances to their villages in Kelantan and Perak States to protest logging activities in the area. In a police report, villagers claimed their village had been “pawned away” by the Kelantan government.

In September the Federal Court ordered the Johor state government to pay RM 5.2 million ($1.2 million) to the residents of Orang Laut Seletar village as compensation for their ancestral land, after villagers were forced to relocate in 1993 to make way for development. The court also ordered that a separate land area which the villagers now occupied be registered as an Orang Asli settlement. Lawyer Tan Poh Lai, representing the villagers, termed the settlement a “great victory” for the Orang Asli, stating, “This is a recognition that the land they were made to move from was indeed native customary land. This result is an encouragement for all Orang Asli in Malaysia.”

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

All same-sex sexual conduct is illegal. The law states that sodomy and oral sex acts are “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” In November 2019 the Selangor State sharia court sentenced five men to six to seven months in jail, six strokes of the cane, and a fine for “attempting to have intercourse against the order of nature.” Numan Afifi, an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights told media the ruling was “a gross injustice” and would cause a “culture of fear.” Religious and cultural taboos against same-sex sexual conduct were widespread (see section 2.a.).

Authorities often charged transgender persons with “indecent behavior” and “importuning for immoral purposes” in public. Those convicted of a first offense face a token fine and a maximum sentence of 14 days in jail. The sentences for subsequent convictions are fines and up to three months in jail. Local advocates contended that imprisoned transgender women served their sentences in prisons designated for men and that police and inmates often abused them verbally and sexually.

In February, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, then the minister for Islamic affairs in the Pakatan Harapan government, said he would ask the communications commission to take action against Nur Sajat, a prominent transgender entrepreneur, after she posted pictures of herself on pilgrimage in Mecca. The minister called Nur Sajat’s actions an “offense” that could compromise bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia. Noting that photos and videos of Nur Sajat wearing women’s garments in Mecca had gone viral on social media, causing “discomfort among Muslims,” Mujahid told media he would take “firm steps.” The communications commission said it would study the matter but did not announce any action. Images of Nur Sajat’s passport and other documents, however, spread on social media, raising concerns among civil society groups about her privacy and safety.

A 2018 survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse. The local rock band Bunkface released a song in February with the lyric “LGBT can go and die.” Facing public criticism, the band defended the line, stating it did not target specific individuals but was responding to the growing LGBTI movement in the country.

State religious authorities reportedly forced LGBTI persons to participate in “treatment” or “rehabilitation” programs to “cure” them of their sexuality. In July, Minister of Religious Affairs Zulkifli Mohamad announced he had given “full license” to Islamic authorities to arrest and “educate” transgender persons to ensure they came “back to the right path.”

LGBTI persons reported discrimination in employment, housing, and access to some government services because of their sexuality.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for limited freedom of association and for certain categories of workers to form and join trade unions, subject to a variety of legal and practical restrictions. The law provides for the right to strike and to bargain collectively, but both were severely restricted. The law prohibits employers from interfering with trade union activities, including union formation. It prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for legal union activities and requires reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

The law prohibits defense and police officials, retired or dismissed workers from joining a union. The law also restricts the formation of unions of workers in similar trades, occupations, or industries. Foreign workers may join a trade union but cannot hold union office unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Human Resources. In view of the absence of a direct employment relationship with owners of a workplace, contract workers may not form a union and cannot negotiate or benefit from collective bargaining agreements.

The director general of trade unions and the minister of human resources may refuse to register or withdraw registration from some unions without judicial oversight. The time needed for a union to be recognized remained long and unpredictable. Union officials expressed frustration about delays in the settlement of union recognition disputes; such applications were often refused. If a union’s recognition request was approved, the employer sometimes challenged the decision in court, leading to multiyear delays in recognizing unions.

Most private-sector workers have the right to bargain collectively, although these negotiations cannot include issues of transfer, promotion, appointments, dismissal, or reinstatement. The law restricts collective bargaining in “pioneer” industries the government has identified as growth priorities, including various high-technology fields. Trade unions in companies granted pioneer status may not negotiate terms and conditions that are more favorable than the provisions stipulated in labor law unless approved by the minister of human resources. Public-sector workers have some collective bargaining rights, although some could only express opinions on wages and working conditions instead of actively negotiating. Long delays continued in the treatment of union claims to obtain recognition for collective bargaining purposes. The government also had the right to compel arbitration in the case of failed collective bargaining negotiations.

Private-sector strikes are severely restricted. The law provides for penal sanctions for peaceful strikes. The law prohibits general strikes, and trade unions may not strike over disputes related to trade-union registration or illegal dismissals. Workers may not strike in a broad range of industries deemed “essential,” nor may they hold strikes when a dispute is under consideration by the Industrial Court. Union officials claimed legal requirements for strikes were almost impossible to meet; the last major strike occurred in 1962.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting employers from seeking retribution for legal union activities and requiring reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. Penalties included fines but were seldom assessed and are not commensurate with those of other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.

In June, five members of the National Union of Workers in Hospital Support and Allied Services were arrested while conducting a peaceful protest against their employer’s alleged union-busting tactics. Union officials claimed the company prevented employees from testing for COVID-19, failed to provide proper personal protective equipment, and withheld the monthly special government allowance worth RM 600 ($140) for frontline workers. Union officials further accused the company of forbidding union-related discussions between union worksite committees and workers, intimidation, and arbitrary change of working schedules and locations of union workers to decrease their earnings. The five arrested activists were released the following day. In October the magistrate’s court dropped the charges against the activists for defying the conditional movement control order by gathering in front of the employer’s premises “for social purposes.”

Freedom of association and collective bargaining were not fully respected. National-level unions are prohibited; the government allows three regional territorial federations of unions–peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak–to operate. They exercised many of the responsibilities of national-level labor unions, although they could not bargain on behalf of local unions. The Malaysian Trade Unions Congress is a registered “society” of trade unions in both the private and government sectors that does not have the right to bargain collectively or strike but may provide technical support to affiliated members. Some workers’ organizations were independent of government, political parties, and employers, but employer-dominated or “yellow” unions were reportedly a concern.

The inability of unions to provide more than limited protection for workers, particularly foreign workers who continued to face the threat of deportation, restrictions on the right to strike, and the prevalence of antiunion discrimination created a disincentive to unionize. In some instances companies reportedly harassed leaders of unions that sought recognition. Some trade unions reported the government detained or restricted the movement of some union members under laws allowing temporary detention without charging the detainee with a crime. Trade unions asserted some workers had wages withheld or were terminated because of union-related activity.

In October the court of appeal overturned a high court decision that the dismissal of a trade union leader for issuing a statement highlighting the plight of workers and calling for the CEO’s resignation had been illegal. The court of appeal set aside the award to the trade union leader for wrongful termination of RM 210,000 ($50,300) and instead ordered the trade union leader to pay RM5,000 ($1,200) to the employer MAS Airlines in costs.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Five agencies, including the Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources, have enforcement powers under the law, but their officers performed a variety of functions and did not always actively search for indications of forced labor. NGOs continued to criticize the lack of resources dedicated to enforcement of the law.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced labor in some cases, and large fines as penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

In 2018 the government established an Independent Committee on Foreign Workers to provide comprehensive reform plans to the government regarding foreign-worker management and labor policy. The committee presented its final report to cabinet in July 2019 with 40 recommendations on streamlining policies related to foreign workers, but the report was not made public. On June 23, former minister of human resources M. Kulasegaran stated that “vested interests” had hijacked government policies on the matter as “not a single recommendation has been implemented to date.”

A variety of sources reported occurrences of forced labor or conditions indicative of forced labor in plantation agriculture, electronics factories, garment production, rubber-product industries, and domestic service among both adults and children (also see section 7.c.).

Employers, employment agents, and labor recruiters subjected some migrants to forced labor or debt bondage. Many companies hired foreign workers using recruiting or outsourcing companies, creating uncertainty about the legal relationship between the worker, the outsourcing company, and the owner of the workplace, making workers more vulnerable to exploitation and complicating dispute resolution. Labor union representatives noted that recruiting agents in the countries of origin and in Malaysia sometimes imposed high fees, making migrant workers vulnerable to debt bondage.

In July a nonprofit organization filed a formal complaint with a foreign government urging it to ban imports of products from Sime Darby Berhad, a palm oil company, due to reports of forced labor at Sime Darby plantations. Another petition filed in August 2019 accused palm oil company FGV Holdings of forced labor abuse, including deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, and the keeping of worker’s identity documents. FGV subsequently finalized their action plan on enhancing labor practices in April. NGOs maintained the action plan, however, failed to prove FGV’s product was not the result of forced labor.

In July a foreign government discontinued imports of disposable medical gloves made by the world’s largest medical glove maker, Top Glove Corp Bhd, in response to findings of forced labor in their manufacturing facilities. In November more than 5,000 Top Glove workers contracted COVID-19 resulting from substandard and overcrowded working and living conditions.

The trial of former deputy prime minister Zahid Hamidi for his role in a fraudulent scheme involving hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers seeking jobs in the country continued as of September. Private companies linked to the then deputy prime minister’s brother and brother-in-law reportedly charged Nepali workers more than RM185 million ($46.3 million) for medical tests and to submit visa applications during the prior five years. These medical and visa-processing services increased the cost tenfold without offering additional protections or benefits. Zahid denied involvement in or knowledge of the scam, but the Malaysian Anticorruption Commission charged him in 2018 with 45 counts of corruption, bribery, and money laundering, three of which concern RM three million ($750,000) he allegedly received in bribes from a company that ran a visa center for Nepali workers. Critics of the former government had long characterized the foreign-worker recruitment system as corrupt.

Nonpayment of wages remained a concern. Passport confiscation by employers increased migrant workers’ vulnerability to forced labor; the practice was illegal but widespread and generally went unpunished. Migrant workers without access to their passports were more vulnerable to harsh working conditions, lower wages than promised, unexpected wage deductions, and poor housing. NGOs reported that agents or employers in some cases drafted contracts that included a provision for employees to sign over the right to hold their passports to the employer or an agent. Some employers and migrant workers reported that workers sometimes requested employers keep their passports, since replacing lost or stolen passports could cost several months’ wages and leave foreign workers open to questions about their legal status.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 but permits some exceptions, such as light work in a family enterprise, work in public entertainment, work performed for the government in a school or in training institutions, or work as an approved apprentice. There is no minimum age for engaging in light work. For children between the ages of 14 and 18, there was no list clarifying specific occupations or sectors considered hazardous and therefore prohibited.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting child labor. Those found contravening child labor laws faced penalties that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Child labor occurred in some family businesses. Child labor in urban areas was common in the informal economy, including family food businesses and night markets, and in small-scale industry. Child labor was also evident among migrant domestic workers.

NGOs reported that stateless children in Sabah were especially vulnerable to labor exploitation in palm oil production, forced begging, and work in service industries, including restaurants. Although the National Union of Plantation Workers reported it was rare to find children involved in plantation work in peninsular Malaysia, others reported instances of child labor on palm oil plantations across the country. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to race, religion, national origin, color, sex, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status or refugee status in employment and hiring; the director general of labor may investigate discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment for both foreign and local employees. The law prohibits women from working underground, such as in mines, and restricts employers from requiring female employees to work in industrial or agricultural work between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. or to commence work for the day without having 11 consecutive hours of rest since the end of the last work period.

The director general may issue necessary directives to an employer to resolve allegations of discrimination in employment, although there were no penalties under the law for such discrimination and thus penalties were not commensurate to laws related to penalties for civil rights, such as election interference.

Employers are obligated to inquire into most sexual harassment complaints in a prescribed manner. Advocacy groups such as the Association of Women Lawyers stated these provisions were not comprehensive enough to provide adequate help to victims. In June the industrial court upheld the dismissal of a manager for nonphysical sexual harassment, including using a term of endearment, giving of personal gifts, and excessive unwanted attention.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women; members of national, racial, and ethnic minorities; and persons with disabilities. A code of practice guides all government agencies, employers, employee associations, employees, and others with respect to placement of persons with disabilities in private-sector jobs. Disability-rights NGOs reported that employers were reluctant to hire persons with disabilities. A regulation reserves 1 percent of public-sector jobs for persons with disabilities.

Migrant workers must undergo mandatory testing for more than 16 illnesses as well as pregnancy. Employers may immediately deport pregnant or ill workers. Migrant workers also faced employment discrimination (see sections 7.b. and 7.e.). Employers were unilaterally able to terminate work permits, subjecting migrant workers to immediate deportation.

Women experienced some economic discrimination in access to employment. Employers routinely asked women their marital status during job interviews. The Association of Women Lawyers advocated for passage of a separate sexual harassment bill making it compulsory for employers to formulate sexual harassment policies.

The government reserved large quotas for the bumiputra majority for positions in the federal civil service as well as for vocational permits and licenses in a wide range of industries, which greatly reduced economic opportunity for minority groups (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage applied to both citizen and foreign workers in most sectors, with the exception of domestic service (see below). The minimum wage rates were less than Ministry of Finance-published poverty income levels in Sabah and Sarawak.

Working hours may not exceed eight per day or 48 per week, unless workers receive overtime pay. The law specifies limits on overtime, which vary by sector, but it allows for exceptions.

The law protects foreign domestic workers only with regard to wages and contract termination. The law excludes them from provisions that stipulate one rest day per week, an eight-hour workday, and a 48-hour workweek. Instead, bilateral agreements or memoranda of understanding between the government and some source countries for migrant workers include provisions for rest periods, compensation, and other conditions of employment for migrant domestic workers, including prohibitions on passport retention.

The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Human Resources enforces wage, working condition, and occupational safety and health standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of labor enforcement officers was insufficient to enforce compliance. Department of Labor officials reported they sought to conduct labor inspections as frequently as possible. Nevertheless, many businesses could operate for years without an inspection.

Penalties for employers who fail to follow the law begin with a fine assessed per employee and can rise to imprisonment. Employers can be required to pay back wages plus the fine. If they refuse to comply, employers face additional fines per day that wages are not paid. Employers or employees who violate occupational health and safety laws are subject to fines, imprisonment, or both. Penalties for violations were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

Employers did not respect laws on wages and working hours. The Malaysian Trade Union Congress reported that 12-, 14-, and 18-hour days were common in food and other service industries.

The Ministry of Human Resources began enforcing amendments to the Worker’s Minimum Standards of Housing and Amenities Act on September 1. The measure aimed to provide foreign workers with better accommodation and employee facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers and centralized accommodation providers must provide every worker with a single bed measuring not less than 18 square feet, a mattress at least 3.9 inches thick, a pillow, blanket, and a locked cupboard. In addition employers must ensure water, electricity, and basic furniture are supplied, and that amenities, including a bathroom to employee ratio, are observed in the accommodations. Although the punishment for employers was not directly stated in the regulations, Minister of Human Resources M. Saravanan on August 27 stated that employers who failed to comply with the standards could face a significant fine for each offense.

Migrant workers often worked in sectors where violations were common, performed hazardous duties, and had no meaningful access to legal counsel in cases of contract violations and abuse. Some workers alleged their employers subjected them to inhuman living conditions and physically assaulted them. Employers of domestic workers sometimes failed to honor the terms of employment and subjected workers to abuse. Employers reportedly restricted workers’ movement and use of mobile telephones; provided substandard food; did not provide sufficient time off; sexually assaulted workers; and harassed and threatened workers, including with deportation.

While the government mandated that all workers in businesses permitted to stay in operation must be tested for COVID-19, there were concerns for the labor conditions under which migrant workers were forced to work during the pandemic or risk losing their jobs. The Timber Employees Union of Peninsular Malaysia declared that migrant workers now felt “they’re being made to choose between COVID-19 or starvation.” The Malaysian Trade Union Congress claimed to have received more than 500 complaints against employers who continued operations despite the movement control order, with some reportedly threatening to terminate employees who refused to come to work, and not providing personal protection equipment.

Occupational health and safety laws cover all sectors of the economy except the maritime sector and the armed forces. The law requires workers to use safety equipment and cooperate with employers to create a safe, healthy workplace, but it does not specify a right to remove oneself from a hazardous or dangerous situation without penalty. Laws on worker’s compensation cover both local and migrant workers but provide no protection for migrant domestic workers.

The National Occupational Safety and Health Council–composed of workers, employers, and government representatives–creates and coordinates implementation of occupational health and safety measures. It requires employers to identify risks and take precautions, including providing safety training to workers, and compels companies with more than 40 workers to establish joint management-employee safety committees.

According to Department of Occupational Safety and Health statistics, as of October, 174 workers died, 5,705 acquired a nonpermanent disability, and 226 acquired permanent disability in work-related incidents.

Papua New Guinea

Executive Summary

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional, federal, multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections took place in 2017, and the People’s National Congress party won a majority in the 111-seat unicameral parliament, led by former prime minister Peter O’Neill. In May 2019 O’Neill resigned, and parliament elected James Marape prime minister. In some parts of the country, electoral contests involved widespread violence, fraud, bribery, voter intimidation, and undue political and tribal influence.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary maintains internal security and reports to the Ministry of Police. The Defense Force is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, and reports to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; torture by police and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; the existence of criminal defamation laws; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men, although the law was not enforced; and extensive child labor, including the worst forms of child labor.

The government frequently failed to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was pervasive.

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

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

During the year there were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In August police officers shot and killed a 29-year-old man from West Sepik Province while the victim was in police custody, local media reported. Four police officers allegedly struck the man with their firearms after removing him from a cell. According to media reports, police shot the victim seven times. Police supervisors suspended the officers, confirmed that the victim had not instigated the incident, and referred the case to the Internal Affairs Unit for further investigation.

Public concern regarding police and military violence against civilians and security forces’ impunity persisted. In September, Minister for Police Bryan Kramer, writing about his first 15 months in the job, stated: “The very organization that was tasked with fighting corruption had become the leading agency in acts of corruption. Add to that a rampant culture of police ill-discipline and brutality.”

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution prohibits torture, individual police and correctional-services officers frequently beat and otherwise abused citizens or suspects before or during arrests, during interrogations, and in pretrial detention. There were numerous press accounts of such abuses, particularly against young detainees. In June, East Sepik Province Governor Allan Bird criticized police abuse under the COVID-19 State of Emergency, citing reports by women who marketed food that police beat them and took money from them.

In April, for example, media reported that police raided an open-air market outside of Port Moresby, where they broke vendors’ goods, stole items, and carried out body searches of men and women. A police superintendent told media that since no victims had come forward, police would not investigate the allegations. According to an August news report, police stole beer valued at 80,000 kina (PGK) ($23,000) and PGK 300,000 ($86,000) in cash from a store owner in multiple incidents in April and May. In August police officials told media the investigation was ongoing.

In October media reported that a sexual assault suspect in police custody was stripped naked in a cell and beaten by the families of the alleged victims with police complicity. Police Minister Bryan Kramer launched an investigation of the beating and of “excessive force used in his arrest.” One station sergeant was suspended.

Police units operating in highland regions sometimes used intimidation and destruction of property to suppress tribal fighting. Police raids, searches, and forced evictions of illegal squatter settlements and suspected criminals often were marked by a high level of violence and property destruction.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were poor overall. The prison system continued to suffer from serious underfunding, food shortages, inadequate medical facilities, and overcrowding in some facilities.

Physical Conditions: The country’s prisons were overcrowded. Infrequent court sessions, slow police investigations, and bail restrictions for certain crimes exacerbated overcrowding.

Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same prisons with convicted prisoners but in separate cells. Pretrial detainees, frustrated by the slow processing of their cases, at times led prison breaks, which were common.

All prison facilities had separate accommodations for juvenile offenders. The Department of Justice and Attorney General operated four juvenile facilities, and the Roman Catholic Church operated three juvenile reception centers to hold minors awaiting arraignment prior to posting of bail. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch reported authorities routinely held juveniles with adults in police detention cells, where older detainees often assaulted younger detainees. Police sometimes denied juvenile court officers access to detainees. Authorities usually held male and female inmates separately, but some rural prisons lacked separate facilities.

