Argentina

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 was no information available during the year regarding arbitrary or unlawful killings by police.

The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) reported 126 deaths during 2015 as a result of police using unwarranted or excessive force in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires.

In February authorities elevated to a criminal cause of action the April 2015 killing of a youth in San Martin, Buenos Aires Province, by a police officer on patrol. The officer chased two youths who were suspected of stealing a motorcycle and shot at them as they fled on the motorcycle, killing the passenger. Following the incident authorities dismissed the officer for excessive use of force.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. On August 25, the Cordoba Federal Oral Courthouse No. 1 sentenced former Third Army Corps commander Luciano Benjamin Menendez to an additional life term in prison for murder, torture, and crimes against humanity, bringing his full sentence to 14 prison terms and 12 consecutive life sentences for human rights violations. Menendez was one of 43 defendants in the La Perla megatrial. Six defendants were acquitted, while the others received sentences ranging from two years to life imprisonment. On March 29, the Salta Federal Oral Court convicted former bus company owner Marcos Levin for conspiring with two former police officers to kidnap and torture a former employee in 1977. The court sentenced Levin to 12 years in prison, making him the first businessman to be sentenced for crimes against humanity during the military dictatorship era.

Judicial authorities continued to investigate cases of kidnapping and illegal adoption of children born to detained dissidents by members of the former military dictatorship. On October 4, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 121st missing grandchild of the estimated 500 persons born to detained and missing dissidents during the dictatorship and illegally adopted by former military officials had been identified and made aware of his background.

The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team continued cooperation with the National Institute of Industrial Technology, which provides technical support and assistance in the identification of remains of victims of the military junta.

The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides penalties for torture similar to those for homicide. NGOs, CELS, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Penitentiary Authority (an independent government body that monitors prison conditions), and the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission’s Committee against Torture (an autonomous office established by the provincial government) reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials.

No unified registration system to record acts and victims of torture exists at the federal level.

The Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Court of Cassation’s Office of Public Defenders reported that from January to April there were 221 complaints of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officers during arrest or institutional confinement, of which 52 cases involved minors. A 2015 Santa Fe Provincial Office of Public Defenders survey, the latest available information, reported 503 alleged victims of abuse, mistreatment, and human rights violations committed by provincial security force personnel in the penitentiary system. According to the report, 21 percent of the victims were 18 years old or younger, and mistreatment most frequently occurred in detention centers and while in transit.

On July 18, a court sentenced five police officers from the Buenos Aires Provincial Police to life imprisonment for the torture and murder of detainee Gaston Duffau in the locality of Ramos Mejia in 2008.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions often were harsh due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. Particularly in the province of Buenos Aires, there were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment.

Physical Conditions: While prison capacity in federal penitentiaries was marginally adequate (approximately 103 percent of capacity), prisoners in Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries exceeded facility capacity by an estimated 87 percent, according to a CELS report during the year. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

Inmates in many facilities suffered from overcrowding; poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment, according to reports by human rights organizations and research centers.

Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in minors being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national prison ombudsman noted the law prohibited doing so.

Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and crowded than men’s prisons. Pregnant prisoners were exempted from work and rigorous physical exercise and were transferred to the penitentiary clinic prior to their delivery date. Children born to women in prison may remain in a special area of the prison with the mother until the age of four and receive daycare.

According to the Penitentiary Prosecutors Office of the Nation, 257 cases of torture and mistreatment were registered in the Federal Penitentiary Service during the first semester of the year; however, only 42 percent of the complaints of torture and bad treatment resulted in criminal investigations.

The Federal Penitentiary Service reported 20 inmate deaths in federal prisons, seven of which were violent, between January and June; however, CELS statistics for the province of Buenos Aires for 2015 reflected 50 prisoners died from violence, while another 89 died from health problems and lack of medical attention.

Administration: Information on the adequacy of recordkeeping was unavailable. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Local NGOs noted, however, that access to a public defender was sometimes limited and that prisoners occasionally did not submit complaints to authorities due to fear of reprisal.

Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent local and international human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

On October 21, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the release of Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala, opining that her preventive detention was arbitrary. On January 16, authorities arrested Sala as she led a protest against the Jujuy provincial government’s reforms to social spending. Authorities initially charged Sala with sedition; however, the Jujuy province prosecutor later dropped the sedition count and brought new charges of assault, fraud, and embezzlement of public funds. International NGOs criticized the detention and the provincial government’s rejection of the UN Working Group’s opinion. On December 28, a federal court convicted Sala of “aggravated material damages” and sentenced her to a three-year suspended prison sentence. On December 29, Sala was convicted by a state court of civil disturbances charges. She was fined 4,363 pesos ($235) and prohibited from holding office in any civil organization.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police generally have jurisdiction for maintaining law and order in the federal capital and for federal crimes in the provinces. Other federal police authorities include the airport security police, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Prisons. All federal police forces fall under the authority of the Ministry of Security. Each province, including the city of Buenos Aires, also has its own police force that responds to a provincial (or municipal) security ministry or secretariat. Individual forces varied considerably in their effectiveness and respect for human rights. The armed forces fall under the Ministry of Defense and by law do not participate in internal security. Through executive decree the government sought to expand the scope of the armed forces to provide logistics support and surveillance of national borders. The federal security forces have authority to conduct internal investigations into alleged abuses and to dismiss individuals who allegedly committed a human rights violation. In September the minister of security dispatched additional federal security force personnel to Santa Fe Province for one year to combat complex crime and corruption.

The federal government can file complaints about alleged abuses with the federal courts, and provincial governments can do the same for provincial security forces. Members of security forces convicted of a crime were subject to stiff penalties. Authorities generally administratively suspended officers accused of wrongdoing until their investigations were completed. Authorities investigated and in some cases detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved; however, impunity at the federal and provincial level remained a problem.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police may detain suspects for up to 10 hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well-founded belief they have committed or are about to commit a crime or police are unable to determine the suspect’s identity. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained suspects longer than 10 hours.