Sanitation was poor, and prisoners complained of disease. Media commented on overcrowding at jails and prisons, reporting in August that police in Port Moresby made arrests selectively due to insufficient room at local prison facilities and concerns that overcrowding would spread disease at police and corrections facilities. Also in August a mass escape took place at the Buimo prison in Lae, Morobe Province, after the prison recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case. Media reported that the prisoners staged the breakout on the pretense of seeking medical aid for an allegedly sick fellow inmate. Forty-five inmates escaped.

In January international media described execrable conditions at the Bomana Immigration Center in Port Moresby (see section 2.f.), where refugees formerly held on Manus Island were housed. The reports detailed the facility’s lack of shade and air conditioning, the minimal food and clean water, and the poor sanitation.

In September media reported that police in New Ireland Province held arrestees in a condemned cell with no toilets, no showers, no ventilation, and no separate facilities for men and women or for adults and juveniles. The articles noted that police leadership reassigned officers from the site once it was condemned, but that prisoners continued to be held at the facility.

Administration: The government mandated the Ombudsman Commission to visit prisons and investigate complaints from prisoners. Through September the commission lacked adequate resources to monitor and investigate effectively prison conditions. In October it received funding for prison visits, conducted one visit, and scheduled multiple visits in November.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent observers. Correctional service officials said that individual church representatives made visits, but that the service did not keep records or statistics on the number or types of visits.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but police frequently detained citizens arbitrarily without evidence. In some cases police detained citizens without charge to steal from them. In April a man in Hela Province alleged that 20 police officers broke into his store, stealing PGK 10,000 ($2,900) in goods. The man told media that when he confronted the officers, they beat him, arrested him, and held him for four hours without charge. The man filed a formal complaint. As of October there was no known police response. Persons have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always respect this right.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

By law police must have reason to believe that a crime was, is being, or is expected to be committed before making an arrest. A warrant is not required, but police, prosecutors, and citizens may apply to a court for a warrant. Police normally do so only if they believe it would assist them in carrying out an arrest. Judicial authorization is usually provided promptly but is not requested in the majority of cases. Suspects may be charged with minor offenses and released after bail is paid. Only national or Supreme Court judges may grant bail to persons charged with murder or aggravated robbery. In all other cases, police or magistrates may grant bail. If bail is denied or not granted promptly, suspects are transferred to prisons and may wait for years before they appear before a judge. Arrested suspects have the right to legal counsel and to be informed of the charges against them; however, the government did not always respect these rights. Detainees may have access to counsel, and family members may have access to detainees.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees comprised approximately 40 percent of the prison population. Due to very limited police and judicial resources and a high crime rate, authorities often held suspects in pretrial detention for lengthy periods. According to correctional services data, detainees could wait for as long as five years before trial, sentencing, or release. A correctional services official confirmed that as of October, five codefendants arrested in 2012 had yet to be tried. Although pretrial detention is in law subject to strict judicial review through continuing pretrial consultations, the slow pace of police investigations, particularly in locating witnesses, and occasional political interference or police corruption, frequently delayed cases for years. In addition there were delays due to infrequent circuit court sittings because of shortages of judges and travel funds.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for a presumption of innocence and due process, including a public trial, and the court system generally enforced these. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants have the right to an attorney, to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, to be present at their trial, to free interpretation services if desired, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The Public Solicitor’s Office provides legal counsel for those accused of “serious offenses” (charges for which a sentence of two years or more is the norm if convicted) who are unable to afford counsel. Defendants and their attorneys may confront witnesses, present evidence, plead cases, and appeal convictions. The shortage of judges created delays in both the trial process and the rendering of decisions.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for individuals and organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. A mechanism established by the national court is used to fast-track cases of alleged human rights abuses. Through this process the national court may award civil remedies in cases of human rights abuses. District courts may order “good behavior bonds,” commonly called “protection orders,” in addition to ordering that compensation be paid for violations of human rights. Courts had difficulty enforcing judgments. In addition largely unregulated village courts adjudicated many human rights matters.

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

Although the constitution prohibits such actions, there were instances of abuse.

Police threatened and at times harmed family members of alleged offenders.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not fully respect these rights. Newspapers sometimes reported on controversial topics, although many journalists in the past have complained of intimidation aimed at influencing coverage by agents of members of parliament and other government figures. Self-censorship by journalists was common, especially when reporting on contentious political events.

Freedom of Speech: There were no known instances of government restrictions on freedom of speech during the year, although this has been a problem in prior years.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Unlike in prior years, media members made no allegations of harassment or other forms of pressure during the year. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were not generally subjected to harassment, intimidation, or violence by police or supporters of parliamentarians for their reporting. In April the police minister accused two journalists with online publication Loop PNG of false reporting related to the government’s COVID-19 response and for misrepresenting a financial report issued by the treasury minister. The police minister called for the journalists to be fired. Loop PNG defended the reporters and their article, describing the minister’s accusations as inappropriate in view of the publication’s right to editorial independence. Other news outlets published pieces in support of Loop PNG.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law allows for investigation and criminal prosecution of offenses including defamatory publication of material concerning another person.

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. Internet access remained limited but continued to grow through the increasing use of mobile phones. The growth of internet access resulted in increased use of social media and blogs to discuss and develop evidence of abuse of power and corruption in government.

The law prohibits using electronic systems to incite any form of unrest (called cyber-unrest). Responsibility for enforcing the law lies with police. The penalties for conviction of violations are a maximum 25 years’ imprisonment and a substantial fine.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Natural disasters, tribal violence, ethnic clashes, and land disputes have historically contributed to the displacement of communities in the country. Displacement was generally protracted, with families living in temporary situations for more than one year on average. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) were vulnerable because they lacked access to land, basic services, and protection. Women and children were especially susceptible to abuse. The government has no policy or legislation to address the needs of IDPs, and host communities often react with violence to displaced populations. During the year, however, approximately 80 percent of those displaced by natural disasters in West New Britain in 2019 returned to their homes, according to government officials. The provincial government established care centers to support the remaining 20 percent who were still displaced. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) cooperated with the country’s National Disaster Center, the Red Cross Society, two provincial administrations, and a local government to complete displacement tracking assessments, identify displaced persons living in care centers, and register them following previous incidents that led to displacement in West New Britain.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were sometimes subjected to abuse by security forces and the local population. In August 2019 the government opened a detention facility, the Bomana Immigration Center, in Port Moresby, for asylum seekers who had their claims rejected or who were transferred from the Australian government-funded Regional Reprocessing Center on Manus Island (closed in 2017) and other centers on Manus Island to Port Moresby. Refugee and legal groups noted that asylum seekers detained at the Bomana detention facility were unable to speak to lawyers and doctors, blocking medical evacuations to Australia. Several other asylum seekers approved for medical transfer were subsequently relocated to Bomana, where they lost contact with their lawyers and were therefore unable to effect their transfer. International media, which in January described execrable conditions at the Bomana facility (see section 1.c.), reported shortly thereafter that the last 18 asylum seekers in Bomana were released on January 22.

As of August 31, 170 refugees or asylum seekers formerly housed at the Manus Island centers or the Bomana Immigration Center remained in the country, living in guesthouses in Port Moresby and supported by the national government.

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. Legislation provides a refugee status determination process, under which those approved are eligible to apply for a refugee visa and certificate of identity. The law allows persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province (formerly Irian Jaya) to apply for citizenship without having to pay the usual fee.

The government has had two agreements with Australia on refugees. The first allowed Australia to send asylum seekers to Manus Island (see section 1.c.) for processing only. The second, which superseded the first in 2013, allows refugees and asylum seekers to resettle in the country under the same rules that apply to all other foreign nationals applying for citizenship, which require eight years of permanent residence in the country. Refugees brought into the country under the latter agreement were exempted from paying the PGK 10,000 ($2,900) application fee and were exempted from a work permit requirement to secure employment. International organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society groups in the country questioned the constitutionality of both agreements.

The Immigration and Citizenship Authority worked with the support of international organizations and NGOs to provide training, job matching, and temporary financial support to help refugees establish themselves in the country. Resettlement efforts were problematic, however, because several refugees who tried to resettle in the country became victims of crime.

Durable Solutions: Approved asylum claimants may settle permanently in the country and, after eight years, apply for citizenship. In addition Indonesian Papuans may apply for Papua New Guinean citizenship without having to wait for eight years or pay the citizenship fee. The Immigration and Citizenship Authority estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Indonesian Papuans lived in Papua New Guinea. As of October there was no report of how many, if any, Indonesian Papuans were granted citizenship.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to persons from Indonesia’s Papua Province who may not qualify as refugees. Approximately 3,000 persons, classified by the government as “border crossers,” lived in villages adjacent to the border with Indonesia, and approximately 2,400 lived in urban areas, including Port Moresby.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections. Citizens exercised this right through periodic but flawed elections based on universal and equal suffrage. While voting is supposed to take place by secret ballot, secrecy of the ballot was routinely compromised during elections, and assisted voting was common.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent general election occurred in 2017. Bribery, voter intimidation, and undue political and tribal influence were widespread in some parts of the country during the election. There were also many incidents of violence and destruction of property, primarily in the Highlands, during and after the voting period, causing the deaths of at least 40 persons, including four police officers. An observer group from the Commonwealth Secretariat noted that the Electoral Commission faced funding shortages and logistical challenges that were partly to blame for significant problems with the voter registration process. In some areas voting was peaceful and followed procedure, while in other areas ballot secrecy was not respected, and group voting occurred.

In November and December 2019, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville held a nonbinding referendum on whether Bougainville should be independent or remain autonomous within the country. The referendum took place peacefully and was considered free and fair by international observers. Voters opted overwhelmingly for independence, setting the stage for negotiations and an ultimate outcome determined by a vote of the National Parliament. In August and September, Bougainville held elections to fill the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s House of Representatives (the provincial parliament) and its presidency. Despite media reports detailing allegations of tampering with ballot boxes and concerns that some candidates illegally pressured voters, the Office of the Bougainville Electoral Commission and Bougainville Police Service reported that police and elections officials investigated the allegations, determining that procedural gaps contributed to the allegations but that no criminal activity took place.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were no restrictions on party registration, and 45 parties contested the 2017 national elections. Several parties alleged that sitting members of parliament used government resources for campaigning, although the lack of transparency in accounting for funds made such claims hard to verify. The Ombudsman Commission issued a directive to freeze public funds controlled by parliamentarians starting when the campaign officially opened in 2017. The commission reported after the election, however, that unusually large amounts of money were withdrawn from these accounts in the 30 days before the freeze went into effect.

In some areas tribal leaders determined which candidate a tribe would support and influenced the entire tribe to vote for that candidate.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation by women or members of minority groups in the political process, but the deeply rooted patriarchal culture impeded women’s full participation in political life. No women were elected in 2017 to the 111-seat parliament despite a record number of female candidates contesting for office (167 of 3,332 candidates). The political participation of women was often limited, since there were social expectations for them to vote along tribal and family lines. The Electoral Commission instructed polling officials to create separate lines for women in order to allow them to vote more freely. There were five female judges in the national court and the Supreme Court out of a total of 65 judges serving on those bodies. The chief magistrate and deputy chief magistrate were women.

There were three minority (non-Melanesian) members of parliament and several others of mixed parentage. Members of minority groups generally did not face limitations in running for office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not always implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. International civil society and human rights groups termed corruption “widespread” and “pervasive.” Minister for Police Bryan Kramer stated that corruption was “so deep-rooted and so entrenched in every aspect of politics and business that it is almost beyond comprehension.” There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Corruption was so serious a problem in part due to weak public institutions and governance, lack of transparency, politicization of the bureaucracy, and the social pressure of traditional clan obligations. Corruption and conflicts of interest were of particular concern in extractive industries, particularly the logging sector, and in government procurement.

The Ombudsman Commission and Public Accounts Committee are key organizations responsible for combating government corruption. The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established by the constitution with a mandate to examine and report to parliament on public accounts and national property.

The Ombudsman Commission met with civil society and at times initiated action based on input received. Although civil society organizations engaged with individual members of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee as a whole was less receptive to public input and generally did not seek to engage with civil society. The committee generally operated independently of government influence, but a lack of trained staff hindered its effectiveness. Neither body had sufficient resources to carry out its mission.

Corruption: In May former prime minister Peter O’Neill was arrested on allegations that he illegally bypassed national public financial management laws when his government purchased two commercial turbines for PGK 50 million ($14 million) for use by the public utility PNG Power. A police statement identified the charges as “misappropriation, abuse of office, and official corruption.” In June the public prosecutor referred a case against Foreign Minister Patrick Pruaitch to the Leadership Tribunal for investigation. The foreign minister allegedly misused government office for financial gain, submitted false government vouchers, and failed to provide financial statements during previous service as cabinet minister. In October, Pruaitch pled guilty to three minor procedural charges and paid token fines, while the Leadership Tribunal dismissed the six most serious charges pertaining to corruption and abuse of office. On October 23, Pruaitch resumed his duties as foreign minister.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure law as stipulated in the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission monitored and verified disclosures and administered the leadership code, which requires leaders to declare, within three months of assuming office (and annually thereafter), their assets, liabilities, third-party sources of income, gifts, and all beneficial interests in companies, including shares, directorships, and business transactions. The public did not have access to government declarations. Sanctions for noncompliance range from fines to imprisonment.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman Commission is responsible for investigating alleged misconduct and defective administration by governmental bodies, alleged discriminatory practices by any person or body, and alleged misconduct in office by leaders under the leadership code. Staffing constraints often caused delays in investigations and thus in the completion and release of reports.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a sentence ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, gang rape, and intimate-partner violence, was a serious and widespread problem. Although the law also criminalizes family violence and imposes maximum penalties of two years’ imprisonment and monetary fines, it was seldom enforced. The law criminalizes intimate-partner violence as well, but it nonetheless persisted throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity.

Most informed observers believed that a substantial majority of women experienced rape or sexual assault during their lives. According to Amnesty International, approximately two-thirds of women had been beaten by their partners. Due to stigma, fear of retribution, and limited trust in authorities, most women did not report rape or domestic violence to authorities. In June a woman was punched, head-butted, burned across the face and stomach with a hot iron, and beaten with the iron while her children watched. Her domestic partner, a soldier, was arrested, charged with grievous bodily harm, and released on bail. In July hundreds of individuals dressed in mourning marched through Port Moresby calling for an end to domestic violence after a woman age 19 died after six days of beatings with her arms and legs chained and her mouth gagged. Her domestic partner was charged with willful murder.

Those convicted of rape received prison sentences, but authorities apprehended and prosecuted few rapists. The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation to victims in lieu of trials for rapists. Anecdotal evidence suggests that victims and their families pursue tribal remedies, including compensation, in preference to procedures in official courts. Village and district courts often hesitated to interfere directly in domestic matters. Village courts regularly ordered payment of compensation to an abused spouse’s family in cases of domestic abuse rather than issuing an order to detain and potentially charge the alleged offender.

Police committed sexual violence (including against women in detention, see section 1.c.), and the unresponsiveness of authorities to complaints of sexual or intimate-partner violence deterred reporting of such crimes. Since most communities viewed intimate-partner violence as a private matter, few survivors reported the crime or pressed charges.

There were family and sexual violence units in 18 of 22 provincial police headquarters across the country to provide victims with protection, assistance through the judicial process, and medical care. Police leadership in some provinces led to improved services for victims of gender-based violence. Nevertheless, comprehensive services for victims of domestic and sexual violence were lacking in most of the country. This lack of services, along with societal and family pressure, often forced women back into violent and abusive homes.

As of September, Port Moresby hosted eight shelters for abused women in the National Capital District and neighboring provinces. Three of these shelters opened during the year. Outside the capital small community organizations or individuals with little access to funds and counseling resources maintained some shelters. In June media reported that COVID-19 pandemic-related lockdowns and other health measures hurt operations at shelters across the country. The media report stated that transportation restrictions, lack of personal protective equipment, and limited financial resources forced multiple shelters to close temporarily.

Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, authorities charged a large number of women with murdering another of their husband’s wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison were convicted for attacking or killing their husband or another woman.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride price payments continued. This contributed to the perception by many communities that husbands owned their wives and could treat them as chattel. In addition to being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a widespread and severe problem. Women frequently experienced harassment in public locations and the workplace (see section 7.d.). In Port Moresby the government and UN Women, the UN office promoting gender equality, worked together to provide women-only public buses to reduce instances of sexual harassment on public transportation.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right, albeit constrained by the level of medical advice available, to manage their reproductive health, with girls from age 16 provided access to contraceptives, regardless of marital status and free from coercion or violence. Cultural barriers that impede contraceptive access include low educational and literacy levels among women; religious beliefs; risk of gender-based violence; the “entitlement” belief that younger women, women not in a union, or unmarried/childless women should not use contraceptives; lack of training among health-care workers; and community gossip and discrimination. The National Department of Health works to strengthen Family Support Centers that provide counseling and support to survivors of gender-based violence and their families.

According to the UN Fund for Population, the maternal mortality ratio in 2019 was 171 deaths per 100,000 live births due to factors including minimal access to maternal health services, the lack of health facilities and supplies, unmet needs for family planning and contraception, unsupervised deliveries, and sensitivities surrounding sexual and reproductive health. One-third of married women had an unmet need for family planning, seeking to stop or delay childbearing but not using any method of contraception. Only 32 percent of married women used modern contraceptive methods.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although the law provides extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, gender discrimination existed at all levels. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political life.

Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. The law, however, requires district courts to endorse orders for imprisonment before the imposition of the sentence, and judges frequently annulled such village court sentences.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth to a citizen parent. Birth registration often did not occur immediately due to the remote locations in which many births took place. Failure to register did not generally affect access to public services such as education or health care.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 10. There were many complaints the government did not adequately fund education, leading to overcrowded classrooms and too few teachers. Some schools did not receive promised government education subsidies and reportedly closed as a result. Many schools charged fees despite the official free-education policy. Only one-third of children completed primary school. Primary and secondary education completion rates tended to be slightly higher for boys than for girls. Recent reports confirmed that girls were at high risk of sexual harassment in schools, which, in addition to girls’ generally high risk of sexual violence and harassment, commercial exploitation, and HIV infection, posed serious threats to their education.

Child Abuse: In July 2019 the NGO Save the Children released the results of a small-scale study showing that an estimated 2.8 million children, or 75 percent of the child population, faced physical or emotional violence, and 50 percent faced sexual violence or family violence in the home. Child protection systems, especially in rural areas, were not adequate to meet the needs of children facing abuse. The NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that children made up 50 percent of sexual violence cases referred to clinics. Other studies found that only the most egregious forms of sexual and physical abuse of children were reported to police, because family violence is viewed as a domestic matter.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. There are younger legal marriage ages (16 for boys and 14 for girls) with parental and court consent.

Customary and traditional practices allow marriage of children as young as age 12, and early marriage was common in many traditional, isolated rural communities. Child brides frequently were taken as additional wives or given as brides to pay family debts and often were used as domestic servants. Child brides were particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The maximum penalty for child rape is 25 years’ imprisonment or, if the victim is younger than age 12, life imprisonment. Making or possession of child pornography is illegal; penalties range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, but enforcement remained a problem. There were cases of sex trafficking of children in urban areas, including of minors working in bars and nightclubs. There were reports of exploitation of children in the production of pornography and of sex trafficking involving both local and foreign children. The law specifically prohibits using, procuring, and offering a child for pornographic performances. NGOs reported continued prevalence of child sex trafficking.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community in Port Moresby. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Nevertheless, persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and access to other state services. Most buildings and public infrastructure remained inaccessible for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities experienced an underresourced educational system and attended school in disproportionately low numbers. Those with certain types of disabilities, such as amputees, attended school with children without disabilities, while those who were blind or deaf attended segregated schools. The government endorsed sign language as a national language for all government programs, although access to interpreters was limited. Public addresses by government officials have simultaneous sign language interpretation, as do all local broadcast news programs.

Through the National Board for the Disabled, the government granted funds to a number of NGOs that provided services to persons with disabilities. The government provided free medical consultations and treatment for persons with mental disabilities, but such services were rarely available outside major cities. Most persons with disabilities did not find training or work outside the family (see section 7.d.).