The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt determination of the legality of their detention by a lower criminal court judge, who determines whether to proceed with an investigation. In some cases there were delays in this process and in informing detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for the right to bail except in cases involving flight risk or risk of subornation of justice.

Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and provided public defenders if they were unable to afford counsel. In some cases such access was delayed due to an overburdened system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for investigative detention of up to two years for indicted persons awaiting or undergoing trial; the period may be extended by one year in limited circumstances. The slow pace of the justice system often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law. A June census carried out by the Federal Penitentiary Service revealed that in Buenos Aires Province prisons, 61 percent of prisoners were either in pretrial confinement or awaiting a final sentence. According to several human rights organizations, 30 percent of pretrial detainees were eventually acquitted. A convicted prisoner usually receives credit for time served.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence. According to local NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and ordinary courts were subject at times to political manipulation. NGOs also criticized all three branches of the government for use of inappropriate procedures for selecting judges and for manipulating the assignment of judges to specific cases.

A law enacted in June 2015 allowed the Magistrates’ Council to designate “substitute judges” from congressionally approved lists of judges, attorneys, and court secretaries, circumventing the normal qualifying and order of merit criteria reserved for permanent appointments. Media reported that the government selected substitute judges sympathetic to its interests. In November 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the law providing for the appointment of substitute judges was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the civil society organization Fores reported that almost 25 percent of judges remained “substitute” or temporary judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Trials are generally public. In federal and provincial courts, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to legal counsel and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, to remain silent, to call defense witnesses, and to appeal. If needed, a public defender is provided at public expense when defendants face serious criminal charges. During the investigative stage, defendants can submit questions in writing. A panel of judges decides guilt or innocence. Although defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence, local NGOs indicated defendants sometimes experienced obstacles or delays in obtaining such evidence. Defendants can present witnesses and provide expert witness reports, in addition to the defendant’s own evidence. Defendants have the right to be present at their hearings, and there is no trial in absentia. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

Lengthy delays, procedural logjams, long gaps in the appointment of permanent judges, inadequate administrative support, and general inefficiency hampered the judicial system. Judges’ broad discretion on whether and how to pursue investigations contributed to a public perception that many decisions were arbitrary.

Federal and provincial courts continued the transition to trials with oral arguments in criminal cases, replacing the old system of written submissions. Cordoba, Neuquen, Chaco, and Buenos Aires provinces provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. Additionally, Chaco and Neuquen provinces approved legislation in September 2015 to include special provisions establishing a reserved quota for women and indigenous representatives.

In 2014 Congress enacted supplementary legislation implementing a new criminal procedure code, but the government delayed full implementation until 2017. The law transforms the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system into a full accusatory system, with expanded prosecution under the authority of the attorney general and trial by jury. The new criminal code imposes time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expands victims’ rights, and provides for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code also creates direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who will assume prosecutorial responsibilities currently exercised by investigating magistrates.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages or the protection of rights provided by the constitution.

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. On July 25, the National Administration for Social Security (ANSES) and the Secretariat of Public Communications under the Chief of Staff’s Office officially announced an interagency information-sharing agreement. The agreement would make the ANSES database of citizen personal information available to facilitate government public-service communications to the population. A group of citizens, including some opposition legislators, filed a criminal complaint alleging the practice constituted a violation of the right to privacy. On September 7, a lower federal court dismissed the charge, stating the facts alleged failed to constitute a crime. On September 8, a prosecutor appealed the decision, and at year’s end the case remained on appeal.

Bolivia

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

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

Several news outlets reported that national police officers committed unlawful killings in the shooting deaths of three miners during the course of August protests between the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives and police. The government’s decision to amend the Cooperatives Law to allow the unionization of subcontractors within the cooperative sparked the protests, which lasted from August 10 to August 26. Fermin Mamani, Severi Ichota, and Ruben Aparaya died of gunshot wounds during the protests, despite government claims that police used nonlethal bullets to quell the demonstrations. The Vice Minister of Interior, Rodolfo Illanes, was negotiating with the miners on behalf of the government when protesters captured, tortured, and eventually killed him. Authorities arrested 11 protest leaders in connection with the death of the vice minister. On October 6, the Ombudsman’s Office publicly stated that, under the authority of Minister of Government Carlos Romero, police used lethal ammunition against the miners. On October 27, Human Rights Ombudsman David Tezanos presented his office’s official findings to the State Prosecutor. Their investigations stated that “at least seven” police personnel used lethal firearms in the miner’s conflict. Two of the miners who were publicly implicated in the killing of Illanes called the findings of the Ombudsman’s office false.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The constitution prohibits all forms of torture, coercion, and physical and emotional violence. Despite these regulations there were credible reports that government officials employed them. Although no laws specifically prohibit torture, it is more generally covered under penal code provisions on respecting the right to physical integrity. The penal code carries only minimum penalties for those found guilty; no public official has ever been found guilty under those provisions.

On August 17, police officers guarding prisoners in the Pando prison reportedly tortured multiple detainees in an attempt to gather information about an investigation underway at the time. As of October there was no official number of victims. Police reportedly beat the prisoners and subjected them to electric shocks and tear-gassing, and men, women, and children were all among the alleged victims of police violence. The Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor’s Office were investigating the case. The Institute of Therapy and Investigation (ITEI), a credible nongovernmental organization (NGO), was also conducting an independent investigation.

ITEI stated that the most frequent perpetrators of torture and mistreatment were members of the Bolivian National Police and military officials. ITEI reports indicated that police relied heavily on torture as the first form of investigation to procure information and extract confessions. The majority of these abuses reportedly occurred while officials were transferring detainees to police facilities or while the prisoners were held in detention. According to credible reports from NGO employees who worked with prison populations, the most common forms of torture for detainees included the use of Tasers, asphyxiation, verbal abuse, and verbal threats of violence.