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

Consensual same-sex sexual relations and acts of “gross indecency” between men are illegal. The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual relations is 14 years’ imprisonment and for acts of gross indecency between male persons (a misdemeanor), three years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons under these provisions during the year. There were reports of societal violence against such persons, which police were disinclined to investigate, and discrimination against them. Their vulnerability to societal stigmatization may have led to underreporting.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of government discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; however, there was a strong societal stigma attached to HIV/AIDS infection, which prevented some persons from seeking HIV/AIDS-related services.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Press reported vigilante killings and abuses remained prevalent across the country. Many killings were related to alleged involvement in sorcery and witchcraft and typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. In July, two sisters were accused of sorcery after a man from their Highlands Province village died. Both women were tortured with red-hot iron rods by a group of villagers. According to media reports, one sister died shortly after the attack, while the second sister died from her injuries in September. Police stated that there were 25 sorcery-related attacks in Enga Province as of September. In June police in Northern Province declared they were overwhelmed by a rise in sorcery-related violence, leading to an unspecified number of cases not being investigated.

Church leaders and policy makers observed that the number of persons reportedly tortured and killed for alleged sorcery was increasing. Many believed perpetrators used claims of sorcery to mask criminal violence (e.g., theft or revenge) against vulnerable members of the community, especially women. Reliable data on the matter remained elusive with estimates ranging from 30 to 500 attacks per year resulting in death.

Long-standing animosities among isolated tribes, a persistent cultural tradition of revenge for perceived wrongs, and the lack of law enforcement were factors underlying frequent violent tribal conflict in highland areas. During the year tribal fighting continued in highland provinces. The number of deaths and IDPs resulting from such conflicts continued to rise due to the increased availability of modern weapons (see section 2.e.).

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers in the public and private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The government has limited influence over trade union formation and registration. The law does not cover workers in the informal sector, which accounted for 85 percent of the labor force, most of whom were engaged in small-scale farming.

The law requires unions to register with the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. An unregistered union has no legal standing and thus cannot operate effectively. Although the law provides for the right to strike, the government may, and often did, intervene in labor disputes, forcing arbitration before workers could legally strike or refusing to grant permission for a secret ballot vote on strike action. Some union leaders complained that the Labor Department’s refusal to allow for votes on strike action constituted undue government influence. By law the government has discretionary power to intervene in collective bargaining by canceling arbitration awards or declaring wage agreements void when deemed contrary to government policy.

The law prohibits both retaliation against strikers and antiunion discrimination by employers against union leaders, members, and organizers. The law does not provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. In cases of retaliation or unlawful dismissal for union activity, the court may fine an employer and may order the reinstatement of the employee and reimbursement of any lost wages. If an employer fails to comply with such directives, the court may order imprisonment or fines until the employer complies. Judicial proceedings are subject to lengthy delays.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law, but did not do so effectively. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous violations. With two labor inspectors per province and inadequate resources, inspectors usually monitored and enforced the law on an ad hoc basis. The Labor Department did not always act to prevent retaliation against strikers or protect workers from antiunion discrimination, which remained widespread in the logging sector and in state-owned enterprises. Observers attributed its ineffectiveness to insufficient manpower and resources.

Unions were generally independent of both the government and political parties, whose influence diminished from previous years. Employees of some government-owned enterprises went on strike on several occasions during the year, primarily to protest privatization policies, terminations, and appointments of managers or board members, or in pay disputes. In most cases the strikes were brief due to temporary agreements reached between the government and workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Criminal penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Logging and mining sites primarily operated in remote regions with negligible government oversight, and authorities did not make efforts to identify forced labor victims at them.

Foreign and local men and boys seeking work on fishing vessels go into debt to pay recruitment fees, which vessel owners and senior crew leverage to compel them to continue working indefinitely. The law allows officials, on order of a judge or magistrate, to apprehend a noncitizen crewmember of a foreign-registered ship who fails to rejoin the crewmember’s ship during its time in the country. The crewmember is placed at the disposal of the diplomatic representative of the country in which the ship is registered (or, if no such representation exists, the ship’s owner or representative) in order to return the crewmember to the ship. Observers noted this practice might prevent foreign workers from reporting or escaping situations of forced labor.

There were reports that foreign and local women and children were subjected to forced labor as domestic servants, as beggars or street vendors, and in the tourism sector (see section 7.c.). Foreign and local men were subjected to forced labor, including through debt bondage, in the logging, mining, and fishing sectors. There also were reports of foreign workers, particularly from China and other Pacific nations, entering the country with fraudulent documents and being subjected to forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. By law the minimum working age is 16, although children ages 14 to 15 may be employed if the employer is satisfied that the child is no longer attending school. In addition children ages 14 and 15 may work aboard ships. The minimum age for hazardous work is 16, but the government has no list of hazardous occupations. There are no provisions prohibiting children ages 16 to 18 from engaging in hazardous work. Children as young as age 11 may be employed in light work in a family business or enterprise, provided they have parental permission, medical clearance, and a work permit from a labor office. This type of employment was rare, except in subsistence agriculture. Work by children ages 11 to 16 must not interfere with school attendance. The law does not, however, specify the types of activities in which light work is permitted nor the number of hours per week this work may be undertaken. The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing child labor law provisions.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. There was a high prevalence of child labor in urban and rural areas, including in hazardous occupations.

Many children worked in the informal economy and were seen directing parking vehicles and selling cigarettes, food, and DVDs on the street and in grocery stores throughout the country, sometimes near mining and logging camps. There were reports of boys as young as 12 being exploited as “market taxis” in urban areas, carrying extremely heavy loads for low pay; some may have been victims of forced labor. There were also reports of children engaging in mining activities, including prospectors forcing children to work in alluvial gold mining.

Children worked mainly in subsistence agriculture, cash crop farming, and livestock herding. This included seasonal work on plantations (for coffee, tea, copra, and palm oil) in the formal and informal rural economies.

Some children (primarily girls) worked long hours as domestic servants in private homes, often to repay a family debt to the “host” family, in situations that sometimes constituted forced labor. In some cases the host was a relative who informally “adopted” the child.

The law specifically prohibits using, procuring, and offering a child for pornographic performances. There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution bars discrimination based on disability and the law bans discrimination based on gender in employment and wages in the workplace. The law nonetheless explicitly precludes women from employment in certain occupations, allows the government to recruit either men or women for certain civil service positions, and discriminates by gender in eligibility for certain job-related allowances. No law prohibits discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV or other communicable disease status, or social status.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations, but were not applied in all sectors. Discrimination occurred against women and against persons with disabilities in hiring and access to the workplace. Migrant workers were vulnerable to discrimination; the International Labor Organization noted there were concerns regarding discrimination against certain ethnic groups, including Asian workers and entrepreneurs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage was above the official estimate for the poverty income level. The law regulates minimum wage levels, allowances, rest periods, holiday leave, and overtime work. The law limits the workweek to 42 hours per week in urban areas and 44 hours per week in rural areas, and it provides for premium pay for overtime work. Labor law does not apply to workers in the informal sector. The government did not effectively enforce the minimum wage and overtime law; penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes.

The Labor Department is responsible for enforcing the law regarding minimum wage and work hours and occupational safety and health (OSH). It sets OSH standards and is required by law to inspect work sites on a regular basis. The law does not specify protection for employees who seek to remove themselves from conditions they deem hazardous. In the case of a second or subsequent violation of wage or safety and health law, the employer is liable to a fine for each day or part of each day for which the offense continued. When an employer fails to obey an order, direction, or requirement, the court may order imprisonment of the offender until the directive is obeyed.

The government did not effectively enforce the law on OSH. The number of OSH and industrial relations inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar violations. Violations of wage, overtime, and OSH law and regulations were common in the logging, mining, agricultural, and construction sectors due to the government’s lack of enforcement capacity. The logging industry in particular was known for extremely low wages and poor working conditions, including cramped and unhygienic worker housing. Workers in the mining sector were also subjected to hazardous and exploitative conditions, including exposure to toxic metals such as mercury.

According to World Bank data, 90 percent of the 2.9 million workers labored in rural areas, where labor law enforcement and monitoring were weak.

Philippines

Executive Summary

The Philippines is a multiparty, constitutional republic with a bicameral legislature. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, elected in May 2016, began his constitutionally limited six-year term in June 2016. Midterm elections in May 2019 for 12 (of 24 total) senators, all congressional representatives, and local government leaders were seen as generally free and fair, despite reports of violence and vote buying. The ruling party and allies won all 12 Senate seats and maintained an approximately two-thirds majority in the 306-seat House of Representatives. Barangay (village) and youth council elections originally scheduled for 2021 were rescheduled for December 5, 2022, so that local and national elections would occur in the same year.

The Philippine National Police is charged with maintaining internal security in most of the country and reports to the Department of the Interior. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (armed forces), which reports to the Department of National Defense, is responsible for external security but also carries out domestic security functions in regions with a high incidence of conflict, particularly the Mindanao region. The two agencies share responsibility for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The national police Special Action Force is responsible for urban counterterrorism operations. Governors, mayors, and other local officials have considerable influence over local police units, including appointment of top departmental and municipal police officers and the provision of resources. The government continued to support and arm civilian militias. The armed forces controlled Civilian Armed Force Geographical Units, while Civilian Volunteer Organizations fell under national police command. These paramilitary units often received minimal training and were poorly monitored and regulated. Some political families and clan leaders, particularly in Mindanao, maintained private armies and, at times, recruited Civilian Volunteer Organization and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit members into those armies. Civilian control over security forces was not fully effective. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; reports of forced disappearance by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; torture by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention by and on behalf of the government and nonstate actors; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by terrorists and groups in rebellion against the government; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the use of criminal libel laws to punish journalists; and corruption.

The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity continued following the increase in killings by police in 2016. Significant concerns also persisted about impunity for other security forces, civilian national and local government officials, and powerful business and commercial figures. Slow judicial processes remained an obstacle to bringing government officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses to justice.

Muslim separatists, communist insurgents, and terrorist groups continued to attack government security forces and civilians, causing displacement of civilians and resulting in the deaths of security force members and civilians. Terrorist organizations engaged in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings, and the use of child soldiers in combat or auxiliary roles.

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 numerous reports that government security agencies and their informal allies committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in connection with the government-directed campaign against illegal drugs. Various government bodies conducted investigations into whether security force killings were justifiable, such as the national police Internal Affairs Service, the armed forces Human Rights Office, and the National Bureau of Investigation. Impunity remained a problem, however. Killings of activists, judicial officials, local government leaders, and journalists by government allies, antigovernment insurgents, and unknown assailants also continued. In August peace activist Randall “Randy” Echanis was tortured and killed by unknown individuals who broke into his Quezon City residence. Tensions later escalated when police seized Echanis’ remains from a funeral home.

Approximately 20,000 antidrug operations were conducted from January to August 2020, according to government data. In a House committee hearing in September, the new Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Camilo Cascolan reported 623 suspects killed and 50,429 arrested during drug operations conducted from January to August. Human Rights Watch, based on Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency figures, observed that from April to July, 155 drug suspects were killed–a 50 percent increase from the number of suspects killed from December to March before the COVID-19 community quarantine.

The reported number of extrajudicial killings varied widely, as the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) used different definitions. The Commission on Human Rights, an independent government agency responsible for investigating possible human rights violations, investigated 157 new complaints of alleged extrajudicial or politically motivated killings involving 178 victims as of August; of the cases, 81 involved drug-related extrajudicial killings with 93 victims. The commission suspected PNP or Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency involvement in 61 of these new complaints and armed forces or paramilitary personnel in seven cases.

Media reported continued attacks on human rights defenders. In August the human rights defender and former advocacy officer of the human rights NGO Karapatan, Zara Alvarez, was shot and killed in Bacolod City. Alvarez was included in a Department of Justice list of 600 individuals it intended to designate as terrorists. Karapatan said two other individuals on the list were also killed.

There was a widespread belief that police enjoyed impunity for killings, an accusation both the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Philippine Commission on Human Rights made in their reports in June and July, respectively. Many cases from previous years remained open. Of police officers involved in killings in the antidrug war since 2016, only three had been convicted of murder–all in 2018 for the 2017 murder of juvenile Kian delos Santos.

Civil society organizations accused police of planting evidence, tampering with crime scenes, unlawfully disposing of the bodies of drug suspects, and other actions to cover up extrajudicial killings. In June the National Bureau of Investigation charged two PNP members with planting evidence in the shooting of Winston Ragos, a former armed forces member suffering from mental illness, over an alleged COVID-19 quarantine violation. The officers claimed that Ragos had reached for a firearm in his bag and reported that Ragos was found to be in possession of a .38 caliber pistol; however, the bureau concluded the officers had planted the pistol during the altercation.

Police were accused of murdering nine unarmed Muslim men in Kabacan on August 30. According to the Commission on Human Rights, one victim, before dying in hospital, told his family that police were behind the killings, and another made a call saying police had stopped him before being shot. Some observers on social media alleged police committed the killings to avenge the murder of a nearby village’s police chief on August 24. Local police denied any involvement and initially suggested the incident was the result of a clan feud before a subsequent report alleged gunmen killed the victims after stopping them along the road. The government announced that a special task force would investigate in conjunction with the Commission on Human Rights.

President Duterte continued to maintain lists of persons he claimed were suspected drug criminals, including government, police, military, and judicial officials. At least two elected officials on Duterte’s list were assassinated in 2020: Sultan Sumagka mayor Abdul Wahab Sabal in February and Santo Nino mayor Pablo Matinong in July. As of May, then national police chief Archie Gamboa had ordered investigations of 709 police officers, including two police generals, named in the president’s lists. The national police reported four personnel were dismissed from service for actions related to their involvement in anti-illegal drug operations.

b. Disappearance

The armed forces Human Rights Office reported no cases of forced disappearance attributed to or implicating the forces from January to July. The Commission on Human Rights, however, reported three cases of abduction and forced disappearance from January to June, perpetrated by armed forces members in two instances and by national police members in the other. In June unidentified individuals in civilian clothing removed a woman from her home on Bantayan Island. According to the woman’s sister, who witnessed the event, they neither identified themselves nor said where they were taking the woman. When the abduction was reported to police, authorities said no police operations had been conducted that evening. The victim was an executive with an agricultural organization that the military had declared to be a front for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA) in March 2019. The Commission on Human Rights opened an investigation, which stalled because of the local government’s COVID-related travel restrictions.

Kidnappings during the year were common and predominantly for criminal purposes (i.e., ransom); in the past they were carried out for both pro- and antigovernment political motives as well. Terrorist groups were implicated in many Mindanao kidnappings.

The law allows family members of alleged victims of disappearances to compel government agencies to provide statements in court about what they know regarding the circumstances surrounding a disappearance (or extrajudicial killing) and the victim’s status. Evidence of a kidnapping or killing requires the filing of charges, but in many past cases evidence and documentation were unavailable or not collected. Investigative and judicial action on disappearance cases was insufficient; a small number of previously reported cases were prosecuted.

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

The law prohibits torture, and evidence obtained through its use is inadmissible in court. According to the Commission on Human Rights, however, members of the security forces and police were accused of routinely abusing and sometimes torturing suspects and detainees. Common forms of abuse during arrest and interrogation reportedly included electric shock, cigarette burns, and suffocation.

As of June the Commission on Human Rights had investigated 27 cases of alleged torture involving 34 victims; it suspected police involvement in 22 of the cases. The NGO Task Force Detainees of the Philippines monitored 16 torture cases from March to June, mostly for alleged COVID-19 quarantine violations. On March 20, the start of the COVID-19 community quarantine, a village chief in Santa Cruz, Laguna, threatened to shoot five arrested curfew violators if they did not agree to be locked inside a dog cage for 30 minutes. On March 24, photographs of arrested curfew violators sitting on chairs in the middle of a basketball court and under the sun went viral after a village official from San Isidro, Paranaque, who posted the photographs, put a caption “Everyone caught violating the curfew, we will place here.”

NGOs and media reported local governments used psychological abuse, including shaming, as punishment for community quarantine curfew violators. Under the torture statutes, the public parading or shaming of a person is illegal when used to undermine a person’s dignity and morale. In April village officials in Pandacaqui, Pampanga, detained three members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community for curfew violations. The officials told the detainees to dance provocatively and kiss each other on the lips while being streamed live on Facebook.

Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Human rights groups continued to express concern about abuses committed by the national police and other security forces and noted little progress in reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations. The armed forces Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through October, no extrajudicial killings, murders, or forced disappearances were identified or investigated by the office.

Human rights groups continued to express concern about the contribution of corruption to abuses committed by the national police and other security forces and noted little progress in implementing and enforcing reforms aimed at improving investigations and prosecutions of suspected human rights violations.

The national police’s institutional deficiencies and the public perception that corruption in the police was endemic continued. The PNP’s Internal Affairs Service remained largely ineffective. In October the new PNP chief Cascolan reported 4,591 police officers were dismissed from service for serious violations, 7,888 were suspended, and 846 were demoted in rank, as part of the organization’s internal cleansing program. Although the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service claimed manpower and resource limitations hampered its investigations into deaths resulting from police operations, it asserted the majority of police operations were legitimate, lawful police actions. The PNP’s Counter-Intelligence Task Force also monitored police personnel suspected of illegal activities.

From January to August, complainants reported five cases of alleged military and law enforcement involvement in human rights abuses to the Office of the Ombudsman, including killings, injuries, unlawful arrest, and torture. A majority of the cases were against low-ranking officials. As of October all cases remained open pending additional investigation.

Efforts continued to reform and professionalize the national police through improved training, expanded community outreach, and salary increases. Human rights modules were included in all national police career courses, and the police Human Rights Affairs Office conducted routine training nationwide on human rights responsibilities in policing. Several NGOs suggested that national police training courses should have a follow-up mechanism to determine the effectiveness of each session.

The armed forces Human Rights Office monitored and reviewed alleged human rights abuses involving members of the military. From January through July, the office identified and investigated no extrajudicial killings or murders or forced disappearances.

The military routinely provided human rights training to its members, augmented by training from the Commission on Human Rights. Successful completion of these courses is required to complete basic training and for induction, promotion, reassignment, and selection for foreign schooling opportunities. According to armed force’s human rights office, internal human rights training is conducted from the general headquarters level down to battalion units, totaling hundreds of training exercise annually. From January to August, various military service units conducted human rights-related training programs, seminars, or workshops with the Commission on Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other NGOs.

The Congressional Commission on Appointments determines whether senior military officers selected for promotion have a history of human rights violations and solicits input from the Commission on Human Rights and other agencies through background investigations. The congressional commission may withhold a promotion indefinitely if it uncovers a record of abuses. Violations, however, do not preclude promotion.

Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces were poorly resourced and remained largely ineffective. Potential witnesses often were unable to obtain protection. The Commission on Human Rights operated a small witness protection program that was overburdened by witnesses to killings in the antidrug campaign. The loss of family income due to the relocation of a family member was also, in some cases, a barrier to witnesses’ testimony. The Office of the Ombudsman also reported that witnesses often failed to come forward or to cooperate in police abuse or corruption cases. This problem sometimes followed pressure on witnesses and their families or arose from an expectation of compensation for their cooperation.

Reports of rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued. In March, two national police officers were charged with sexual assault of two women detained at the Marikina City police station on drug charges. The women claimed that the officers raped them during interrogation and that they reported the rape to the duty jailor upon return to their detention cell. In October the national police’s Women and Children Protection Center charged police Lieutenant Colonel Jigger Noceda with sexual assault for allegedly sexually assaulting former Ozamiz City vice mayor Nova Parojinog at least twice. Parojinog had been in police custody since 2017 on drug charges and was still awaiting a judgement in her case.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were often harsh and life threatening and included gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, physical abuse, and a chronic lack of resources including medical care and food.

NGOs reported abuse by prison guards and other inmates was common, but they stated that prisoners, fearing retaliation, generally declined to lodge formal complaints.

The juvenile justice law exempts minors from criminal liability. Drug syndicates often used minors as runners, traffickers, cultivators, or drug den employees. Rescued minors are turned over to the custody of Department of Social Welfare and Development (social welfare department). Police stations had youth relations officers to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the social welfare department provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. From January to July, the department assisted 1,418 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 15 regional youth rehabilitation centers nationwide. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

Physical Conditions: The Bureau of Corrections, under the Department of Justice, administered seven prisons and penal farms nationwide for individuals sentenced to prison terms exceeding three years. Bureau of Corrections facilities operated at almost four times their operating capacity of 11,981, holding 49,701 prisoners.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, under the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the national police, controlled 470 city, district, municipal, and provincial jails that held pretrial detainees, persons awaiting final judgment, and convicts serving sentences of three years or less. The bureau reported its jails operated at 456 percent over designated capacity. The San Mateo municipal jail in Quezon City was one of the most congested jails in the country with an official capacity of 23 inmates; as of July it held 705 detainees. The Commission on Audit annual report for 2019, released in August, noted that jail congestion remained the biggest problem in the justice system and highlighted the most overcrowded Bureau of Jail Management and Penalogy (BJMP) detention centers: those in Zamboanga Peninsula (821 percent over capacity), Metro Manila (645 percent), Central Visayas (611 percent), Calabarzon (513 percent), and Central Luzon (507 percent). The audit commission stressed that, aside from health and sanitation problems, the jail congestion led to increased gang affiliation among inmates.

Despite an early initiative to put detention facilities on lockdown, overcrowding led to the spread of COVID-19 among inmates. From March 17 to August 14, the government released 58,625 inmates to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the prison population, according to Supreme Court records. In July the Bureau of Corrections spokesperson reported 350 inmates and personnel had contracted the virus, of whom 200 recovered, 129 remained ill, and 21 died.

The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, an agency supervised by the Department of Justice, reported conditions in its rehabilitation centers (called Bahay Pag-asa or Houses of Hope) were worse than in jails, citing the lack of furniture such as beds and cabinets in some centers. There were 85 Bahay Pag-asa centers in the country, 82 run by local government units and three by NGOs.

Prison authorities did not uniformly enforce regulations that require holding male and female inmates in separate facilities and, in national prisons, overseeing them with guards of the same sex. In some facilities authorities did not fully segregate juveniles from adults. The prison services reported insufficient custodial and escort personnel, especially in large jails, with a national average of about 55 prisoners assigned to each custodial staff member. In larger prisons the ratio was higher; for example, in the New Bilibid Prison, one prison guard oversaw 135 prisoners.

Poor sanitation, inadequate ventilation, poor access to natural lighting, and a lack of potable water were chronic problems in correctional facilities and contributed to health problems. From January to July, the prison services reported 1,069 total inmate deaths. The Bureau of Corrections attributed 31 of the 498 deaths in its facilities to COVID-19. Observers accused the Bureau of Corrections of using the virus to cover up the unlawful execution of inmates or inmate escapes.

Prison authorities reported that most deaths resulted from illness. Authorities provided Bureau of Corrections inmates with medical care; however, some medical services and treatments were not available. In such cases authorities referred inmates to an outside hospital. Inmates received a medicine allowance of 15 pesos ($0.28) per day.

Juveniles younger than 18 were typically released by court order or following a petition by the Public Attorney’s Office, the inmate’s private lawyer, or through NGO-led appeals. As of July juveniles made up less than 1 percent of the prison population.

The juvenile justice law exempts minors from criminal liability. Drug syndicates often used minors as runners, traffickers, cultivators, or drug den employees. Rescued minors are turned over to the custody of Department of Social Welfare and Development (social welfare department). Police stations had youth relations officers to ensure that authorities treated minor suspects appropriately, but in some cases they ignored procedural safeguards and facilities were not child friendly. The law mandates that the social welfare department provide shelter, treatment, and rehabilitation services to these children. From January to July, the department assisted 1,418 children in conflict with the law (that is, alleged as, accused of, or judged as having committed an offense) in 15 regional youth rehabilitation centers nationwide. Additionally, several local governments established and managed youth centers that provided protection, care, training, and rehabilitation for these children and other at-risk youth.

Opportunities for prisoner recreation, learning, and self-improvement remained scarce.

Administration: Prisoners, their families, and lawyers may submit complaints to constitutionally established independent government agencies, and the Commission on Human Rights referred complaints it received to the appropriate agency.

Authorities generally allowed prisoners and detainees to receive visitors, but local NGOs reported that authorities periodically restricted family visits for some detainees accused of insurgency-related crimes. Prison officials noted that security concerns and space limitations at times also restricted prisoner access to visitors. Beginning in March the prison services suspended visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Muslim officials reported that while Muslim detainees could observe their religion, Roman Catholic mass was often broadcast by loudspeaker to prison populations of both Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic prisoners and detainees.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted international monitoring groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, free and timely access to jails and prisons. The constitution grants the Commission on Human Rights authority to visit jails, prisons, or detention facilities to monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty obligations. The commission reported some detention facilities lacked an understanding of its mandate and continued to deny their representatives access to detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. As of August the Office of the Ombudsman, an independent agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of public abuse and impropriety, did not receive any complaints of arbitrary detention committed by law enforcement agencies or the armed forces. There were, however, numerous credible allegations of arbitrary arrests and detentions by security forces.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official are required for an arrest unless the suspect is observed attempting to commit, in the act of committing, or just after committing an offense; there is probable cause based on personal knowledge that the suspect just committed an offense; or the suspect is an escaped prisoner. Authorities are required to file charges within 12 to 36 hours for arrests made without warrants, depending on the seriousness of the crime. In terrorism cases the law permits warrantless arrests and detention without charges for up to 24 days, increased from three days with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law in July.

Detainees have the right to bail, except when held for capital offenses or those punishable by a life sentence. The bail system largely functioned as intended, and suspects were allowed to appeal a judge’s decision to deny bail. The law provides an accused or detained person the right to choose a lawyer and, if the suspect cannot afford one, to have the state provide one. An underresourced Public Attorney’s Office, however, limited access of indigent persons to public defenders.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to detain individuals, including juveniles, arbitrarily and without warrants on charges other than terrorism, especially in areas of armed conflict.

The Commission on Human Rights investigated 119 alleged illegal detention cases involving 306 victims from January to June. In a March case, police officers invited a human rights activist to their police station for a discussion. Upon arrival, officers photographed her with a piece of cardboard with a number and title, questioned her, and placed her in detention, where she remained as of October. The Commission on Human Rights visited the detained woman; however, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed further action.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem due largely to the slow and ineffectual justice system. Approximately 98 percent of prisoners in Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facilities were pretrial detainees; the balance were convicted criminals serving less than three-year sentences. Pending cases were not evenly distributed among the courts, which resulted in some severely overburdened courts. Large jails employed paralegals to monitor inmates’ cases, prevent detention beyond the maximum sentence, and assist with decongestion efforts. The BJMP helped expedite court cases to promote speedy disposition of inmates’ cases. Through this program authorities released 41,555 inmates from BJMP jails from January to July. Nonetheless, pretrial detention in excess of the possible maximum sentence was common, often extending over many years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary; although the government generally respected judicial independence, pressure, threats, and intimidation directed at the judiciary from various sources were reported by NGOs during the year. Six lawyers were killed as of July. Corruption through nepotism, personal connections, and sometimes bribery continued to result in relative impunity for wealthy or influential offenders. Insufficient personnel, inefficient processes, and long procedural delays also hindered the judicial system. These factors contributed to widespread skepticism that the criminal justice system delivered due process and equal justice.

Trials took place as a series of separate hearings, often months apart, as witnesses and court time became available, contributing to lengthy delays. There was a widely recognized need for more prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms. As of June 30, approximately one-third of authorized bench positions (563 positions) were unfilled. Sharia (Islamic law) court positions continued to be particularly difficult to fill because applicants must be members of both the Sharia Bar and the Integrated Bar. The 56 authorized district and circuit Sharia courts do not have criminal jurisdiction. Training for sharia court prosecutors was brief and considered inadequate.

The Supreme Court continued efforts to provide speedier trials, reduce judicial malfeasance, increase judicial branch efficiency, and raise public confidence in the judiciary. It continued to implement guidelines to accelerate resolution of cases in which the maximum penalty would not exceed six years in prison.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a speedy, impartial, and public trial. Trials were generally public, but not timely, and judicial impartiality was widely questioned. The law requires that all persons accused of crimes be informed of the charges against them and grants rights to counsel, adequate time to prepare a defense, and a speedy and public trial before a judge. No criminal proceeding goes forward against a defendant without the presence of a lawyer. The law presumes defendants are innocent. They have the right to confront witnesses against them, be present at their trial, present evidence in their favor, appeal convictions, and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The court may appoint an interpreter if necessary. If the court’s interpreter makes serious mistakes, a party may challenge the interpretation. The government generally implemented these requirements, except for the right to a speedy trial.

Although the law provides that cases should be resolved within three months to two years, depending on the court, trials effectively had no time limits. Government officials estimated it took an average of five to six years to obtain a decision.

Authorities respected a defendant’s right to representation by a lawyer, but poverty often inhibited access to effective legal counsel. The Public Attorney’s Office, which reports to the Department of Justice, did not have the necessary resources to fulfill its constitutional mandate and used its limited resources to represent indigent defendants at trial rather than during arraignments or pretrial hearings. During pretrial hearings courts may appoint any lawyer present in the courtroom to provide on-the-spot counsel to the accused.

Sentencing decisions were not always consistent with legal guidelines, and judicial decisions sometimes appeared arbitrary.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Under a 1945 law, the government defines political prisoners as those who may be accused of any crime against national security. Using this definition, the Bureau of Corrections reported 55 political prisoners in its facilities as of August. The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology does not track political prisoners and defines prisoners based only on security risk.

Various human rights NGOs maintained lists of incarcerated persons they considered political prisoners. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, an NGO, tracked political detainees, most of whom were in pretrial detention. The task force noted that in the majority of cases, authorities mixed political prisoners with the general inmate population, except in the New Bilibid Prison, where they held most political prisoners in maximum-security facilities.

Three years after her arrest, during which prosecutors used a variety of legal tactics to delay arraignment, including filing new and amending previous charges, opposition senator Leila de Lima remained in police detention on a charge of conspiracy to commit drug trading. In May her political party–the Liberal Party–called on police to allow de Lima to receive visitors and communicate with others, alleging that police held her incommunicado for a month using the threat of COVID-19 as a pretext. The Liberal Party added that the COVID-19 pandemic must not prevent her “right to information, vital health services, and communication.” By June in-person contact with her legal team, family, and spiritual advisers was restored. In July, one of her accusers, a prison gang leader named Jaybee Sebastian, died in prison, reportedly of COVID-19. He claimed that he provided more than $200,000 in drug money to support de Lima’s 2016 senatorial campaign. De Lima’s case began in 2016 after she opened hearings into killings related to the antidrug campaign. Although detained, de Lima had access to media and some visitors. Her case attracted widespread domestic and international attention, with many observers denouncing the charges as politically motivated.

The government permitted regular access to political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Most analysts regarded the judiciary as independent in civil matters. Complainants have access to local trial courts to seek civil damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for civil complaints, although overburdened local courts often dismissed these cases. No regional human rights tribunals could hear an appeal from the country. Civil cases are subject to the same delays and corruption as criminal proceedings.

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

The government generally respected citizens’ privacy, although leaders of communist and leftist organizations and rural-based NGOs complained of routine surveillance and harassment. Authorities routinely relied on informant systems to obtain information on terrorist suspects and in the drug war. The reliability of information on illegal narcotics activities gained from these sources remained highly questionable. Although the government generally respected restrictions on search and seizure within private homes, searches without warrants continued. Judges generally declared evidence obtained illegally to be inadmissible.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution explicitly provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government sometimes respected this right. Government threats and actions against media outlets, journalists, and government critics continued, however, and polls suggested that most citizens considered it dangerous to publish information critical of the administration.

Freedom of Speech: On the surface individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately and discuss matters of general public interest. Civil society organizations, however, stated that President Duterte’s public attacks on individuals and international bodies who criticized his policies continued to have a chilling effect on free speech and expression and that laws were increasingly misused against critics of his administration. Civil society organizations expressed concern that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, signed into law on July 3, could be used to suppress speech, including through broad provisions against inciting terrorism. The Bayanihan to Heal As One Act, signed on March 24, punishes individuals for creating, perpetrating, or spreading false information about COVID-19 on social media and other platforms. Public officials continued to file criminal libel and cyber libel complaints against private citizens.

The armed conflict between the government and the NPA, the armed wing of the CPP, is more than a half-century old. The practice of accusing groups and individuals of having ties to the CPP-NPA, or red-tagging, increased significantly after the peace talks broke down in 2017 and President Duterte labeled the CPP-NPA a terrorist organization. According to human rights groups, red-tagging often involves government officials labeling human rights advocates, unions, religious groups, academics, and media organizations as “legal fronts” of the insurgency, allegedly to silence criticism of the government or intimidate opponents in local disputes. Leftist and human rights activists continued to report harassment by persons whom they suspected to be military or government agents, and some red-tagged activists were killed.

Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media generally remained active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, including criticism of the government, despite critical and threatening comments from political leadership, including the president.

Two major media outfits, however, faced outright restrictions and legal challenges: online news website Rappler and broadcast giant ABS-CBN. The president publicly called out both organizations for alleged wrongdoing: Rappler for its supposed reporting bias and foreign ownership, and ABS-CBN for a number of alleged crimes, including failure to show Duterte’s political advertisements during the 2016 presidential elections, violations of labor laws, foreign ownership, and financial irregularities. Reporters without Borders reported a “grotesque judicial harassment campaign” against Rappler and “threats and intimidation by government agencies and institutions that support Duterte” against ABS-CBN.

Rappler continued to be a target of substantial pressure, including legal and administrative actions, which some observers attributed to its critical coverage of the government. In June, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were found guilty of cyber libel over a 2012 Rappler story claiming the late Supreme Court justice Renato Corona used vehicles belonging to influential businessmen, including plaintiff Wilfredo Keng. Ressa and Santos posted bail and appealed the conviction. Keng filed a second cyber libel complaint against Ressa in February for her 2019 tweet of screenshots of a now deleted Philippine Star story linking the businessman to the murder of a former Manila councilor. The article at the heart of the original cyber libel complaint was published in May 2012. The cybercrime law was passed in September 2012, but the court concluded that the law still applied because Rappler updated the story in 2014 due to what Rappler claimed was a typographical error. The statute of limitations is also subject to contention (see Libel/Slander Laws below).

In July, in a nominally unrelated case, Ressa was arraigned on a tax evasion charge related to Rappler’s issuance of Philippine depository receipts.

ABS-CBN was forced to stop television broadcasting on May 7 following a cease-and-desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission after the network’s 25-year broadcast franchise license expired. The commission also issued two cease-and-desist orders against broadcasts on the media giant’s two other properties: ABS-CBN TV Plus and satellite service subsidiary Sky Direct. On July 10, a House of Representatives committee voted to deny ABS-CBN’s application for a new 25-year franchise. A special technical working group created by the committee said ABS-CBN’s license did not merit renewal because of the company’s supposed bias, failure to regularize employees, and the alleged dual citizenship of its chairman emeritus Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III. Several lawmakers filed resolutions seeking investigations into ABS-CBN, including the ownership of its 52,000-square-foot Manila headquarters, an alleged $32.5-million loan write-off from the Development Bank of the Philippines, and its block time agreement with Amcara Broadcasting Corporation. The network had reportedly laid off approximately 5,000 of its 11,000 employees by September due to the shutdown.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and threats of violence, including from politicians and government authorities critical of their reporting. A July survey from polling company Social Weather Stations showed that 51 percent of the country’s residents agreed with the statement that “it is dangerous to print or broadcast anything critical of the administration, even if it is the truth.”

As of October the Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom NGO, reported that two journalists were killed during the year. On May 5, unidentified gunmen killed radio journalist Cornelio Pepino in Dumaguete City. Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo had sued Pepino for defamation, but the radio anchor was acquitted.

A December 2019 report by the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, a group of media NGOs and news organizations, also detailed the “unyielding reign of impunity” since President Duterte took office. It said online journalists were the most attacked media group, followed by radio, print, and then television.

In December 2019 a local court handed down a landmark ruling on the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, in which 32 journalists and 26 other persons died and which was dubbed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the single deadliest international event for journalists in history. After 10 years brothers Zaldy and Andal Ampatuan, Jr., along with 28 coaccused, were found guilty of 57 counts of murder. As accessories to the crime, 15 others were convicted. The government continued to pursue approximately 80 suspects who remained at large.

In July the Catanduanes provincial legislature declared local radio anchor Ramil Soliveres persona non grata for posting about an unnamed council member missing a health committee hearing. During a speech the local official branded him a “fake news” media worker and called him a “male prostitute” while handing out topless photographs taken from the journalist’s personal Facebook account.

On September 14, two unidentified motorcycle-riding gunmen shot and killed television commentator Jobert Bercasio in Sorsogon City. Bercasio had reported on deforestation and illegal mining in the region and posted a Facebook photograph an hour before his death allegedly showing illegal mining at a local quarry.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: News organizations generally were spared censorship attempts, but media watchdogs noted several instances of alleged government interference.

With the nonrenewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, the network was forced to move most of its programs online and close down its provincial television and radio stations and its current affairs division; the latter produced political shows and documentaries. Although the president’s office repeatedly distanced the president from the ABS-CBN shutdown, in a July 13 speech to troops in Jolo, he called out ABS-CBN again for allegedly ruining him. His communications team edited the video of the speech to remove any mention of the network, but netizens and journalists discovered the edit. President Duterte also attacked ABS-CBN and its owners during his 2020 state of the nation address.

In March the journalists’ union denounced moves by the Presidential Communications Operations Office and its regional offices to require journalists to seek accreditation to cover the COVID-19 crisis even outside the Luzon quarantine area, calling it a “clear overstretch of the agency’s authority.”

In July police officers confiscated and destroyed thousands of copies of the Pinoy Weekly magazine in Bulacan, calling it “illegal” because it “teaches people to fight the government.” The journalists’ union characterized it as a “clear example of dangers the Filipino people face” from the “vague provisions” of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Libel/Slander Laws: Laws stipulate criminal penalties for libel, which authorities used to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against journalists. The statute of limitations for libel in the revised penal code lapses after one year. In the case of Rappler, however, a local court and the Department of Justice stated the statute of limitations should be 12 years because it was “considered as a more serious offense” under the cyber libel law. Experts and legal groups such as the Concerned Lawyers Civil Liberties branded this ruling “unconstitutional.”

Internet Freedom

With the exception of mobile communications blocked during special events for security purposes, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. While the government did not overtly censor online content, there were credible reports of government agencies and government-connected groups using coordinated, disguised online behavior to suppress speech critical of the government. On September 22, Facebook announced that it had dismantled several accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” The fake accounts were allegedly operated by members of the military and police, with content largely revolving around criticism of the political opposition, activism, and communism. The military disputed at least one of the removals, claiming the site was a legitimate attempt to raise awareness of the communist movement’s recruiting tactics.

There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communication without appropriate legal authority, but student protesters received threats of physical harm and other online attacks from progovernment supporters.

The Bayanihan Act punishes “individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media or other platforms” that is “clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion.” Offenders face penalties of up to two months in prison or a substantial fine. Between March 9 and April 13, the PNP’s Anti-Cyber Crime Group recorded 24 cases of individuals allegedly sharing false information about the pandemic on social media. Legal groups expressed concern regarding local officials using vague provision on “fake news” in the emergency law. In April, Cebu artist Bambi Beltran was arrested without a warrant for posting a Facebook report about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City. Cebu mayor Edgar Labella labeled her post as “fake news.” A Cebu court dismissed Beltran’s case in August for lack of jurisdiction.

On July 16, the National Bureau of Investigation subpoenaed a college student for cyber libel for sharing an online post criticizing former Duterte aide and now senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go. Observers accused government officials of selectively using the cyber libel laws to suppress free expression.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no national government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, the government continued to close schools for indigenous Lumad people on Mindanao (see section 6, Indigenous People).

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Beginning in March, however, the government implemented restrictions on peaceful assembly in response to public health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Under Enhanced Community Quarantine rules, mass gatherings were prohibited. Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine rules permitted gatherings of up to five for religious reasons.