Within the military torture and mistreatment reportedly occurred both to punish and to intimidate trainees into submission and obedience. Reports indicated that military officials regularly verbally abused soldiers for minor infractions and perceived disobedience. In January a regimental commander was recorded on video verbally abusing a sergeant under his command for questioning one of the commander’s orders. The National Council of the Defense of the Constitution brought charges of discrimination (a criminal offense) against the commander for his actions. According to sources this type of verbal abuse and hazing in the armed forces was not uncommon. In January then human rights ombudsman Rolando Villena reported that at least 30 soldiers died in military service in the last three years.

On April 23, the then human rights ombudsman, Rolando Villena, reported his office received and processed 19,097 cases of “violations of human rights” in 2015, a 647 percent increase from 2014. Of the cases his office examined during 2015, the following violations occurred with the most frequency: 17 percent involved the right to due process and access to justice, 13 percent involved workers’ rights, 12 percent involved property and personal property, 8 percent involved the right to petition, and 7 percent involved a lack of accessibility for individuals wishing to obtain personal identification documents. Villena stated that officials working under the judiciary and police forces perpetrated the most abuses. The ombudsman also stated that despite the trend of rising violations against human rights, the legislature had never accepted his suggestions or projects, nor had it ever allowed him to deliver his annual report on the state of human rights during his tenure in office.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, lack of internal control, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Prisons and detention centers were overcrowded and underfunded. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners in all major facilities for as long as five years, according to the NGO Pastoral Penitentiary. On March 9, Director of the Penitentiary System Jorge Lopez Arenas reported the total number of inmates was 13,940. Overcrowding was a serious structural and human rights problem in all major prisons and detention facilities. Palmasola, a prison located in the city of Santa Cruz, was designed to hold 1,800 prisoners but housed more than 5,400 inmates. While the maximum number of prisoners for most cells was four, there were up to 10 individuals in each cell. In the La Paz prison San Pedro, there were more than 2,000 inmates in a facility built to hold 500. The bathrooms were often connected to the living quarters, and the sewage system frequently did not work, causing sewage backups and other unsanitary conditions in living spaces.

Prisoners were largely responsible for paying for their own goods and services in prison because available services to sustain basic needs were inadequate. This included food, lodging, medical care, and transportation to and from court proceedings. Prisoners had access to potable water, but the standard prison diet was insufficient. Since the government’s daily allocation for a prisoner’s diet was eight bolivianos ($1.17), many prisons depended on donations from other organizations for food. Prisoners who could not afford their own lodging often had to convert bathrooms, hallways, kitchens, and other areas into sleeping quarters. Although the law provides that prisoners have access to medical care, the care was inadequate, and it was difficult for prisoners to obtain permission for outside medical treatment.

Due to persistent corruption, a prisoner’s wealth often determined his or her physical security, cell size, visiting privileges, ability to attend court hearings, day-pass eligibility, and place and length of confinement. Inmates alleged there were an insufficient number of police officers to escort inmates to their judicial hearings, and credible NGOs reported that prison directors often refused to help facilitate the transfer of inmates to hearings, further delaying cases. Inmates also claimed police demanded bribes in exchange for allowing them to attend hearings.

Due to a lack of internal policing, violence was ubiquitous and often included systematic intimidation, corruption among prison authorities, psychological mistreatment, extortion, torture, and threats of death. Much of the aggression was prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

There were two women’s prisons located in La Paz, one in Trinidad, and one in Cochabamba. In Morros Blancos Prison in Tarija, Montero Prison in Santa Cruz, Riberalta Prison in Beni, and Oruro Prison in Oruro, men and women shared sleeping facilities. In other facilities men and women maintained separate sleeping quarters, but the populations comingled daily. Female inmates were reportedly sexually harassed and/or assaulted on a regular basis, and some were forced to pay antirape extortion fees.

A 2014 law lowered the juvenile detention age from 16 to 14 and requires juvenile offenders be housed in facilities separate from the general prison population in order to facilitate rehabilitation. Any adolescent under 14 years of age is exempt from criminal liability but may be subject to civil liability. The government, however, has yet to build new juvenile facilities, nor have officials allocated the funds required to implement the legal requirements. As a result, hundreds of juveniles between the ages of 14 and 18 were intermingled with adult prisoners in jails due to a lack of sufficient juvenile-specific facilities. Adult inmates and police reportedly abused juvenile prisoners. Rehabilitation programs for juveniles or other prisoners remained scarce.

Although the law permits children up to the age of six to live with an incarcerated parent under “safe and regulated conditions,” children as old as 12 resided in detention centers with incarcerated parents, and conditions were regularly unsafe. Despite a 2013 governmental plan to remove children from prisons, government reports indicated that an estimated 3,000 children were living with their incarcerated parents, 1,500 of whom were in prisons and detention centers in La Paz. According to sources, these children had no viable alternative due to economic or family constraints.