On April 1, residents gathered along EDSA highway in Quezon City when rumors spread that food and financial aid were to be distributed. When aid was not delivered, the group began to call on the government to provide assistance. NGOs alleged that police violently dispersed the peaceful gathering, arresting 21 individuals and holding them for five days on charges including “unlawful assembly” and “noncooperation in a health emergency.”

On June 5, police arrested at least eight Anti-Terrorism Act protesters at the University of the Philippines Cebu under the provisions of the Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases and the Public Assembly Act. On June 26, police dispersed an LGBT Pride protest against the Anti-Terrorism Act. Police arrested 20 demonstrators, charging them with offenses under same laws.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Beginning on March 16, however, the government imposed graduated quarantine measures restricting movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In-Country Movement: The most severe level of lockdown, Enhanced Community Quarantine, remained in place for two months throughout much of Luzon, until May 15. This prohibited individuals from using public transportation or traveling outside their homes except to perform necessary activities, such as purchasing food, essential work duties, or to seek medical care.

Foreign Travel: Government limits on foreign travel were generally based on security or personal safety factors, such as when a citizen had a pending court case, or to discourage travel by vulnerable workers to countries where they could face personal security risks, including trafficking or other exploitation. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration manages departures for work abroad. It requires overseas workers to register and receive predeparture screening, training, and certification before traveling, and seeks to ensure that future overseas workers deal with legitimate, licensed recruitment agencies.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Decades of sectarian and political insurgency, sporadic interclan fighting, and natural disasters have generated significant internal displacement. The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was uncertain and fluctuated widely. Counterinsurgency campaigns against the Abu Sayyaf Group, primarily in Sulu and Basilan Provinces, and clashes with the NPA, concentrated in the most geographically remote provinces, caused sporadic and small-scale displacement. Most IDPs were women and children.

In Mindanao the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that as of August, more than 343,322 persons were displaced and in need of durable solutions, most of whom were located in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Of those, approximately 188,000 were displaced by natural disasters, 150,000 by armed conflict, 6,600 by clan feuds, 4,600 by crime or violence, and 60,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Government agencies, often with support from UN agencies and other international donors, provided food (although NGOs noted food aid was sometimes delayed); constructed shelters and public infrastructure; repaired schools; built sanitation facilities; offered immunization, health, and social services; and provided cash assistance and skills training for IDPs. The government permitted humanitarian organizations access to IDP sites. Security forces sometimes carried out military operations near IDP sites, increasing the risk of casualties and damage and restricting freedom of movement. Impoverished IDPs were highly susceptible to human trafficking networks.

At times the government encouraged IDPs to return home, but they were often reluctant to do so for security or welfare reasons.

f. Protection of Refugees

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

Access to Asylum: No comprehensive legislation provides for granting refugee status or asylum. The Department of Justice’s Refugee and Stateless Persons Protections Unit determines which applicants qualify as refugees in accordance with an established, accessible system that appeared to provide basic due process.

g. Stateless Persons

The Department of Justice is responsible for statelessness determinations of persons born in the country and of newly arrived persons. After an applicant files for a determination of statelessness, deportation or exclusion proceedings against the applicant and dependents are suspended, and the applicant may be released from detention. As of July, nine stateless persons were in the country, three of whom were classified as refugees and one as an asylum seeker.

Stateless persons may be naturalized. There were no known cases of social discrimination against stateless persons or limits on their access to public services.

The Philippine and Indonesian governments continued to hold bilateral meetings regarding an agreement on registering persons of Indonesian descent at risk of statelessness in Southern Mindanao. Of those registered, 96 percent had their citizenship confirmed as of December 31, 2019.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government by secret ballot in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. Candidates, including for the presidency, frequently had their legal right to run for office challenged by political opponents based on alleged criminal history, citizenship, or other disqualifying conditions. These cases were sometimes pursued to the Supreme Court. Political candidates were allowed to substitute placeholders for themselves if unable to complete the registration process on time.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country conducted nationwide midterm elections in May 2019 for national and local officials. International and national observers viewed the elections as well organized and generally free and fair, but they noted vote buying continued to be widespread and that dynastic political families continued to monopolize elective offices. The PNP reported 60 incidents of election-related violence that led to 23 killings in the month leading up to the election and on election day, a 55 percent drop in violent incidents compared with the 2016 national elections. Election officials described the polls as relatively peaceful. International Alert, however, reported 144 election-related incidents in the Bangsamoro region alone, mostly fistfights and small-scale bombings. President Duterte’s release of his “narco-list” ahead of the 2019 midterms as a tool to defeat opposition candidates was of uncertain effect, as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed that 25 of 46 politicians on it won in the midterm polls.

Barangay and youth council elections were held in May 2018. On December 3, 2019, President Duterte signed into law a bill postponing the next barangay and youth council elections, previously scheduled for 2021, to December 2022 to align the schedule with national elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. At the national level, women constituted nearly 30 percent of the legislature. Participation by these groups did not change significantly compared with previous elections.

Men dominated the political scene, although the number of women holding elected positions in government rose after the 2019 elections. Media commentators expressed concern that political dynasties limited opportunities for female candidates not connected to political families.

There were no Muslim or indigenous Senate members, but there were 11 Muslim members of the House of Representatives, mostly from Muslim-majority provinces, and at least three members of indigenous descent. Muslims, indigenous groups, and others maintained that electing senators from a nationwide list favored established political figures from the Manila area.

The law provides for a party-list system, designed to ensure the representation of marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society, for 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, but the government did not implement these laws effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Prolonged delays in the justice system reinforced the perception of impunity for the security forces and for national, provincial, and local government actors accused of corruption and human rights abuses.

President Duterte spoke frequently about his desire to fight corruption and fired public officials, including political allies, over allegations of corruption. In his July 27 state of the nation address, Duterte noted that even government COVID-19 assistance was not spared from corruption.

Corruption: To combat corruption, the constitution established the independent Office of the Ombudsman, an appellate-level anticorruption court, and the Commission on Audit. All three organizations were consistently allocated budgets below what they requested, but they actively collaborated with the public and civil society and appeared to operate independently and use their limited resources effectively. Despite government efforts to file charges and obtain convictions in a number of cases, officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with relative impunity.

Between January and July, the Office of the Ombudsman won 179 convictions in 258 corruption cases. Although the total number of cases in this period was down by somewhat more than 50 percent, the conviction rate increased from 63 percent in the same period in 2019 to slightly more than 69 percent during the year.

In August a former Davao del Norte congressman was convicted and sentenced to six to eight years in prison for his role in an illegal land deal between his family business and the Bureau of Corrections. On August 27, former PhilHealth CEO Ricardo Morales resigned following investigations into widespread corruption in the agency. A whistleblower reported that PhilHealth executives perpetrated a 15-billion-peso ($308,000) fraud misusing public funds, prompting formal investigations by the Senate, the House of Representatives, and an interagency task force. On October 2, the National Bureau of Investigation charged Morales and eight other senior PhilHealth officials with graft, malversation of public funds or property, and violations of the National Internal Revenue Code.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials and employees to file, under oath, a statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth and to disclose their personal business interests and financial connections as well as those of their spouses and unmarried children living in their households. Nondisclosure is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding five years, a modest fine, or both, and, at the discretion of the court, disqualification from holding public office. The Civil Service Commission implements and enforces the law, forwarding nondisclosure cases to the Office of the Ombudsman for prosecution.

A former municipal mayor in Maguindanao was charged with dishonesty, neglect of duty, and five counts of failing to make certain disclosures in his financial statement. The former mayor was also allegedly included in the president’s list of politicians involved in illegal drug activities.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were under pressure not to cooperate with or respond to the views of international human rights organizations. Local human rights activists continued to encounter occasional harassment, mainly from security forces or local officials from areas in which incidents under investigation occurred.

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates reported that during a UN Human Rights Council session in May, the Philippine delegation presented a list of local organizations allegedly affiliated with leftist groups including iDefend, a human rights movement established by the alliance to campaign against the government’s war on drugs and continuing impunity.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Commission on Human Rights’ constitutional mandate is to protect and promote human rights; investigate all human rights violations, including those reported by NGOs; and monitor government compliance with international human rights treaty obligations. Approximately three-quarters of the country’s 42,000 villages had human rights action centers that coordinated with commission regional offices. Although the legislature doubled the commission’s budget in the last two to three years, despite the executive’s efforts to reduce it, the commission nonetheless lacked sufficient resources to investigate and follow up on all cases presented to its regional and subregional offices.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an independent agency that responds to complaints about public officials and employees. It has the authority to make administrative rulings and seek prosecutions.

The Presidential Human Rights Committee serves as a multiagency coordinating body on human rights problems. The committee’s responsibilities include compiling the government’s submission for the UN Universal Periodic Review. Many NGOs considered it independent but with limited ability to influence human rights policy. The committee also chairs the Inter-Agency Committee on Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture, and Other Grave Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty, and Security of Persons, also known as the AO35 committee. This body determines the appropriate mechanisms to resolve cases of political violence. It inventories all cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, and other grave violations and classifies cases as unresolved, under investigation, under preliminary investigation, or under trial.

The Regional Human Rights Commission is a constitutionally mandated body tasked with monitoring alleged human rights violations in Bangsamoro.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties ranging from 12 to 40 years’ imprisonment with pardon or parole possible only after 30 years’ imprisonment. Conviction can also result in a lifetime ban from political office. The law applies to both men and women. Penalties for forcible sexual assault range from six to 12 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes physical, sexual, and psychological harm or abuse to women (and children) committed by spouses, partners, or parents. Penalties depend on the severity of the crime and may include imprisonment or significant fines.

Authorities generally took reports of rape seriously. NGOs noted that in smaller localities perpetrators of abuse sometimes used personal relationships with local authorities to avoid prosecution.

Statistics were unavailable on prosecutions, convictions, and punishments for cases filed by the national police. Likewise, difficulty in obtaining rape convictions remained a challenge to effective enforcement. As of August the national police’s Women and Children Protection Center recorded 4,207 cases of rape during the year, four times the number recorded during the same period of 2019, involving female and child victims. Of these, 1,735 were referred to prosecutors, and 1,885 were filed in court. The rest were either dropped, settled out of court, or dismissed. The national police filed and investigated 2,464 rape cases during the COVID-19 community quarantine period from March 15 to July 31, a significant decrease in reported cases from the same period last year.

Domestic violence against women remained a serious and widespread problem. According to the national police, reported acts of domestic violence against women decreased from 10,976 in January to July 2019 versus 6,512 for the same period during the year. Of the total, 3,745 were filed during the community quarantine period from March 15 to July 31. Local and international organizations observed alarming rise of cases of abuse against women and children during the community quarantine.

NGOs reported that cultural and social stigma deterred many women from reporting rape or domestic violence. NGOs reported that rape and sexual abuse of women in police or protective custody continued.

The national police and the Social Welfare Department both maintained help desks to assist survivors of violence against women and to encourage reporting. The national police’s Women and Children Protection Center also operated a national hotline for reports of violence against women and children. In addition the social welfare department operated residential centers and community-based programs to assist women and children who were victims of rape, domestic violence, and other abuse. By the end of the second quarter, the department reported it had assisted 196 women and girls who were specifically victims of rape. With the assistance of NGOs, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Philippine Commission on Women, law enforcement officers continued to receive gender sensitivity training to deal with victims of sexual crimes and domestic violence. The national police maintained a women and children’s unit in approximately 1,800 police stations throughout the country with 2,167 help desks to deal with abuse cases. The national police assigned 5,482 officers to the desks nationwide, almost 98 percent of them women. The law provides 10 days of paid leave for domestic violence victims.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and violations are punishable by imprisonment from one to six months, a moderate fine, or both. Sexual harassment remained widespread and underreported, including in the workplace, due to victims’ fear of losing their jobs.

The July 2019 Safe Streets and Public Spaces Act is intended to prevent and punish acts of sexual harassment in public places, online workplaces, and educational institutions. Despite the president’s support for it, local organizations observed that on multiple occasions his rhetoric in fact promoted violence against women. In a March report by the Center for Women’s Resources, the organization recorded at least 30 misogynistic remarks made by President Duterte, which the center described as encouraging violence against women.

Reproductive Rights: Although the law requires that women in non-life-threatening situations secure spousal consent to obtain reproductive health care, the Supreme Court has ruled that the constitution upholds the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.

The law provides for universal access to methods of contraception, sexual education, and maternal care. The law, however, also allows health practitioners to deny reproductive health services based on personal or religious beliefs in nonemergency situations; requires spousal consent for women in non-life-threatening situations to obtain reproductive health care; requires minors in non-life-threatening situations to get parental consent before obtaining reproductive health care; and does not require private health-care facilities to provide access to family-planning methods. Many NGOs, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, asserted that these restrictions prevented the full implementation of the law. The law includes provisions on the “prevention of abortion and management of postabortion complications.” It stipulates that the government is responsible for providing postabortion care “in a humane, nonjudgmental and compassionate manner.”

Provision of health-care services is the responsibility of local governments, and disruptions in the supply chain, including procurement, allocation, and distribution of contraceptives, reduced their availability to the poor, although modern forms of contraception were available on the market in most areas.

In May the NGO RTI International reported that two weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown of the Luzon group of islands, home to approximately half the country’s population, the government’s Commission on Population and Development issued guidance calling for cooperation among health facilities, local government units, and community volunteers to continue provision of family-planning and reproductive-health services and commodities because of the pandemic.

The government provided access to health services for survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence and protection for rape victims, operated rape crisis centers in every city and province, and appropriated support funds. The Department of Social Welfare and Development provided services to survivors of violence against women and children.

According to the 2020 UN Human Development Report, the maternal mortality ratio was 121 per 100,000 live births, and skilled attendants participated in 84.4 percent of births. In 2015 the UN Development Program attributed the high rate of maternal deaths to inadequate access to integrated reproductive health services. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that poverty, remote locations, and a lack of education exacerbated delays in seeking potentially life-saving maternal medical care; that midwives at times had little formal training; and that medical personnel routinely mistreated and denied proper care to women who sought assistance for complications from unsafe abortions.

In August preliminary findings by the Population Institute of the University of the Philippines and the UNFPA suggested that global disruptions to maternal and newborn health services caused by the pandemic might indirectly result in additional in-country maternal deaths and that the overwhelmed national and local health systems may already have diverted resources for women’s health to combat COVID-19.

According to a survey by the Commission on Population and Development in the last quarter of the year, 59 percent of adults thought the most important problem facing women was early teenage pregnancy, followed by physical violence and unexpected pregnancy. The World Bank reported the 2019 adolescent birth rate was 55 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19. These problems were exacerbated by COVID-19 community lockdowns.

In conflict areas such as the Mindanao region, the government provided gender-responsive conflict management.

UNFPA in 2019 stated that it remained a challenge to reach displaced pregnant women in conflict and crisis-affected areas, particularly Mindanao, to provide critical health-related services.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: In law but not always in practice, women have most of the rights and protections accorded to men, and the law seeks to eliminate discrimination against women. The law accords women the same property rights as men. In Muslim and indigenous communities, however, property ownership law or tradition grants men more property rights than women.

No law mandates nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring, although the law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex. Nonetheless, women continued to face discrimination on the job as well as in hiring.

The law does not provide for divorce. Legal annulments and separation are possible, and courts generally recognized divorces obtained in other countries if one of the parties was a foreigner. These options, however, are costly, complex, and not readily available to the poor. The Office of the Solicitor General is required to oppose requests for annulment under the constitution. Informal separation is common but brings with it potential legal and financial problems. Muslims have the right to divorce under Muslim family law.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from birth to a citizen parent and, in certain circumstances, from birth within the country’s territory to alien parents. The government promoted birth registration, and authorities immediately registered births in health facilities. Births outside of facilities were less likely to be registered promptly, if at all. Updated estimates from the Philippine Statistics Authority on the number of unregistered children younger than age 14 were unavailable; however, NGOs continued to lobby Congress to make birth registration for children free. The lack of a birth certificate does not generally result in a denial of education or other services, but it may cause delays in some circumstances, for example if a minor becomes involved in the court system.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through age 18, but the quality of education was often poor and access difficult, especially in rural areas where substandard infrastructure makes traveling to school challenging. Supplemental costs, for supplies or uniforms, can in some cases be a barrier to students from poor families. The Department of Education continued to prioritize improving resources at and access to the most isolated schools, to include increasing the budget during the year for schools in the Bangsamoro, the region with the lowest rate of school attendance. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, the primary school enrollment rate for girls was equal to the rate for boys, while the rate for girls was significantly higher than the rate for boys in secondary and tertiary schools.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. Through the second quarter of the year, the social welfare department served only 1,619 children in centers and residential care facilities nationwide, a small fraction of those in need. Several cities ran crisis centers for abused women and children.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both sexes is 18 years; anyone younger than 21 must have parental consent. Under Muslim personal law, Muslim boys may marry at 15, and girls may marry when they reach puberty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial exploitation of children and child pornography and defines purchasing commercial sex acts from a child as a trafficking offense. The statutory rape law criminalizes sex with minors younger than 12 and sex with a child younger than 18 involving force, threat, or intimidation. The maximum penalty for child rape is 40 years in prison plus a lifetime ban from political office. The production, possession, and distribution of child pornography are illegal, and penalties range from one month to life in prison, plus significant fines, depending on the gravity of the offense.

While authorities endeavored to enforce the law, inadequate prosecutorial resources and capacity to analyze computer evidence were challenges to effective enforcement. The government made serious efforts to address these crimes and collaborated with foreign law enforcement, NGOs, and international organizations.

Despite the penalties, law enforcement agencies and NGOs reported that criminals and family members continued to use minors in the production of pornography and in cybersex activities.

Children continued to be victims of sex trafficking, and the country remained a destination for foreign and domestic child sex tourists. Additionally, the live internet broadcast of young girls, boys, and sibling groups performing sex acts for paying foreigners continued. The government continued to prosecute accused pedophiles and deport those who were foreigners and to stop the entry of identified convicted sex offenders. To reduce retraumatization of child victims and spare children from having to testify, the government increased its use of plea agreements in online child sexual exploitation cases, which significantly reduced the case disposition time.

In June the national police arrested a woman for the online sex trafficking of her adult deaf sister and six children ages two to 15, including the woman’s son and two nieces. Police rescued the victims from the trafficker and provided them with trauma therapy and shelter placement. In September a woman pled guilty to attempted trafficking. In a sting police caught the woman exploiting her two sisters and six-year-old daughter. The government used plea bargains and technology-based child-protective measures to prevent retraumatization.

The National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP worked closely with the Labor Department to target and close facilities suspected of sex trafficking of minors. Since the start of the COVID-19 community quarantine period from March to May, the Department of Justice’s Office of Cybercrime reported 279,166 cases of online sexual exploitation of children, a 265 percent increase from the same period in 2019.

Displaced Children: While there were no recent, reliable data, involved agencies and organizations agreed there were hundreds of thousands of street children in the country. The problem was endemic nationwide and encompassed local children and the children of IDPs, asylum seekers, and refugees. Many street children were involved in begging, garbage scavenging, and petty crime.

Service agencies, including the social welfare department, provided residential and community-based services to thousands of street children nationwide, including in a limited number of residential facilities and the growing Comprehensive Program for Street Children, Street Families, and Indigenous Peoples. This program included activity centers, education and livelihood aid, and community service programs.

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

Anti-Semitism

An estimated 2,000 persons of Jewish heritage, almost all foreign nationals, lived in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law aims to provide affordable and accessible mental health services and provide for equal access for persons with disabilities to all public buildings and establishments.

The National Council for Disability Affairs formulated policies and coordinated the activities of government agencies for the rehabilitation, self-development, and self-reliance of persons with disabilities and their integration into the mainstream of society.

The law was not effectively enforced, and many barriers remained for persons with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities contended that equal access laws were ineffective due to weak implementing regulations, insufficient funding, and inadequately focused integrative government programs. The great majority of public buildings remained inaccessible to persons with physical disabilities. Many schools had architectural barriers that made attendance difficult for persons with disabilities. Government efforts to improve access to transportation for persons with disabilities were limited.

Persons with disabilities continued to face discrimination and other challenges in finding employment (see section 7.d.).