Administration: The government initiated a pilot program in the cities of Cochabamba and Cotahuma to digitalize prison records and legal information for all detainees, but it had not been implemented nationwide due to lack of funding. Despite this initiative recordkeeping remained inadequate. Poor records and lack of adequate legal counsel led to cases in which prisoners remained incarcerated beyond the maximum sentence allowed for the crime for which they had been convicted. Prisoners could submit complaints periodically to a commission of district judges for investigation, but, due to fear of retaliation by prison authorities, inmates frequently did not submit complaints of abuses.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent nongovernmental observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, local NGOs, judges, religious authorities, legislative representatives, and media representatives, and such visits took place during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Government’s authority, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order within the country, but military forces may be called to help in critical situations. Military forces report to the Ministry of Defense. Migration officials report to the Ministry of Government, and police and military share responsibilities for border enforcement. The law to investigate and punish internal police abuse and corruption remained suspended and unenforced as a result of national police strikes in 2012, when the government agreed to revise the code. There was no progress in negotiations between the Ministry of Government and the National Police Association on this problem. Congress did not act on the Constitutional Court’s 2012 ruling to adjust the military criminal code and the military code of criminal procedure to stipulate that human rights violations be judged by the ordinary justice system, in compliance with the constitution. Inconsistent application of the laws and a dysfunctional judiciary further exacerbated the impunity of security forces in committing abuses.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that police obtain an arrest warrant from a prosecutor and that a judge substantiate the warrant within eight hours of an arrest. Credible reports stated that police did not strictly adhere to these time restrictions, except in cases when the government ordered adherence. The law also mandates that a detainee appear before a judge within 24 hours (except under a declared state of siege, during which a detainee may be held for 48 hours) at which time the judge must determine the appropriateness of continued pretrial detention or release on bail. The judge shall order the detainee’s release if the prosecutor fails to show sufficient grounds for arrest. The government allows suspects to select their own lawyers and provides a lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office if the suspect requests one. There were 100 public defenders in the country, and approximately 30 percent of pretrial detainees had secured help from the Public Defender’s Office. The public defenders were generally overburdened and limited in their ability to provide adequate, timely legal assistance. While bail is permitted, most detainees were placed in pretrial detention or could not afford to post bail. Several legal experts noted that pretrial detention was the rule rather than the exception.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but in at least one case security forces seized and held a member of the political opposition, former governor of Pando Leopoldo Fernandez, under legally questionable circumstances.

On February 26, Gabriela Zapata, an employee of the Chinese company CAMC who reportedly had a previous romantic relationship with President Morales, was detained by officials from the Ministry of Government under opaque legal circumstances, according to a reputable NGO. Although the general prosecutor in the case, Ramiro Guerrero Penaranda, eventually confirmed that her arrest followed all proper legal procedures, credible reports indicated that officials apprehended Zapata without an official warrant or court order. Zapata was sent to a high-security prison used to hold convicted felons. She faced multiple charges.

Pretrial Detention: On March 9, Penitentiary Director Lopez warned the prison population could grow by the end of the year despite remedial efforts by the executive branch to reduce the already overcrowded system through granting a series of pardons. Lopez reported in February that 69 percent of all prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law affords judges the authority to order pretrial detention if there is a high probability that a suspect committed a crime, if evidence exists that the accused seeks to obstruct the investigation process, or if a suspect is considered a flight risk. If a suspect is not detained, a judge may order significant restrictions on the suspect’s movements.

The law states that no one shall be detained for more than 18 months without formal charges. If after 18 months the prosecutor does not present formal charges and conclude the investigatory phase, the detainee may request release by a judge. The judge must order the detainee’s release, but the charges against the detainee are not dropped. By law the investigatory phase and trial phase of a case cannot exceed 36 months combined. The law allows a trial extension if the delays in the process are due to the defense. In these circumstances pretrial detention may exceed the 36-month limit without violating the law.

Despite these rights, denial of justice due to prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. In March the local Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported approximately 78 percent of cases initiated during 2014 continued to the next year without conclusion. These inmates remained imprisoned due to the inability to obtain legal support to complete the paperwork that would free them from prison. Foundation Construir also noted that almost 75 percent of hearings arranged for pretrial detainees were suspended for a myriad of reasons. Complex legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, executive interference, corruption, a shortage of public defenders, and inadequate case-tracking mechanisms all contributed to trial delays that lengthened pretrial detention and kept many suspects detained beyond the legal limits for the completion of a trial or the presentation of formal charges. Many defense attorneys intentionally did not attend hearings in order to delay trial proceedings and ultimately to avoid a final sentencing. The law does not dictate penalties for such actions.

In 2013 Foundation Construir reported prosecutors and judges relied heavily on pretrial detention, thereby contributing to prison overcrowding and judicial backlog. The report found that prosecutors sought pretrial detention for suspects in 77 percent of cases and that judges ordered pretrial detention in 73 percent of cases in which it was requested (54 percent of all cases). In Santa Cruz, which had the country’s largest prison population, judges ordered pretrial detention of suspects in 86 percent of all cases.

Felipe Moza, accused of sabotaging a gas pipeline in Villamontes, Tarija, in 2008, remained under house arrest without sentence. In September 2015 his case was suspended for the 114th time in six years. As of December, Moza had been imprisoned or under house arrest for more years than the penalty that he would have incurred had he been convicted for the crime for which he was accused.

Former governor Fernandez, on trial for assault and homicide linked to the death of 11 protesters in Pando Department in 2008, remained under house arrest without sentence. In 2011 his detention period exceeded the three-year limit on detention without a conviction. The Permanent Assembly on Human Rights declared that the judicial system had exceeded all reasonable timelines to determine culpability. Several human rights organizations and activists lobbied the government for his freedom. On July 18, the president of the National Permanent Assembly of Human Rights sent a letter to Morales stating that there was never an “objective investigation to identify the true authors” of the killings in Pando. He further alleged that Fernandez never received due process because of politically motivated accusations and detention by the government. According to the president of the assembly, the government’s actions against Fernandez destroyed the presumption of innocence, a constitutionally provided right for all citizens. The citizen collective Bolivian Coordinator in Defense of Human Rights also sent a letter to the president in July requesting Fernandez’s release on the grounds of health deterioration. As of December 1, the case had proceeded to final arguments but had not yet concluded.

Denial of justice due to prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem for many citizens. The human rights ombudsman released a document outlining a project that would allow those in jail to receive amnesty or pardons to help reduce the number of persons held in pretrial detention. According to this document, as of June only 31 percent of people nationwide held under pretrial detention eventually received final sentencing. Despite the fact that these prisoners had not been charged or brought to trial, they were held together with convicted criminals. The number of pretrial detainees in prisons throughout the country heavily contributed to the problem of overcrowding. The government’s efforts reduced the percentage of individuals under pretrial detention from 84 percent in 2015 to 69 percent during the year. The government’s pardon program affected only prisoners who already received their sentences and were convicted of minor crimes and crimes that resulted in less than five years in jail. Many human rights organizations and NGOs were critical of this program, because it did not apply to individuals who were held under pretrial detention. Accordingly, individuals who did not want to risk remaining under detention for years would plead guilty to the crimes they were accused of to receive an official sentence and thus become eligible for the government pardon. As of May a total of 4,953 individuals who may or may not have been guilty of the crimes they were accused of pled guilty in order to be released under this program, potentially violating their rights to due process and a fair trial.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution recognizes a citizen’s ability to challenge their arrest and detention if they believe their life is in danger, they have been illegally persecuted, or improperly deprived of personal liberty. Individuals are allowed to present their case to any judge and request a re-establishment of their rights. The government respected the ability to challenge lawfulness of detention in practice.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was overburdened, vulnerable to undue influence by the executive and legislative branches, and plagued with allegations of corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders but on several occasions levied charges against judges to pressure them to change their verdicts. Judicial experts reported judges and prosecutors practiced self-censorship when issuing rulings to avoid becoming the target of government attacks.

On March 29, the chairman of the La Paz Department Tribunal of Justice, Fernando Ganam, was detained after being caught negotiating a constitutional protection for the telecommunication business COTEL’s president, Fabian Guillen. Guillen was accused of corporate fraud. While the legal investigation was in progress, Ganam, three lawyers representing COTEL, a judge, and two prosecutors, among other individuals, were accused of carrying out extrajudicial negotiations to secure a favorable result for the company. As a result of the investigation into this ring of corruption, investigators accused several police officers, and other legal officials of distorting justice in favor of COTEL. As of December 1, trial proceedings for the accused had not commenced.

The head of the Transparency Unit of the La Paz Judicial Council, Ariel Maranon, stated that during the year his office investigated a total of three consortium cases where contingents of judges and lawyers negotiated sentences in an illegal manner. The vice minister of justice and the president of the National Bar Association corroborated this information and added that similar consortiums of judges and lawyers were operating in multiple cities, including La Paz, El Alto, Oruro, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz. According to these sources, all consortiums operated for “the purpose of extorting and negotiating sentencing and verdicts for litigants.”

The judicial budget constituted 0.56 percent of the national budget, which NGOs asserted was insufficient and contributed to an overburdening of public prosecutors and led to serious judicial backlogs. The small budget and inadequate salaries made justice officials vulnerable to bribery and corruption, according to credible sources, including legal experts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to be informed of charges promptly and in detail and for a fair, public trial without undue delay. Defendants are entitled to presumption of innocence and trial by jury. They have the right to avoid self-incrimination, consult an attorney of their choice, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and confront adverse witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, access government-held evidence, and file an appeal. Defendants who cannot afford an attorney have the right to a public defender or private attorney at public expense. There were, however, only 100 public defenders to cover the country. There were 1,004 judges in the country and 850,000 registered criminal cases per year, requiring each judge to handle approximately 850 cases each year. Corruption, influence by other branches of government, insufficient judicial coverage, and a lack of adequate resources devoted to the judiciary undermined these constitutional rights. Free translation and interpretation services are required to be provided to all Bolivian citizens by law. In practice, however, officials complied with this law when there was sufficient budget and personnel.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports that the government prosecuted several members of political opposition parties for political purposes. The most high-profile case of political persecution and possible detainment for politically motivated reasons was the latest legal investigation of presidential runner-up in 2014 and leader of the main opposition party, Samuel Doria Medina. Congress created a Special Commission of Investigation through which they charged Doria Medina with misappropriating funds, creating damaging contracts, and dereliction of duty during his tenure as Minister of Planning and Coordination from 1991 to 1993. Several government officials, including President Morales, declared Doria Medina guilty of these charges despite the fact that legal proceedings had not yet commenced. The attorney general requested that Doria Medina be detained in pretrial detention for the duration of the legal proceedings. The hearing to determine this detention status was set for November 17. The vice president also accused Doria Medina of tax evasion, and the minister of communications accused him and members of his political party of racism.

The independent news outlet Pagina Siete reported on October 24 there were at least 116 legal processes filed against the five most prominent opposition leaders.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law permits individuals and organizations to seek criminal remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. At the conclusion of a criminal trial, the complainant can initiate a civil trial to seek damages. The human rights ombudsman can issue administrative resolutions on specific human rights cases. The ombudsman’s resolutions are nonbinding, and the government is not obligated to accept his or her recommendations.

The law prohibits such actions, but there was at least one case in which the government failed to respect these prohibitions. In 2015 government authorities installed cameras in the home of General Gary Prado Salmon, implicated in the alleged terrorism case against 39 former civic and political leaders of Santa Cruz. Prado, who was in poor health and could not leave his bed, was forced to accept the cameras based on a disputed court order that stated they were necessary to ensure he could continue to testify in his case. Prado challenged the constitutionality of this action, and the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in his favor in July, stating that the government had interfered with his privacy.

There were credible reports that the ruling MAS party required government officials to profess party membership to obtain/retain employment and/or access other government services.

Brazil

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 the federal government or its agents committed politically motivated killings, but unlawful killings by state police occurred. In some cases police employed indiscriminate force. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, as comprehensive, reliable statistics on unlawful police killings were not available. Official statistics showed police killed numerous civilians (lawfully or unlawfully) in encounters each year. For instance, the Rio de Janeiro Public Security Institute, a state government entity, reported that from January to July, police killed 473 civilians in “acts of resistance” (similar to resisting arrest) in Rio de Janeiro State. Most of the deaths occurred while police were conducting operations against drug-trafficking gangs in the city of Rio de Janeiro’s approximately 760 favelas (poor neighborhoods or shantytowns), where an estimated 1.4 million persons lived. A disproportionate number of the victims were Afro-Brazilians under age 25. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Rio de Janeiro questioned whether all of the victims actually resisted arrest, contending police continued to employ repressive methods. In April police conducted an operation in Acari, a favela in the city of Rio de Janeiro, that resulted in the deaths of five civilians. Official reports showed the casualties took place during an intense shootout, but residents of the community claimed police summarily executed the victims. Residents also reported problems of excessive use of force by police during the operation. As of November the case was under investigation. A report by the NGO Amnesty International, A Legacy of Violence–Killings by Police and Repression of Protests at Rio 2016, noted violent police operations took place throughout the Olympic Games (August 5-21) in several poor communities of Rio de Janeiro, resulting in the deaths of at least eight persons. On August 11, a 19-year-old man was killed during a joint operation involving civil and military police agents, the army, and the National Security Force in the favela of Complexo da Mare. On the same day, police officers from the Riot Police Unit killed two children ages 14 and 15 and a man age 22 in the Bandeira 2 favela, in the neighborhood of Del Castilho. On August 15, officers from the Pacification Police Unit killed a man in the favela of Cantagalo, in Ipanema. The next day civil police killed three men during an operation in the favela of Complexo da Mare.