Some children with disabilities attended schools in mainstream or inclusive educational settings. The Department of Education’s 648 separate special education centers did not provide nationwide coverage, and the government lacked a clear system for informing parents of children with disabilities of their educational rights and did not have a well defined procedure for reporting discrimination in education.

From January to August, the social welfare department provided services to 1,306 persons with disabilities in assisted living centers and community-based vocational centers nationwide, a small fraction of the population in need. If a person with disabilities suffered violence, access to after-care services might be available through the social welfare department, crisis centers, and NGOs. Of local government units, 60 percent had a persons with disability office to assist in accessing services including health, rehabilitation, and education.

The constitution provides for the right of persons with physical disabilities to vote. The Commission on Elections determines the capacity of persons with mental disabilities to vote during the registration process, and citizens may appeal exclusions (and inclusions) in court. A federal act authorizes the commission to establish accessible voting centers exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

Indigenous People

Although no specific laws discriminate against indigenous people, the geographical remoteness of the areas many inhabit and cultural bias prevented their full integration into society. Indigenous children often suffered from lack of health care, education, and other basic services. Government officials indicated approximately 80 percent of the country’s government units complied with the longstanding legal requirement that indigenous peoples be represented in policy-making bodies and local legislative councils.

Fifty-five schools for Lumad children that the Department of Education closed in 2019 for alleged deviations from the basic curriculum remained closed as of August. In that same period, the government closed 176 of the 216 tribal schools in the southern part of the country in what the Save Our Schools Network, a group of children’s rights NGOs, called “continuing attacks on tribal schools.”

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, a government agency staffed by tribal members, was responsible for implementing constitutional provisions to protect indigenous peoples. It has authority to award certificates identifying “ancestral domain lands” based on communal ownership, thereby stopping tribal leaders from selling the land. Indigenous rights activist groups criticized the indigenous peoples’ commission, noting that it approved projects on ancestral lands without the free, prior, and informed consent required by law.

Armed groups frequently recruited from indigenous populations. Indigenous peoples’ lands were also often the site of armed encounters related to resource extraction or intertribal disputes, which sometimes resulted in displacement or killings.

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

National laws neither criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct among adults nor prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Eighteen cities, six provinces, three barangays, and one municipality had enacted a version of an antidiscrimination ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–rights.

Officials prohibit transgender individuals from obtaining passports that reflect their gender identity. Authorities print the gender at birth, as reported on the birth certificate, in the individual’s passport, which posed difficulty for transgender persons seeking to travel, such as instances of transgender individuals being denied boarding on aircraft.

NGOs reported incidents of discrimination and abuse against LGBTI persons, including in employment, education, health care, housing, and social services. In June, Manila police arrested 20 Pride protesters for violating health safety protocols during the nationwide community quarantine. Some of those arrested reported they experienced discrimination while in detention.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, including in access to basic health and social services. Nevertheless, there was anecdotal evidence of discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients in the government’s provision of health care, housing, employment, and insurance services.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of workers, with the exception of the military, police, short-term contract employees, and some foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes; it prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law, however, places several restrictions on these rights.

Laws and regulations provide for the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the private sector and corporations owned or controlled by the government. The law prohibits organizing by foreign national or migrant workers unless a reciprocity agreement exists with the workers’ countries of origin specifying that migrant workers from the Philippines are permitted to organize unions there. The law also bars temporary or outsourced workers and workers without employment contracts from joining a union. The law requires the participation of 20 percent of the employees in the bargaining unit where the union seeks to operate; the International Labor Organization (ILO) called this requirement excessive. The scope of collective bargaining in the public sector is limited to a list of terms and conditions of employment negotiable between management and public employees. These are items requiring appropriation of funds, including health care and retirement benefits; items involving the exercise of management prerogatives, including appointment, promotion, compensation structure, and disciplinary action, are nonnegotiable.

For a private-sector strike to be legal, unions must provide advance strike notice (30 days for issues associated with collective bargaining and 15 days for issues regarding unfair labor practices), respect mandatory cooling-off periods, and obtain approval from a majority of members. The Department of Labor and Employment’s National Conciliation and Mediation Board reported 199 mediation-conciliation cases from January to July. Of these, 148 cases were filed under preventive mediation, 47 under notices of strike or lockout, and four under actual strike or lockout. The National Conciliation and Mediation Board attributed the decrease of filed cases to the COVID-19 pandemic and community quarantine.

The law subjects all problems affecting labor and employment to mandatory mediation-conciliation for one month. The Labor Department provides mediation services through a board, which settles most unfair labor practice disputes. Through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the department also works to improve the functioning of labor-management councils in companies with unions.

If mediation fails, the union may issue a strike notice. Parties may bring any dispute to mediation, but strikes or lockouts must be related to acts of unfair labor practice, a gross violation of collective bargaining laws, or a collective bargaining deadlock. The law provides for a maximum prison sentence of three years for participation in an illegal strike, although there has never been such a conviction. The law also permits employers to dismiss union officers who knowingly participate in an illegal strike.

The law prohibits government workers from joining strikes under the threat of automatic dismissal. Government workers may file complaints with the Civil Service Commission, which handles administrative cases and arbitrates disputes. Government workers may also assemble and express their grievances on the work premises during nonworking hours.

The secretary of the Labor Department, and in certain cases the president, may intervene in labor disputes by assuming jurisdiction and mandating a settlement if either official determines that the strike-affected company is vital to the national interest. Vital sectors include hospitals, the electric power industry, water supply services (excluding small bottle suppliers), air traffic control, and other activities or industries as recommended by the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council. Labor rights advocates continued to criticize the government for maintaining definitions of vital services that were broader than international standards.

By law antiunion discrimination, especially in hiring, is an unfair labor practice and may carry criminal or civil penalties that were not commensurate with analogous crimes (although generally civil penalties were favored over criminal penalties).

In most cases the government respected freedom of association and collective bargaining and enforced laws protecting these rights. The Department of Labor has general authority to enforce laws on freedom of association and collective bargaining. The National Labor Relations Commission’s labor arbiter may also issue orders or writs of execution for reinstatement that go into effect immediately, requiring employers to reinstate the worker and report compliance to it. Allegations of intimidation and discrimination in connection with union activities are grounds for review by the quasi-judicial commission, as they may constitute possible unfair labor practices. If there is a definite preliminary finding that a termination may cause a serious labor dispute or mass layoff, the labor department secretary may suspend the termination and restore the status quo pending resolution of the case.

Penalties under the law for violations of freedom of association or collective bargaining laws were generally not commensurate with similar crimes. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

The tripartite industrial peace council serves as the main consultative and advisory mechanism on labor and employment for organized labor, employers, and government on the formulation and implementation of labor and employment policies. It also acts as the central entity for monitoring recommendations and ratifications of ILO conventions. The Labor Department, through the industrial peace council, is responsible for coordinating the investigation, prosecution, and resolution of cases alleging violence and harassment of labor leaders and trade union activists pending before the ILO.

Workers faced several challenges in exercising their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Some employers reportedly chose to employ workers who could not legally organize, such as short-term contract and foreign national workers, to minimize unionization and avoid other rights accorded to “regular” workers. The nongovernmental Center for Trade Union and Human Rights contended that this practice led to a decline in the number of unions and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Employers also often abused contract labor provisions by rehiring employees shortly after the expiration of the previous contract. The Labor Department reported multiple cases of workers alleging employers refused to bargain.

Unions continued to claim that local political leaders and officials who governed the Special Economic Zones explicitly attempted to frustrate union organizing efforts by maintaining union-free or strike-free policies. Unions also claimed the government stationed security forces near industrial areas or Special Economic Zones to intimidate workers attempting to organize and alleged that companies in the zones used frivolous lawsuits to harass union leaders. Local zone directors claimed exclusive authority to conduct their own inspections as part of the zones’ privileges intended by the legislature. Employers controlled hiring through special zone labor centers. For these reasons, and in part due to organizers’ restricted access to the closely guarded zones and the propensity among zone establishments to adopt fixed term, casual, temporary, or seasonal employment contracts, unions had little success organizing in the Special Economic Zones. The Labor Department does not have data on compliance with labor standards in the zones.

Harassment of union members continued. In April workers at a Coca-Cola plant in Laguna said unidentified armed men threatened them, took them to a military camp, and forced them to admit they were members of the NPA. In August workers at an aluminum factory in Valenzuela claimed that soldiers entered the plant and demanded the name of their union head.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Although legal penalties are commensurate with similar crimes, the government did not effectively enforce the law.

The government continued awareness-raising activities, especially in the provinces, in an effort to prevent forced labor. The Labor Department’s efforts included an orientation program for recruits for commercial fishing vessels, who were among the workers most vulnerable to forced labor conditions.

Reports of forced labor by adults and children continued, mainly in fishing and other maritime industries, small-scale factories, gold mines, domestic service, agriculture, and other areas of the informal sector (see section 7.c.). According to NGOs and survivors, unscrupulous employers subjected women from rural communities and impoverished urban centers to domestic service, forced begging, and forced labor in small factories. They also subjected men to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture, including on sugar cane plantations and in fishing and other maritime industries. Trade unions reported that continued poor compliance with the law was due in part to the government’s lack of capacity to inspect labor practices in the informal economy.

There were reports some persons who voluntarily surrendered to police and local government units in the violent antidrug campaign were forced to do manual labor or other activities that could amount to forced labor without charge, trial, or finding of guilt under law. Inmates are only allowed to perform manual labor within prisons at the inmates’ request.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employing children younger than age 15, including for domestic service, except under the direct and sole responsibility of parents or guardians, and sets the maximum number of working hours for them at four hours per day and no more than 20 hours per week. The law also prohibits the worst forms of child labor. Children between 15 and 17 are limited to eight working hours per day, up to a maximum of 40 hours per week. The law forbids the employment of persons younger than 18 in hazardous work. The minimum age for work is lower than the compulsory education age, enticing some children to leave school before the completion of their compulsory education.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Although the government imposed fines and instituted criminal prosecutions for child labor law violations in the formal sector, for example in manufacturing, it did not do so effectively or consistently. Fines for child labor law violations were not commensurate with analogous crimes. From January to July, the Labor Department, through its Sagip Batang Manggagawa (Rescue Child Laborers) program (part of the Health, Education, Livelihood, and Prevention, Protection, and Prosecution, Monitoring and Evaluation Convergence Program), conducted four operations and removed five minors from hazardous and exploitative working conditions. As of July the department closed two establishments for violations of child labor laws. Operations under the Sagip Batang Manggagawa program are conducted and concluded separately from the standard labor inspection process.

The government, in coordination with domestic NGOs and international organizations, continued to implement programs to develop safer options for children, return them to school, and offer families viable economic alternatives to child labor. The Labor Department continued its efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor and to remove children from hazardous work under the Convergence Program. Inspections as of October found eight establishments employing 39 minors. Four of the eight establishments were found to have violated the Anti-Child Labor Law; two were immediately corrected, and two were filed in courts.

Despite these efforts, child labor remained a widespread problem. Previous cases reported to the Labor Department focused on domestic services and agricultural sectors, notably in the fishing, palm oil, and sugar cane industries. Most child labor occurred in the informal economy, often in family settings. Child workers in those sectors and in activities such as gold mining, manufacturing (including of fireworks), domestic service, drug trafficking, and garbage scavenging faced exposure to hazardous working environments.

NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation.

Online sexual exploitation of children and child soldiering also continued to be a problem (see sections 6 and 1.g., respectively).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on age, sex, race, creed, disability, HIV or tuberculosis or hepatitis B status, or marital status. The law does not prohibit employment discrimination with respect to color, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, other communicable disease status, or social origin. While some local antidiscrimination ordinances exist at the municipal or city levels that prohibit employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender–but not intersex–persons, there was no prohibition against such discrimination in national legislation.

The law requires most government agencies and government-owned corporations to reserve 1 percent of their positions for persons with disabilities; government agencies engaged in social development must reserve 5 percent. The law commits the government to providing “sheltered employment” to persons with disabilities, for example in workshops providing separate facilities. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Local Employment maintained registers of persons with disabilities that indicated their skills and abilities and promoted the establishment of cooperatives and self-employment projects for such persons.

Persons with disabilities nonetheless experienced discrimination in hiring and employment. The Labor Department estimated that only 10 percent of employable persons with disabilities were able to find work. Between January and July, no cases were filed to enforce the law. The government did not effectively monitor laws prohibiting employment discrimination or promoting the employment of persons with disabilities. Penalties were commensurate with other crimes.

The government had limited means to assist persons with disabilities in finding employment, and the cost of filing a lawsuit and lack of effective administrative means of redress limited the recourse of such persons when prospective employers violated their rights.

Discrimination in employment and occupation against LGBTI persons occurred; a number of LGBTI organizations submitted anecdotal reports of discriminatory practices that affected the employment of LGBTI persons. Discrimination cases included the enforcement of rules, policies, and regulations that disadvantaged LGBTI persons in the workplace.

Women faced discrimination both in hiring and on the job. Some labor unions claimed female employees suffered punitive action when they became pregnant. Although women faced workplace discrimination, they occupied positions at all levels of the workforce.

Women and men were subject to systematic age discrimination, most notably in hiring.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Official minimum wages were below the poverty line. By law the standard workweek is 48 hours for most categories of industrial workers and 40 hours for government workers, with an eight hour per day limit. The law mandates one day of rest each week. The government mandates an overtime rate of 125 percent of the hourly rate on ordinary days, 130 percent on special nonworking days, and 200 percent on regular holidays. There is no legal limit on the number of overtime hours that an employer may require.

The law did not cover many workers, since wage boards exempted some newly established companies and other employers from the rules because of factors such as business size, industry sector, export intensity, financial distress, and capitalization level.

Domestic workers worked under a separate wage and benefit system, which lays out minimum wage requirements and payments into social welfare programs, and mandates one day off a week. While there were no reliable recent data, informed observers believed two million or more persons were employed as domestic workers, with nearly 85 percent being women or girls as young as age 15.

Penalties for noncompliance with increases or adjustments in mandatory minimum wage rates are modest fines, imprisonment of one to two years, or both. In addition to fines, the government used administrative procedures and moral persuasion to encourage employers to rectify violations voluntarily. The penalties were commensurate with similar crimes. The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage laws. Violations of minimum wage standards were common. Many firms hired employees for less than minimum wage apprentice rates, even if there was no approved training in their work. Complaints about payment under the minimum wage and nonpayment of social security contributions and bonuses were particularly common at companies in the Special Economic Zones.

The law provides for a comprehensive set of appropriate occupational safety and health standards. Regulations for small-scale mining, for example, prohibit certain harmful practices, including the use of mercury and underwater, or compressor, mining. The law provides for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Most labor laws apply to foreign workers, who must obtain work permits and may not engage in certain occupations.

The Labor Department’s Bureau of Working Conditions monitors and inspects compliance with labor law in all sectors, including workers in the formal and informal sectors, nontraditional laborers, as well as inspects Special Economic Zones and businesses located there. The number of labor law compliance officers, who monitor and enforce the law, including by inspecting compliance with core labor and occupational safety standards and minimum wages, was insufficient for the workforce of 42 million, particularly in rural areas. The Labor Department prioritized increasing the number of officers while acknowledging that insufficient inspection funds continued to impede its ability to investigate labor law violations effectively, especially in the informal sector and in small and medium-size enterprises.

The Labor Department continued to implement its Labor Laws Compliance System for the private sector. The system included joint assessments, compliance visits, and occupational safety and health standards investigations. Labor department inspectors conducted joint assessments with employer and worker representatives; inspectors also conducted unannounced compliance visits and occupational safety and health standards investigations. The Labor Department and the ILO also continued to implement an information management system to capture and transmit data from the field in real time using mobile technology. Violations from January to July dropped significantly from the same period in 2019 because of COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, with 3,678 for general labor standards, 1,457 for violations of minimum wage rates, and 6,908 for occupational safety and health standards. Following a deficiency finding, the Labor Department may issue compliance orders that can include a fine or, if the deficiency poses a grave and imminent danger to workers, suspend operations. Penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Working Conditions did not close any establishments during the year. Such closures require prior notification and hearings.

During the year various labor groups criticized the government’s enforcement efforts, in particular the Labor Department’s lax monitoring of occupational safety and health standards in workplaces. Between January and July, the Bureau of Working Conditions recorded 46 work-related accidents that caused 26 deaths and 2 injuries. Statistics on work-related accidents and illnesses were incomplete, as incidents were underreported, especially in agriculture.

A labor department order sets guidelines on the use of labor contracting and subcontracting. Some labor unions, however, criticized the order for not ending all forms of contractual work.

There were also gaps in the law, and the government enforced it inconsistently. Media reported, for example, problems in the implementation and enforcement of the domestic worker’s law, including a tedious registration process, an additional financial burden on employers, and difficulty in monitoring employer compliance.

The government and several NGOs worked to protect the rights of the country’s overseas citizens, most of whom were Philippine Overseas Employment Agency contract or temporary workers. Although the agency registered and supervised domestic recruiter practices, authorities often lacked sufficient resources to provide complete worker protection overseas. The Overseas Worker Welfare Administration provides support to overseas workers in filing grievances against employers via its legal assistance fund. The fund covers administrative costs that would otherwise prevent overseas workers from filing grievance complaints. Covered costs include fees for court typing and translation, visa cancellation, and contract termination.

The government continued to place financial sanctions on, and bring criminal charges against, domestic recruiting agencies found guilty of unfair labor practices.

Solomon Islands

Executive Summary

Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the April 2019 parliamentary election generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare prime minister after the election, and he formed a coalition government.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police is responsible for internal and external security and reports to the Ministry of Police, National Security, and Correctional Services; Australia and New Zealand support the police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces were not known to have committed abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints and request investigations of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The respective prison commanders screened complaints and requests made to the Professional Standards Unit of the Correctional Service, which investigates credible allegations of problematic conditions and documents the results in a publicly accessible manner. The Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Solicitor investigate credible allegations of misconduct made against Correctional Services officers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent human rights observers; but there were no reports of such visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

Only a magistrate or judge may issue warrants, although police have power to arrest without a warrant if they have reasonable belief a person committed a crime. The law requires detainees be brought promptly before a judge, and authorities respected this right. Delays sometimes arose after the preliminary hearing, but authorities brought detainees to court as soon as possible following arrest, especially if they were held without bail.

Police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The Public Solicitor’s Office provided legal assistance to indigent defendants, and detainees had prompt access to family members and counsel. There was a functioning system of bail for less serious cases, and police and courts frequently granted bail.

Pretrial Detention: Delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some detainees. Pretrial detainees comprised 50 percent of the prisoner population. The average length of time held in pretrial detention was approximately two years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Prisoners were not afforded timely trials due to a judicial backlog that resulted in long delays in bringing cases to trial.

Trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British common law, with a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Detainees had access to attorneys of their choice and to free assistance of an interpreter, and the rights to be present at their own trial, to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to confront witnesses, to present witnesses and evidence, to refrain from self-incrimination, and to appeal convictions. The law extends these rights to both citizens and noncitizens. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. The courts provided an attorney at public expense for indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The constitution provides that any person whose human rights or freedoms were contravened may apply directly to the High Court for redress.

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

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, and there were no known refugees in the country.

g. Stateless Persons

Not applicable.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers regarded the April 2019 national parliamentary election as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. The elections were the first since the full withdrawal of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands peacekeeping contingent. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that members of parliament used rural constituency development funds to buy political support.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Electoral law requires all candidates to present party certificates.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate; however, traditional male dominance limited the role of women in government. There were two women in the 50-member parliament and four female permanent secretaries in the 25 government ministries. There was one female judge on the High Court. Civil society groups such as the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group continued to advocate for more leadership positions for women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government implemented the law inconsistently, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.

Although a 2018 law established an Independent Commission against Corruption tasked with preventing official corruption and provided it with investigative and prosecutorial powers, as of September it was still not operational. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration.

Taskforce Janus, operated by the police and Ministry of Finance and Treasury, works to identify corruption in the civil service.

The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee established in the constitution with a mandate to examine public accounts and report to parliament.