In February, nine officers from the Bahia state military police Special Patrolling Group were implicated in the killing of 12 young Afro-Brazilians in Cabula, a neighborhood in the state capital of Salvador. Police and autopsy reports indicated the victims were unarmed and offered no resistance. Nevertheless, in July, Judge Marivalda Almeida Moutinho acquitted the nine of all charges, ruling the officers acted in self-defense.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The constitution prohibits such treatment and provides severe legal penalties for conviction of its use. There were, nevertheless, cases of degrading treatment such as those documented by Juan Mendez, UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, who visited the country in August 2015 and published his findings in January. Credible testimony from inmates–women, men, girls, and boys chosen at random in various detention facilities–pointed to the frequent use of torture and mistreatment, varying in methods and the severity of the pain and suffering inflicted. The incidents occurred during arrest and interrogation by police and also while inmates were in the custody of prison personnel. The inmates reported police and prison personnel engaged in severe kicking, beating (sometimes with sticks and truncheons), and suffocation. Inmates also reported police and prison personnel used Taser guns, pepper spray, tear gas, noise bombs, and rubber bullets, as well as profuse verbal abuse and threats.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Endemic overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, as of November the prison population was 711,463 prisoners (including house arrests); the official capacity of the prison system was 376,669 prisoners. According to the Catholic Church’s Penitentiary Commission, in some states women were occasionally held with men, although in separate cells. Prisoners who committed petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required holding convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. Many prisons, including in the Federal District, attempted to separate violent offenders from nonviolent ones and to keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were jailed with adults in poor and crowded conditions. In many juvenile detention centers, the number of inmates greatly exceeded capacity.

Violence was rampant in several prison facilities in the Northeast. In addition to overcrowding, poor administration of the prison system, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence within the penitentiary system. In July criminal organizations organized prison riots and violent acts throughout prison facilities in the state of Rio Grande do Norte after the state government announced it would install cell-phone jammers at prison facilities. Authorities deployed more than 1,000 army troops after 107 prisoners escaped and burned several public buses. In October prison clashes between rival gangs killed at least 18 inmates in two penitentiaries in the states of Roraima and Rondonia, according to press reports.

The press reported on multiple riots and escapes in the Curado prison complex in the state of Pernambuco. In June judges from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights visited the Curado prison (previously named the Anibal Bruno prison) in relation to a case brought against the state of Pernambuco regarding alleged human rights violations. As part of the Inter-American Court case, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs cited inadequate sanitary conditions. HIV and tuberculosis rates in prisons were far higher than rates for the general population. The prevalence of tuberculosis in Pernambuco’s prisons was reportedly 37 times that of the general population.

Administration: Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. State-level ombudsman offices and the federal Secretariat of Human Rights monitored prison and detention center conditions and investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations, and Organization of American States.

Improvements: In the Pedrinhas complex in the state of Maranhao, authorities reduced the level of violence by incarcerating rival gang leaders in separate facilities and professionalizing the prison guards, converting them from private contractors to public employees.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and limits arrests to those caught in the act of committing a crime or arrested by order of a judicial authority; however, police at times did not respect this prohibition.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police force, operating under the Ministry of Justice and Citizenship, is a small, primarily investigative entity and plays a minor role in routine law enforcement. Most police forces are under the control of the states. There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, which is charged with maintaining law and order. Despite its name, the military police does not report to the Ministry of Defense. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers, although independent investigations increased. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces remained a problem.

In Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, so-called militia groups composed of off-duty and former law enforcement officers often took policing into their own hands. Many militia groups intimidated residents and conducted illegal activities such as extorting protection money and providing pirated utility services.

According to the Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat for Public Security, human rights courses were a mandatory component of training for entry-level military police officers. Officers for the state’s favela pacification program (UPP) received additional human rights training. During the year the military police in Rio de Janeiro provided human rights training to 120 UPP officers.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Unless a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, an arrest cannot be made without a warrant issued by a judicial official. Officials must advise suspects of their rights at the time of arrest or before taking them into custody for interrogation. The law prohibits use of force during an arrest unless the suspect attempts to escape or resists arrest. According to human rights observers, some detainees complained of physical abuse while being taken into police custody.

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

Pretrial Detention: According to the National Council of Justice, prisons held approximately 250,000 persons in preventive detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained may challenge in court the legal basis for their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have ben unlawfully detained.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Local NGOs, however, cited that corruption within the judiciary, especially at the local and state levels, remained a concern.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The law requires proportionate and timely restitution or compensation for governmental takings of private property. Rio de Janeiro NGOs nevertheless reported squatters’ rights were not always respected when Rio de Janeiro municipal authorities relocated residents as part of efforts to improve urban mobility and safety in conjunction with the city’s Olympic preparations. According to local NGOs, authorities used eminent domain-type laws to relocate approximately 20,000 families, most of whom lacked a legal title to the properties they occupied. Activists and residents argued many of these removals were unnecessary and were carried out mainly to increase property values. Removals in Vila Autodromo, adjacent to the Olympic Park, were cited as examples of such removals. Some residents reported being pressured to accept inadequate compensation for their property.

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

Chile

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.

As of November 2015 according to the Ministry of the Interior, a total of 1,373 former military and law enforcement officials had been charged or convicted of complicity in murder or disappearance during the Pinochet government years (1973-90).

On July 20, the Supreme Court upheld on appeal the convictions of former Army officer Pedro Espinoza and former Air Force civilian Rafael Gonzalez for the 1973 killings of U.S. citizens Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi and increased the sentences to 15 years of prison for Espinoza and three years of probation for Gonzalez. The court also upheld awards of financial compensation of 130 million pesos ($190,000) for Joyce Horman and 100 million pesos ($146,000) for Janis Teruggi, the next of kin of the deceased.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

On March 4, Appellate Judge Jorge Zepeda dismissed the case against eight former members of the police and the army who were accused of being complicit in the 1985 disappearance of U.S. citizen Boris Weisfeiler. The judge ruled that while the evidence presented indicated that kidnapping and obstruction of justice did take place, the statute of limitations for prosecuting those crimes had run out. In his decision, Zepeda stated that the defense proved that each of the accused acted of personal volition and not under orders. Therefore, it was inappropriate to classify the death as a crime against humanity, which would have suspended the statute of limitations. The State Defense Council, the Human Rights Program of the Ministry of the Interior, and the family of the victim filed an appeal of this decision, which remained pending at year’s end.

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports of excessive force, abuse, and degrading treatment by law enforcement officers. In its 2015 annual Human Rights Report, the University of Diego Portales published statistics showing that during the period of 2006-14, state prosecutors applied the charge of torture 846 times, and nearly 50 percent of those accusations corresponded to acts committed by correctional officers working within the prison system. A November 11 law updated the criminal code to specify further the elements of the crimes of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The revised code increased penalties for these crimes in line with international norms.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in some prisons were harsh, as several antiquated prisons offered substandard sanitary conditions, medical services, heating and ventilation. Human rights organizations reported that violence, including torture, occurred. Violence among inmates also was common.

Physical Conditions: Some prison facilities were antiquated and offered substandard sanitary conditions, inadequate food, and insufficient medical services. Inadequate heating in some prisons remained a serious problem, and inadequate lighting and ventilation also affected inmates at some prisons. The government reported that access to potable water was limited in several prisons. Violence in prisons was common. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Paz Ciudadana reported that prison inmates were 29 times more likely than the general population to be a victim of homicide.

On September 26, a fight among inmates in the South Santiago Center for Preventive Detention left two inmates dead and more than 100 injured, including six inmates taken to an outside hospital for treatment.

Administration: Independent government authorities, including the National Institute of Human Rights (INDH), a government body, generally investigated credible allegations and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. The government usually investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Some NGOs, including the Center for Studies on Public Safety at the Institute for Public Affairs at the University of Chile, expressed concern over the potential for conflict of interest: They noted that the Human Rights Unit of the Gendarmeria (the corrections officers corps), served as the investigating body of first instance for complaints of violations by corrections officers but appeared to lack the administrative and political support within the institution necessary to fully execute its duties.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits took place at both government and privately operated facilities. Prisoner and human rights groups continued to investigate alleged use of abuse or excessive force against detainees, and media covered some of the allegations.

Improvements: The government made a concerted, long-term effort to relieve prison overcrowding; many prisons that were grossly overcrowded in 2010 were now at capacity.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Carabineros and the investigative police (PDI) have legal responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order, including migration and border enforcement, within the country. The Ministry of the Interior oversees both forces. The INDH monitors complaints and allegations of abuse.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the Carabineros and the PDI, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The military justice system investigates alleged abuses by Carabineros, and the civilian criminal justice system investigates allegations of abuse by PDI officers. A November 11 law defining torture in the criminal code requires all alleged cases of torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any state actor be investigated by the civilian criminal justice system. The NGO Human Rights Watch reported concern that military courts were not fully transparent or independent.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Only public officials expressly authorized by law may arrest or detain citizens and generally did so openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence brought before an independent judiciary. Authorities must immediately inform a prosecutor of an arrest and generally did so.

The prosecutor must open an investigation, receive a statement from the detainee, and ensure that the detainee is held at a local police station until the detention control hearing. Detention control hearings are held twice daily, allowing for a judicial determination of the legality of the detention within 24 hours of arrest. Detainees must be informed of their rights, including the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent until an attorney is present. Public defenders are provided for detainees who do not hire their own lawyer. Authorities must expedite notification of the detention to family members. If authorities do not inform detainees of their rights upon detention, the judge can declare the process unlawful during the detention control hearing.

The law allows judges to set bail, grant provisional liberty, or order continued detention as necessary for the investigation or the protection of the prisoner or the public.

The law affords detainees 30 minutes of immediate and subsequent daily access to a lawyer (in the presence of a prison guard) and to a doctor to verify their physical condition. Regular visits by family members are allowed.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and may sue for compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained by judicial error.

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have a right of appeal. They have the right to be informed promptly of charges, to have time to prepare their defense, and not to be compelled to testify. National and regional prosecutors investigate crimes, formulate charges, and prosecute cases. Three-judge panels form the court of first instance. The process is oral and adversarial; trials are public; defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner; and judges rule on guilt and dictate sentences. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Court records, rulings, and findings were generally accessible to the public.

The law provides for the right to legal counsel, and public defenders’ offices across the country provided professional legal counsel to anyone seeking such assistance. When human rights organizations or family members requested, the NGO Corporation for the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of the People and other lawyers working pro bono assisted detainees during interrogation and trial. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, although the law provides for secret witnesses in certain circumstances. Defendants and their attorneys generally have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

For crimes committed prior to the implementation of the 2005 judicial reforms, criminal proceedings are inquisitorial rather than adversarial. As of December 1, inquisitorial criminal court remained open and had an extensive wait for trials.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees, although some indigenous Mapuche convicted of criminal offenses claimed to be political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, which permits individuals to seek civil remedies for human rights violations; however, the civil justice system retained antiquated and inefficient procedures. The average civil trial lasted approximately five years, and civil suits could continue for decades. Administrative and judicial remedies are available for alleged wrongs. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.