Corruption: Corruption was a pervasive problem in the government, especially in the forestry and fishing sectors. In September a senior public officer was convicted of bribing a principal internal auditor in the Ministry of Finance and Treasury to stop the audit of an oil palm project in West Are’are, Malaita Province.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Office of the Leadership Code Commission investigates misconduct involving members of parliament or senior civil servants. If the commission finds conclusive evidence of misconduct, it sends the matter to the Office of Public Prosecution, which may proceed with legal charges. The commission chairperson and two part-time commissioners constitute a tribunal with power to screen certain cases of misconduct and apply fines for members of parliament or senior civil servants.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for an Office of the Ombudsman with power to subpoena and investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. Although independent, a lack of resources limited its effectiveness.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, including spousal rape, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Domestic violence is a crime with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a substantial fine. Violence against women and girls, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. Among the reasons cited for failure to report abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussing such matters.

Police often charged persons suspected of domestic violence and assault against women. As part of the police curriculum, officers receive specialized training on how to work with rape victims. Police have a sexual assault unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to provide support to victims and investigate charges. In reported cases of domestic abuse, victims often dropped charges before a court appearance, or settled cases out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare due to low judicial and police capacity and cultural bias against women.

For victims of domestic violence, the law provides for access to counseling and medical services, legal support, and a safe place within the community if they cannot return home. The government has a referral system in place to coordinate these services, but referral agencies often lacked funding, especially in rural areas. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments remained common and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was not illegal and was a widespread problem.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government’s National Family Planning Program provides all women and men with information on contraception and access to contraceptives. Skilled health-care providers assisted 86 percent of deliveries.

A reported 64 percent of reproductive-age women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives. Although the National Population Policy 2017-2026 includes a goal to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, this goal appeared to be aspirational only.

According to the World Bank, the maternal mortality ratio was 104 per 100,000 live births in 2017 due to factors including a high adolescent birth rate (79 per 1,000 ages 15-19 years), minimal access to antenatal care, and a high rate of unmet need for contraception. Although a reported 94 percent of women and 98 percent of men were aware of at least one contraceptive method, only 29 percent of married women used contraception.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: While the law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property, most women were limited to customary family roles that prevented them from taking more active roles in economic and political life. No laws mandate equal pay for work of equal value (see section 7.d.). The government did not enforce equal rights laws effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through their parents. The law does not allow dual citizenship for adults, and persons who acquire dual citizenship at birth must decide by age 18 which citizenship to retain. Registration delays did not result in the denial of public services to children.

Education: Education was neither free nor compulsory. Government policy was to cover operational costs for children age six to 15 years to attend school, but it rarely covered all costs and allowed schools to request additional contributions from families in the form of cash or labor. These additional costs prevented some children from attending school.

Child Abuse: Child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems. On September 21, police arrested a 19-year-old man on allegations that he raped a 14-year-old girl multiple times in August. On September 24, a 60-year-old man was arrested for raping an eight-year-old girl and a 10-year-old girl on multiple occasions throughout 2018 and 2019. The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults, with some exceptions. The law mandates the Social Welfare Division of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to coordinate child protection services and authorizes the courts to issue protection orders in cases of serious child abuse or neglect. Laws do not specifically prohibit the use of children in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.

The government did not effectively enforce laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect (see section 7.c.). The law criminalizes domestic violence including violence against children, but there was poor public awareness, and the law was not well enforced; however, on August 24, a 44-year-old man was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for raping his 12-year-old niece at knifepoint in 2018.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent. Marriage at such young ages was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15 years. The maximum penalty for sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 is life imprisonment, and for sexual relations with a girl age 13 to 15, the penalty is 15 years’ imprisonment. Consent is not a permissible defense under these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief the victim was age 16 or older is a permissible defense. Selling or hiring minors younger than 18 for prostitution is punishable as a criminal offense. There were reports of workers in logging camps sexually exploiting girls as young as age 12, but in most cases official charges were not filed.

Child pornography is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and participation in or use, distribution, or storing of sexually exploitative materials involving children. Girls and boys were exploited in prostitution and sexual servitude. Commercial sexual exploitation of children carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.

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

Anti-Semitism

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

No law or national policy prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings, information, or communications for such individuals. Very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. The law requires electoral officials to provide special accommodation for voters with disabilities.

The country had one separate educational facility, supported almost entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for children with disabilities. Children with physical disabilities could attend mainstream schools, but inaccessible facilities and a lack of resources often made it difficult for them to do so. No law requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and high unemployment nationwide made it difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, particularly in rural areas.

There were very limited government facilities or services for persons with mental disabilities.

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

The country has more than 27 major islands with approximately 70 language groups. Many islanders saw themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of the nation. Tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence lasting from 1998 to 2003. Underlying problems between the two groups remained, including issues related to jobs and land rights.

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

“Sodomy” is illegal, as are “indecent practices between persons of the same sex.” The maximum penalty for the former is 14 years’ imprisonment and for the latter five years. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons under these provisions during the year, and authorities generally did not enforce these laws.

There are no specific antidiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although stigma may hinder some from reporting.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Sorcery-related violence was reported. Such violence typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. In March authorities charged 12 men with beating a man to death after they accused him of using sorcery to kill a fellow villager. The court case continued. In April police arrested 10 boys for burning down the house of someone they believed had used sorcery. Police continue to investigate the arson.

Nongovernmental organizations operate 11 safe houses throughout the country. The safe houses receive funding from church groups and international donors, but do not receive government funding or support. One safe house in Honiara provides professional training and workshops and also paralegal counseling for victims of gender-based violence.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers in the formal sector to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. The law permits strikes in both the public and private sectors. A notice to the government 28 days prior to a strike is required for strikes to be legal. The government has discretionary power in relation to cancellation and suspension of registration of unions, a power which can take effect even in the case of judicial review.

The government prohibits strikes by civil servants in essential services, but there are procedures in place to provide these workers due process and protect their rights. The government defines essential services as including, but not limited to, the health, public security, aviation, marine, immigration, and disaster-relief sectors. The law does not provide for the rights of workers in the informal sector to organize or to collective bargaining. In addition the law places limits on the rights of workers to act as union representatives based on age, literacy, criminal record, and membership in more than one union.

Government enforcement of the law was inconsistent; the small penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. The penalty for antiunion discrimination was not effective, for example, because employers could afford to pay the fine and easily replace workers. Penalties for illegal strikes, on the other hand, served as a deterrent for employees to strike.

Collective bargaining agreements determined wages and conditions of employment in the formal economy. Disputes between labor and management not settled between the two sides were referred to the Trade Disputes Panel for arbitration, either before or during a strike. While the panel deliberates, employees have protection from arbitrary dismissal or lockout. The three-member panel, composed of a chairperson appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.

Workers exercised their rights to associate and bargain collectively, although employers did not always respect these rights. Since only a small percentage of the workforce was in formal-sector employment, employers could easily replace workers if disputes were not resolved quickly.

The Workers Union of Solomon Islands actively negotiated with private employers during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a court sentence or order, such as community service in lieu of a fine or jail term. The immigration act prohibits transnational forced labor, and the penalties are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Penalties for forced labor that is not transnational are commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government typically relied on labor inspectors to report on any instances of forced or compulsory labor during regularly scheduled routine inspections; however, there were not enough inspectors or resources to enforce the laws effectively. Unlike in prior years, the Labor Division did not report conducting any monitoring and inspection activities at logging operations or in the fishing or mining sectors.

There were reports of children and adults forced to work in logging camps, on plantations, and of children in domestic servitude or service industries. Local and foreign fishermen reported situations indicative of labor trafficking, including nonpayment of wages, severe living conditions, violence, and limited food supply on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels in the country’s territorial waters and ports.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits labor by children younger than age 12, except light agricultural or domestic work performed in the company of parents, or other labor approved by the commissioner of labor. Children younger than age 18 may not work at night in any industry without specific written permission from the labor commissioner. Girls younger than age 18 may not work on a ship or underground in mines; boys may work on a ship or underground in a mine if they are at least 16 years old, provided they have a medical certificate attesting they are fit for such work. The law bars children younger than age 15 from work in industry or on ships, except aboard training ships for educational purposes. The law does not limit the number of hours a child can work, nor does it clearly set forth a minimum age for hazardous work or delineate the type of work considered hazardous for all children. The law prohibits child sexual exploitation and penalizes anyone who causes, facilitates, or procures a child for sexual purposes. Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. The law does not specifically outlaw the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The commissioner of labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but the resources devoted to investigating child labor cases were inadequate to investigate or deter violations. The law provides for penalties that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes.

Children worked in agriculture, fishing, alluvial mining, as domestic servants, cooks, and in logging camps where conditions often were poor. For example, young girls worked long hours and in isolation as domestic workers in mining camps. In some cases these conditions could amount to forced labor (see section 7.b.). There were reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children). Children also assisted in cultivating, distributing, and selling local drugs such as betel nut or marijuana. They were at risk of physical abuse, mental illness, addiction, sexual abuse, and robbery.

According to the Solomon Islands Demographic and Health Survey, 2 percent of children age five to 11 years and 12 percent of children age 12 to 14 were engaged in paid labor. Paid child labor was more common among female children in urban areas and all children living in rural areas.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

No laws prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation. By regulation public-service officers should ensure their workplace is “free from harassment, including sexual harassment.” Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred on grounds of gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status.

Women experienced discrimination especially in the attainment of managerial positions. Employed women were predominantly engaged in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. A significant gender gap exists in senior positions. For example, women dominated the lower administrative level of the public-service workforce, but very few women held senior management positions. A shortage of jobs compounded the limited entry and advancement opportunities for women in the workforce. A program, “Waka Mere” (She Works), funded and implemented by the International Finance Corporation, Australia, and New Zealand, worked with businesses to promote gender equality in the private sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In August 2019 the minimum wage was increased and is above the poverty level. The standard workweek is 45 hours and is limited to six days per week.

Occupational safety and health laws require employers to provide a safe working environment and forbid retribution against any employee who seeks protection under labor regulations. These laws are current and appropriate for main industries. Laws on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens. Some workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety, particularly in the fishing and logging industries, without jeopardy to their employment.

The commissioner of labor in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labor and Immigration, the public prosecutor, and police are responsible for enforcing labor laws and usually reacted to complaints. The government, however, did not effectively enforce labor laws. The government’s minimal human and financial resources limited its ability to enforce the law in smaller establishments, the informal economy, and the subsistence sector. While inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to monitor labor practices routinely, particularly in extractive sectors outside of the capital. An active labor movement and an independent judiciary, however, helped provide effective oversight of labor law enforcement in major state and private enterprises. The law does not specify penalties for violations, significantly weakening effective enforcement.

Workers in the logging, construction, and manufacturing industries were subject to hazardous and exploitative work.

Timor-Leste

Executive Summary

Timor-Leste is a multiparty, parliamentary republic. After May 2018 parliamentary elections, which were free, fair, and peaceful, Taur Matan Ruak became prime minister, leading a three-party coalition government. The 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections were also free and fair. In contrast with previous years, these elections were conducted without extensive assistance from the international community.

The national police maintain internal security. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. The national police report to the Ministry of Interior, and the military reports to the Ministry of Defense. The prime minister served concurrently as the minister of interior. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces reportedly committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included: corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; the worst forms of child labor; and trafficking in persons.

The government took some steps to prosecute members and officials of the security services who used excessive force but avoided conducting corruption (and labor law) investigations of politicians, government members, and leaders of the country’s independence struggle. Public perceptions of impunity persisted.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In March, two former police officers were sentenced to 25 and 20 years’ imprisonment for the shooting deaths of three civilians in 2018.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices and limits the situations in which police officers may resort to physical force and the use of firearms. During the year, there were multiple reports of the use of excessive force by security forces. Most complaints involved mistreatment or use of excessive force during incident response or arrest. Conduct of off-duty police officers was also a problem.

In May an off-duty member of the public order battalion allegedly shot a pedestrian when the pedestrian yelled at the car he was riding in for aggressive driving. The national police (PNTL) investigated, and the officer was in detention awaiting trial.

As of October the investigation continued into members of the police task force unit and public order battalion following a 2019 incident in the city of Baucau. Community members alleged the unit responded with excessive force to an incident during the National Sport Festival. Baucau police claimed the victim of the incident was drunk and created a disturbance outside the stadium.

The PNTL and the military suspended members for some months following an internal investigation into allegations they fired their weapons at a music festival in Maliana. The individuals returned to service; their case was pending trial.

Citizens reported obstacles to reporting complaints about police behavior, including repeated requests to return later or to submit their complaints in writing. There was a widespread belief that members of the security forces enjoyed substantial impunity for illegal or abusive actions and that reporting abuse would lead to retaliation rather than positive change. Social media users shared photographs of injuries from alleged encounters with police. Prolonged investigations, delays in bringing cases to trial, and critical editorials from watchdog NGOs also contributed to this perception.

Various bilateral and multilateral partners continued efforts to strengthen the development of the police, especially through community policing programs and technical assistance efforts, including work to improve disciplinary and accountability mechanisms within the PNTL. The Ombudsman’s Office for Human Rights and Justice (PDHJ) and the UN Human Rights Adviser’s Unit provided human rights training to both the PNTL and the military.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The prison in Dili (Becora), the country’s largest, was grossly overcrowded. It had an estimated capacity of 290 inmates, but in October it held 540 adult and juvenile male and female convicts and pretrial detainees. Separate blocks housed juvenile and adult prisoners, and pretrial detainees were held separately from convicts. Gleno Prison was also overcrowded, with 120 inmates in a prison designed for 80 to 90. Only Suai Prison, also designed for 80 to 90, did not face serious overcrowding problems, although it had 97 inmates.

Gleno Prison held adult male and female convicts and pretrial detainees, all in separate blocks. Conditions were the same for male and female prisoners, who shared recreation areas. Housing blocks separated nonviolent offenders from violent offenders. Prisoners with mental disabilities had access to a psychiatrist, who visited once a week.

Authorities provided food three times daily in prisons and detention centers. While authorities provided water in prisons, it was not always available in detention centers, and Gleno Prison experienced seasonal water shortages.

Medical care was inadequate. A doctor and a nurse staffed a clinic at Becora Prison five days per week and a psychiatrist visited once per week. A doctor visited Gleno Prison twice per week. For urgent cases and more advanced care, authorities took inmates to a local hospital in Gleno or Dili. Prisoners who tested positive for tuberculosis shared cells with tuberculosis-negative prisoners. Access to clean toilets was generally sufficient, although without significant privacy. The PDHJ assessed ventilation and lighting as adequate in prisons but not in detention centers. Prisoners were able to exercise for two hours daily.

According to human rights monitoring organizations, police station detention cells generally did not comply with international standards and lacked sanitation facilities and bedding, although police were making efforts to improve them.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of problematic conditions. The PDHJ oversees prison conditions and prisoner welfare. It monitored inmates and reported the government was generally responsive to recommendations. Nonetheless, some human rights monitoring organizations questioned how widely known the complaint mechanism was and whether prisoners felt free to utilize it.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by the PDHJ, foreign governments, international organizations, local NGOs, and independent human rights observers.

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. The government generally observed these prohibitions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires judicial warrants prior to arrests or searches, except in exceptional circumstances or in cases of flagrante delicto.

The law requires a hearing within 72 hours of arrest. During these hearings, the judge may determine whether the suspect should be released because conditions for pretrial detention had not been met, released conditionally (usually after posting some form of collateralized bail or on condition that the suspect report regularly to police), or whether the case should be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Backlogs continued to decrease during the year, particularly in courts outside of Dili, due to changes in the incentive structure for prosecutors and a policy requiring prosecutors to handle more cases. Justice-sector monitoring organizations reported the system adhered much more closely to the 72-hour timeline than in past years.

Time in pretrial detention may be deducted from a final sentence, but there is no remedy to compensate for pretrial detention in cases that do not result in conviction.

The law provides for access to legal representation at all stages of the proceedings, and provisions exist for providing public defenders for all defendants at no cost (see section 1.e.). Due to a lack of human resources and transportation, however, public defenders were not always able to attend to their clients and sometimes met clients for the first time during their first court hearing.

Pretrial Detention: The law specifies that a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to one year without presentation of an indictment, two years without a first-instance conviction, or three years without a final conviction on appeal. If any of these deadlines are not met, the detained person may file a claim for release. Exceptionally complex cases can also provide justification for the extension of each of those limits by up to six months with permission of a judge. In many cases, the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the length of the sentence upon conviction. Pretrial detainees composed approximately 20 percent of the total prison population.

Detainees Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While persons arrested or detained may challenge the legal basis of their detention and obtain prompt release, justice-sector monitoring organizations reported such challenges rarely occurred, likely due to limited knowledge of the provision allowing such challenges.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges shall perform their duties “independently and impartially without improper influence” and requires public prosecutors to discharge their duties impartially. Many legal-sector observers expressed concern regarding the independence of some judicial organs in politically sensitive cases, a severe shortage of qualified personnel, and the complex legal regime influenced by legacies of Portuguese, Indonesian, and UN administration and various other international norms. An additional problem is that all laws and many trial proceedings and court documents are in Portuguese, a language spoken by approximately 10 percent of the population. Nonetheless, observers noted that citizens generally enjoyed a fair, although not always expeditious, trial and that the judiciary was largely independent.

Administrative failings involving the judge, prosecution, or defense led to prolonged delays in trials. Moreover, the law requires at least one international judge on a panel in cases involving past human rights abuses. There had been no new such cases since 2014; in addition, cases opened before 2014 were left pending indefinitely with no timeline for coming to trial.

There were 33 judges and 34 prosecutors in the country as of September. The government and judicial monitoring organizations cited human resource problems as a major issue in the justice system.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although trials were subject to long delays. Under the criminal procedure code, defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, access to a lawyer, and rights against self-incrimination; to be informed promptly of charges; and to be present at their trial. Trials are held before judges or judicial panels; juries are not used. Defendants may confront hostile witnesses and present other witnesses and evidence and may not be compelled to testify. Defendants have a right of appeal to higher courts. The government provides interpretation as necessary into local languages. Observers noted the courts made progress in providing interpretation services during court proceedings, and all courts had at least one interpreter.

Justice-sector NGOs expressed concern that judges did not provide clear information or take the time to explain and read their decisions. Observers also claimed that in many cases judges did not follow the law that provides protections for witnesses. Additionally, the country has no juvenile-justice legislation, leaving many juveniles in the justice system without protections.

The constitution contemplates a Supreme Court, but one has never been established due to staffing and resource limits. The court of appeals carried out Supreme Court functions in the interim.

Mobile courts based in the cities of Dili, Baucau, Covalima, and Oecusse operated in areas that did not have a permanent court. These courts processed only pretrial proceedings and primarily handled cases of domestic and gender-based violence.

For “semipublic” crimes, where the process does not begin unless a victim files a complaint, some citizens utilized traditional (customary) systems of justice that did not necessarily follow due-process standards or provide witness protection but provided convenient and speedy reconciliation proceedings with which the population was comfortable.

The Public Defender’s Office, concentrated in Dili, was too small to meet the need, and many defendants relied on lawyers provided by legal aid organizations. A number of defendants who were assigned public defenders reported they never saw their lawyers, and some justice-sector NGOs noted that public defenders were confused about their duties to the client versus the state and that few viewed their role as client advocates. Public defenders did not have access to transportation to visit clients in detention, so at times they met their clients for the first time in court.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

As there is no separate civil judicial system in the country, civil litigation experienced the same problems encountered in the criminal justice system. No regional human rights body has jurisdiction in the country.

Property Restitution

Community concerns regarding evictions and inadequate compensation for government expropriation of land continued during the year.

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

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, civil servants noted a general lack of privacy protections throughout the government, particularly in the health sector.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system promoted freedom of expression, including for the press.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were few government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although the National Language Institute must approve academic research on Tetum and other indigenous languages and regularly did so.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for “freedom to assemble peacefully and without weapons, without a need for prior authorization.” The law establishes guidelines on obtaining permits to hold demonstrations, requires police be notified five days in advance of any demonstration or strike, and establishes setback requirements at some buildings. The power to grant or deny permits is vested in the PNTL, which generally approved requests for demonstrations. During the COVID-19-related state of emergency, several requests to hold demonstrations were denied. Despite the restriction, the PNTL worked with demonstration organizers to provide them alternative means of safely speaking to their supporters and delivering their grievances to the subjects of their protest.

In September, Chief of Defense Force Lere Anan Timur announced his intention to detain Angela Freitas, leader of the new political movement National Resistance Defending Justice and the Constitution, following her and her movement’s efforts to organize a 15-day protest demanding the resignation of the president and challenging the legitimacy of the government. The group had received approval from the PNTL to hold their protest in the west end of Dili, and police officers had been assigned to provide support and security at the protest site. A small contingent of soldiers patrolled the street in front of Freitas’ house, which also served as the political movement’s headquarters, on the evening of September 1, acting on allegations of illegal weapons at the residence. No arrests were made. On September 2, Freitas criticized the general’s actions and announced the postponement of the protest.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government implemented a state of emergency from March to June and again from August through the end of the year. The borders remained largely closed during this period, although the government permitted some entries and exits coordinated with the Ministries of Transport, Health, Interior, and Foreign Affairs.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations on issues related to the provision of protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status; however, the system does not align with international standards. There were concerns that regulations governing asylum and refugee status may preclude genuine refugees from proving their eligibility for such status. For example, persons who wish to apply for asylum have only 72 hours to do so after entering the country. Foreign nationals already present in the country have only 72 hours to initiate the process after the situation in their home country becomes too dangerous for a safe return.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Electoral management bodies administered an early parliamentary election in May 2018. International observers assessed it as free and fair. President Lu-Olo swore in Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and a partial cabinet in June 2018. International observers similarly assessed national presidential and parliamentary elections in 2017 as free and fair, with only minor, nonsystemic irregularities.

Political Parties and Political Participation: To register, new political parties must obtain 20,000 signatures, which must also include at least 1,000 signatures from each of the 13 municipalities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Electoral laws require that at least one-third of candidates on party lists be women. Following the 2018 parliamentary elections, women held 26 of the 65 seats in parliament but only eight of 46 ministerial, vice-ministerial, and secretary of state positions in the new government. Of 20 ministers, only the minister of social solidarity and inclusion (concurrently a deputy prime minister), the minister of foreign affairs and cooperation, and the minister of health were women. At the local level, at least three women must serve on all village councils, which generally include 10 to 20 representatives depending on village size. In 2016 local elections, the number of female village chiefs increased from 11 to 21 of the 448 nationwide chief positions. Traditional attitudes, limited networks, high rates of domestic violence, extensive child-care responsibilities, and other barriers constrained greater participation of women at the local and national levels.

The country’s few ethnic and religious minority groups were well integrated into the political system; however, in 2018 Muslim leaders reported discrimination against Muslims joining civil service positions. The number of ethnic minority members of parliament and in other government positions was uncertain, since self-identification of ethnicity was not a common practice.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The penal code provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government faced many problems in implementing the law, and the perception that officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity was widespread. In August the president approved new anticorruption legislation, which parliament had passed in July. The anticorruption commission (CAC) is charged with leading national anticorruption activities and has the authority to refer cases for prosecution; however, the CAC and the Prosecutor’s Office did not routinely cooperate with each other on investigations. Although the CAC is independent, the government controls its budget, making it vulnerable to political pressure. Institutions with the power and the competence to address corruption avoided investigations of politicians, government members, and leaders and veterans of the country’s independence struggle. The government undertook surprise inspections of government-run programs and increased pressure to implement asset-management and transparency systems.

Corruption: During the year the CAC continued investigations on corruption cases; however, there were no corruption-related convictions, sentences, or hearings as of November. Anecdotally, corruption was widespread among government officials. There were accusations of police, including border police, involvement in corruption–most commonly bribery and abuse of power. Allegations of nepotism in government hiring were common. The government developed and implemented several new standard operating procedures, policies, and regulations aimed at increasing transparency and improving customs services.

Financial Disclosure: The new anticorruption law requires that the highest members of government and members of parliament declare their assets to the court of appeals, and high-level public servants must declare their assets to the CAC. Declarations do not have to be made public, however, and the criminal penalties for noncompliance are unclear. Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak made a public asset disclosure in August.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials usually cooperated with these organizations, although the government did not always respond to their recommendations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: By law the independent PDHJ is responsible for the promotion of human rights and good governance and has its own budget and dedicated staff. It has the power to investigate and monitor human rights abuses and governance standards as well as make recommendations, including for prosecution, to relevant authorities. The PDHJ has satellite offices in Manufahi, Maliana, Oecusse, and Baucau. During the year the office received complaints related to the COVID-19-related state of emergency measures and investigated 51 human rights cases allegedly committed by the military, police, teachers, or public servants. There were no reports of significant government interference. The PDHJ, in cooperation with the UN Human Rights Adviser’s Unit, provided human rights training to the PNTL and the military.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women and men, including marital rape, is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The law broadly covers all forms of domestic violence. Penalties for “mistreatment of a spouse” include two to six years’ imprisonment; however, prosecutors frequently used a different article in domestic violence cases (“simple offenses against physical integrity”), which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common. The PNTL’s vulnerable persons units were generally responsible for handling of domestic violence and sexual crimes but did not have enough staff to provide a significant presence in all areas.

Nevertheless, the formal justice system addressed an increasing number of reported domestic and sexual abuse cases. According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, domestic violence offenses were the second-most commonly charged crimes in the criminal justice system, after simple assault. Prosecutors, however, routinely charged cases involving aggravated injury and use of deadly weapons as low-level simple assaults. Judicial observers also noted judges were lenient in sentencing in domestic violence cases. Several NGOs criticized the failure to issue protection orders and overreliance on suspended sentences, even in cases involving significant bodily harm.

Police, prosecutors, and judges routinely ignored many parts of the law that protect victims. NGOs noted that fines paid to the court in domestic violence cases often came from shared family resources, hurting the victim economically.

Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. In 2016 an Asia Foundation study found that 59 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 had experienced sexual or physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner and that 14 percent of girls and women had been raped by someone other than a partner. In this context, local NGOs viewed the law requiring that domestic violence cases be reported to the police and handled in the formal judicial system as having a positive effect by encouraging victims of domestic violence to report their cases to police.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion is charged with assisting victims of domestic violence. Due to staff shortages, the ministry had difficulty responding to all cases. To deal with this problem, the ministry worked closely with local NGOs and service providers to offer assistance. Local NGOs operated shelters; however, demand for these services exceeded capacity. Local and international civil society collaborated with government to deliver public education and training to police and the military about combatting gender-based violence.

Sexual Harassment: The labor code prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, but workplace and public harassment reportedly was widespread. Relevant authorities processed no such cases during the year (see section 7.d.).

Reproductive Rights: Although couples and individuals have the right under the government’s family planning policy to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children free from violence, economic, cultural, and religious considerations, as well as factors of geographic distance (in rural areas), limited women’s reproductive rights. Unmarried girls and women younger than age 20, for example, may be denied reproductive health services. Some NGOs expressed concern that this denial encroached on women’s and girls’ ability to make decisions for themselves, perpetuated the practice of child marriage, and posed serious risks to their health. Reproductive health and family planning services were often substandard or unavailable, particularly in rural health facilities. In some health facilities, service providers occasionally contravened policy and required a husband’s permission before providing reproductive health services.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.

In 2017 the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated maternal mortality at 215 deaths per 100,000 live births. Access to maternal health services remained a challenge in rural areas, although each district had at least one medical facility providing maternal care. The WHO reported 76 percent of mothers received antenatal care from a medical professional, but only 34 percent of mothers received postpartum care; 56 percent of births were attended by a skilled health professional. According to the UN Population Division, 49 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 used contraception. The Ministry of Health and NGOs promoted both natural and modern family planning methods, including the distribution of intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms, although government efforts focused heavily on natural methods. NGOs noted that government clinics lacked the capacity and understanding to dispense some contraceptives properly and that clinics often lacked contraceptive stocks.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The constitution states, “Women and men shall have the same rights and duties in all areas of family life and political, economic, social, cultural life,” but it does not specifically address discrimination. Some customary practices discriminate against women, including traditional inheritance systems that tend to exclude women from land ownership.

Some communities continued to practice the payment of a bride price as part of marriage agreements (barlake); this practice has been linked to domestic violence and to the inability to leave an abusive relationship. Some communities also continued the practice of forcing a widow either to marry one of her husband’s family members or, if she and her husband did not have children together, to leave her husband’s home.

The secretary of state for equality and inclusion is responsible for the promotion of gender equality. This includes implementation of National Plan of Action against Gender-Based Violence campaigns to combat domestic violence and to implement a gender sensitive budget policy among other responsibilities.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship by birth in the country or from a citizen parent or grandparent. A central civil registry lists a child’s name at birth and issues birth certificates. Birth registration rates were high, with no discernible difference in the rates of registration for girls and boys. While access to services such as schooling does not depend on birth registration, it is necessary to acquire a passport. Registration later in life requires only a reference from the village chief.

Children born to stateless parents born in the country acquire citizenship. Children born in the country to foreign parents may declare themselves Timorese once they are 17 or older.

Education: The constitution stipulates that primary education shall be compulsory and free according to the state’s ability. The law requires nine years of compulsory education beginning at age six; however, there is no system to ensure that the provision of education is free. Public schools were tuition free, but students paid for supplies and uniforms. According to 2018 government statistics, the net enrollment rate for primary education was 88 percent, while the net enrollment rate for secondary education was 35 percent. Nonenrollment was substantially higher in rural than in urban areas. While initial attendance rates for boys and girls were similar, girls often were forced to leave school if they became pregnant and faced difficulty in obtaining school documents or transferring schools. Lack of sanitation facilities at some schools also led some girls to drop out upon reaching puberty. Overall, women and girls had lower rates of education than men and boys.

Child Abuse: The law protects against child abuse; however, abuse in many forms was common. Sexual abuse of children remained a serious concern. Despite widespread reports of child abuse, few cases entered the judicial system. Observers criticized the courts for handing down shorter sentences than prescribed by law in numerous cases of sexual abuse of children. Incest between men and children in their immediate and extended family was a serious problem, and civil society organizations called for laws to criminalize it as a separate crime. Victims of incest faced a range of challenges such as limited information on the formal justice system, limited protection for the victims, threats and coercion from defendants, and social stigmatization from the family and community. In January the Dili District Court held an initial hearing in the case of a father alleged to have committed incest with his daughter. The prosecutor charged the father with sexual abuse of a minor in the form of domestic violence and incest; the father confessed to the allegations.

While the Ministry of Education has a zero-tolerance policy for corporal punishment, there is no law on the issue, and reports indicated the practice was common.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Although a marriage cannot be registered until the younger spouse is at least age 16, cultural, religious, and civil marriages were recognized in the civil code. Cultural pressure to marry, especially if a girl or woman becomes pregnant, was strong. Underage couples cannot officially marry, but they are often married de facto once they have children together. Forced marriage rarely occurred, although reports indicated that social pressure sometimes encouraged victims of rape to marry their attacker or persons to enter into an arranged marriage when a bride price was paid. According to the most recent information from UNICEF (2017), an estimated 19 percent of girls married prior to the age of 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual assault against children was a significant but largely unaddressed problem. The age of consent is 14. The penal code, however, makes sexual conduct by an adult with anyone younger than 17 a crime if the adult takes “advantage of the inexperience” of the younger person, and it increases penalties when such conduct involves victims younger than 14. Some commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred. The penal code makes both child prostitution and child pornography crimes. It defines a “child” for purposes of those provisions as a “minor less than 18 years of age.” The penal code also criminalizes abduction of a minor.

There were reports that child victims of sexual abuse were sometimes forced to testify in public despite a witness protection law that provides for video-link or other secure testimony.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no indigenous Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution grants equal rights to and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in addition to requiring the state to protect them. No specific legislation addresses the rights or support of persons with disabilities. The law provides for financial subsidies to the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is responsible for treating mental disabilities. In many municipalities, children with disabilities were unable to attend school due to accessibility problems. The Council of Ministers approved a national inclusive-education policy in 2019; however, the government had not implemented the policy by year’s end. Schools lacked wheelchair access and other infrastructure for inclusive education, according to a national disabilities NGO.

Civil society representatives complained that a national disabilities action plan formulated under the previous government was never implemented due to budgetary issues and lack of sensitivity within the line ministries. The current government did not act on plans for a national council for persons with disabilities prepared under the previous government, according to a national disability NGO.

Electoral regulations provide accommodations, including personal assistance, to enable persons with disabilities to vote. Civil society election monitors and the National Election Commission identified inconsistencies in the accessibility of polling places and accommodations for voters with disabilities in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Service providers noted domestic violence and sexual assault against persons with disabilities was a growing concern. They indicated the police and judiciary were slow to respond to such incidents.

In September 2019 police received a formal complaint involving a widely publicized assault of a woman with psychosocial disabilities by two individuals in university uniforms. The case was forwarded to the Office of the Prosecutor and was pending trial.

Persons with mental disabilities accused of crimes are entitled by law to special protections.

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

The constitution and law are silent on consensual same-sex sexual conduct and other matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. In a 2019 speech on the day of a Pride March in Dili, President Lu-Olo called for a society where “all citizens can live free from discrimination, violence, and fear.” While physical abuse in public or by public authorities was uncommon, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons were often verbally abused and discriminated against in some public services, including at medical centers. The NGO CODIVA (Coalition on Diversity and Action) noted transgender members of the community were particularly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. A 2017 study conducted for Rede Feto, the national women’s advocacy network, of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men in Dili and Bobonaro documented the use by family members of rape, physical and psychological abuse, ostracism, discrimination, and marginalization against LGBTI individuals.

Access to education was limited for some LGBTI persons who were removed from the family home or who feared abuse at school. Transgender students were more likely to experience bullying and drop out of school at the secondary level. Civil society organizations asked the government to include LGBTI community issues in its national inclusive-education policy. CODIVA conducted LGBTI awareness training sessions for national police officers throughout the country.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to civil society organizations, HIV and AIDS patients experienced social stigma and were ostracized by their families and communities. The national HIV/AIDS commission provided training to medical staff on fair and humane treatment for HIV/AIDS patients, with the goal of reducing discrimination patients encountered at hospitals and medical centers.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the rights of certain workers to form and join unions of their choosing, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The law prohibits dismissal or discrimination for union activity, and it allows for financial compensation in lieu of reinstatement. The law prohibits foreign migrant workers from participating in the leadership of trade unions but does not restrict their membership. The law does not apply to workers in family-owned agricultural or industrial businesses used primarily for subsistence. The law also does not apply to public-sector workers or domestic workers.

There are official registration procedures for trade unions and employer organizations. Workers employed by companies or institutions that provide “indispensable social needs” such as pharmacies, hospitals, or telecommunications firms are not barred from striking, but they are “obliged to ensure the provision of minimal services deemed indispensable” to satisfy public needs during a strike. The law allows the Council of Ministers to suspend a strike if it affects public order. The law prohibits employer lockouts. The trade union confederation reported three strikes during the year through October.

The State Secretariat for Vocational Training and Employment (employment secretariat) is charged with implementing the labor code and labor-dispute settlement. The government lacked sufficient resources and skilled staff to enforce the right to freedom of association adequately. According to the employment secretariat, the most common labor issues were terminations where employers did not follow the procedures outlined in local labor law. The trade union confederation registered 182 complaints of alleged violations of labor rights between January and September. Many disputes involved employees who alleged dismissal without cause.

Violations of the labor code are punishable by fines and other penalties, and they were not commensurate with those for analogous laws involving denial of civil rights.

Alleged violations included unfair dismissal. The trade union confederation noted some companies led by veterans of the country’s independence struggle did not respect labor laws, believing their status would excuse any violations.

Workers’ organizations were generally independent and operated without interference from government or employers. Unions may draft their own constitutions and rules and elect their representatives. The majority of workers were employed in the informal sector, resulting in a large nonunionized workforce. Attempts to organize workers were slow, since workers generally lacked experience negotiating contracts and engaging in collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The penal code prohibits and criminalizes coercion, grave coercion, and slavery. The penal code also considers forced labor and deceptive hiring practices to be a form of human trafficking. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The law prescribes imprisonment, fines, judicial dissolution, and asset forfeiture as penalties, which were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The law also authorizes compensation of victims.

Due to COVID-19-related preventive measures, the Interagency Working Group to Combat Human Trafficking met only two times during the year to discuss a range of migration-related issues in addition to trafficking.

Forced labor of adults and children occurred (see section 7.c.) but was not widespread. At times persons from rural areas who came to Dili in pursuit of better educational and employment prospects were subjected to domestic servitude. Family members placed children in bonded household and agricultural labor, primarily in rural areas, to pay off family debts.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits child labor and specifically prohibits children younger than 15 from working, except in “light work” and in vocational training programs for children ages 13 to 15. The labor law prohibits children younger than 17 from all forms of hazardous work, a definition that leaves 17-year-olds vulnerable to child labor and exploitation. The government generally did not enforce child labor laws outside the capital. The labor code does not apply to family-owned businesses operated for subsistence, the sector in which most children worked. By year’s end the government had not adopted a list of prohibited hazardous work.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion, Secretariat of State for Professional Education and Employment, and PNTL are responsible for enforcing child-labor laws. A lack of child labor professionals at the employment secretariat hindered proper enforcement. The number of labor inspectors was inadequate to investigate child labor cases and enforce the law, particularly in rural areas where child labor in the agriculture sector was prevalent. Penalties for child labor and forced labor violations may include fines and imprisonment; these penalties were commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Child labor in the informal sector was a problem, particularly in agriculture, street vending, and domestic service. Children in rural areas continued to engage in dangerous agricultural activities, such as cultivating and processing coffee in family-run businesses, using dangerous machinery and tools, carrying heavy loads, and applying harmful pesticides. In rural areas, heavily indebted parents sometimes put their children to work as indentured servants to settle debts. If a girl is sent to work as an indentured servant to pay off her family’s debt, the receiving family could also demand a bride price payment. Children were also employed in fishing, with some working long hours, performing physically demanding tasks, and facing dangerous conditions.

There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (also see Section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation, although it does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on sexual orientation. The law also mandates equal pay. The government did not effectively enforce the law’s provisions. Violations were referred for criminal proceedings, and penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights.

Employers may only require workers to undergo medical testing, including HIV testing, with the worker’s written consent. Work-visa applications require medical clearance.

Discrimination against women reportedly was common throughout the government but sometimes went unaddressed. NGO workers noted this was largely due to lack of other employment opportunities and fear of retaliation among victims. Women also were disadvantaged in pursuing job opportunities due to cultural norms, stereotypes, and an overall lower level of qualifications or education. Some reported that pregnant women did not receive maternity leave and other protections guaranteed by the labor code.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legally set minimum monthly wage was above the official national poverty level.

The labor code provides for a standard workweek of 44 hours. Overtime cannot exceed 16 hours per week, except in emergencies, which the labor code defined as “force majeure or where such work is indispensable in order to prevent or repair serious damages for the company or for its feasibility.”

The law sets minimum standards for worker health and safety. The law provides explicitly for the right of pregnant women and new mothers to stop work that might harm their health without a decrease in pay. It does not provide other workers the right to leave a hazardous workplace without threat of dismissal. The law requires equal treatment and remuneration for all workers, including legally employed foreign workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions and undertook more than 800 inspections. Alleged violations included failure to provide maternity benefits and nonpayment of wages. The labor code does not assign specific penalties or fines for violations of wage, hour, or occupational health and safety laws. These penalties were not commensurate for similar crimes, such as fraud and negligence. Labor unions criticized inspectors for visiting worksites infrequently and for discussing labor concerns only with managers during inspections.

The law, including legislation pertaining to minimum wage, hours, and hazardous work, does not apply to the informal sector. According to data from the Ministry of Finance, the informal sector employed 72 percent of the workforce. Domestic workers, a large percentage of the working population, especially of working women, were inadequately protected and particularly vulnerable to exploitative working conditions, with many receiving less than minimum wage for long hours of work.

According to a local union, the government lacked the political will and institutional capacity to implement and enforce the labor code fully, and violations of minimum safety and health standards were common, particularly in the construction industry. There were no major industrial accidents.