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

Colombia

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, and related investigations and prosecutions proceeded slowly (see section 1.g.).

There was a reduction in violence due to progress in the peace process between the government and the FARC, including the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire August 29. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 2015 annual report stated the peace negotiations “prevented many human rights violations.” During the year the Conflict Analysis Research Center (CERAC) reported levels of violence in the country fell to their lowest in 52 years in terms of the number of victims, combatants killed and injured, and the number of violent acts. According to CERAC, offensive actions against the FARC fell 98 percent, combat between the armed forces and the FARC dropped by 91 percent, overall civilian casualties fell by 98 percent, and overall combatant deaths dropped by 94 percent. The OHCHR and CERAC attributed these trends to confidence-building measures, such as the unilateral ceasefire by the FARC, and the high level of compliance with the bilateral ceasefire.

In February members of the army allegedly killed Gilberto de Jesus Quintero in the department of Antioquia. Security forces claimed that Quintero was a suspected member of the ELN, according to media. As of October 20, the government had failed to investigate the case.

From January 1 through July, the Attorney General’s Office registered 291 new cases of alleged aggravated homicides by state agents. During the same period, authorities formally accused 393 members of the security forces and arrested 445 for aggravated homicide or homicide of a civilian, 45 of them for crimes that occurred prior to 2015.

There were developments in efforts to hold officials accountable in false positive cases, in which thousands of civilians were allegedly killed and falsely presented as guerrilla combatants in the late 1990s to mid-2000s. In February Colonel Robinson Gonzalez del Rio, convicted and sentenced in 2015 to a total of 67 years in prison and a fine of more than 1.8 billion Colombian Pesos (COP) ($6 million) for the unlawful killing of 34 civilians presented as “false positives,” was sentenced to an additional 37 years and six months in prison for the deaths of Javier Moreno and Janio Sepulveda in 2007 in Caldas Department.

Investigations of generals allegedly implicated in false positive cases continued. In April 2015 the former attorney general stated publicly that his office was investigating 22 generals for alleged involvement in false positives cases. In August the Attorney General’s Office subsequently clarified that the number of investigations against generals (including retired generals) involving homicides was actually 15, rather than 22. As of August the Attorney General’s Office stated 12 cases involving generals were in the preliminary investigation phase, and investigations against three generals had been closed.

On March 28, the Attorney General’s Office announced General Henry William Torres Escalante and former army commander general Mario Montoya Uribe would be formally charged for their alleged connections to false positive cases. The attorney general found that General Torres Escalante was pivotal in the homicide of Daniel Torres Arciniegas and his son Roque Julio Torres, who were falsely presented as FARC members killed in combat in 2007. On March 28, authorities arrested Torres Escalante, which marked the first instance an active-duty general faced criminal charges related to the false positives scandal. He was called to trial in August.

General Montoya faced charges in connection with his alleged involvement in seven false positive cases and awaited arraignment as of mid-October. He was accused of supporting paramilitary groups and actions in operations such as Operation Orion, a 2002 military offensive against guerrillas in Medellin.

On June 1, Commander of the Armed Forces General Mejia and Minister of Defense Villegas publicly honored Sergeant Carlos Mora, a whistleblower in the false positives scandal. Mejia urged the army’s leadership to hold themselves and their units to the highest standards of transparency and to respect human rights and international humanitarian law.

The OHCHR reported it registered seven possible cases of “illegal deprivation of the right to life” alleged to have been committed by security force members from January 1 through July 31. In several cases military officials stated they believed an individual was fighting on behalf of the FARC, while community members claimed the victim was not a combatant. In other cases military officials stated the killings were military mistakes.

Human rights organizations, victims, and government investigators accused some members of government security forces, including enlisted personnel, noncommissioned officers, and officers, of collaborating with or tolerating the activities of organized criminal gangs, which included some former paramilitary members.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, during the year through September 30, authorities arrested and charged 24 government employees, including 23 members of the National Police, with having links to illegal armed groups, mainly the group known as Gulf Clan, previously known as Clan Usuga or the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

On January 17, in Caceres, Antioquia Department, Melisa Espitia Mazo, a pregnant 14-year-old, was killed during a military operation against criminal groups. The army recognized its responsibility in Espitia’s death and apologized for what it stated was a military error. The Antioquia branch of the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation to clarify the circumstances of the death; as of October, there were no arrests or charges related to the case.

Investigations of past killings proceeded, albeit slowly. The Attorney General’s Office reported that during the year through July, it obtained 117 new convictions of security force members in cases involving homicide of a “protected person” (i.e., civilians and others accorded such status under international humanitarian law), 161 new convictions in cases involving aggravated homicide, and 191 new convictions in cases involving “simple homicide” committed by security force members.

On March 16, two former paramilitary members, Dalson Lopez Simanca and Jose Luis Conrado Perez, were sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment for their involvement in the 1995 El Aracatazzo massacre, in the municipality of Chigorodo, in which members of the military, along with members of paramilitary groups, allegedly tortured and killed 18 civilians.

On March 1, the Justice and Peace Tribunal, following an investigation begun in 2014, forwarded evidence to the Attorney General’s Office to initiate investigations against retired generals Oscar Botero Cardona and German Morantes Hernandez for human rights violations.

The Colombia-Europe-United States Coordination Group and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) considered organized criminal bands to be a continuation of former paramilitary groups and in some cases accused elements of the government of collaborating with those groups to commit human rights violations. The government acknowledged that some former paramilitary members were active in organized criminal gangs but noted the gangs lacked the national, unified command structure and explicit ideological agenda that defined past paramilitary groups, including the disbanded United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The NGOs also included killings by these groups in their definition of “unlawful killings” (see section 1.g.).

According to the NGO Landmine Monitor, nonstate actors, particularly the ELN, planted IEDs and land mines (see section 1.g.).

Guerrillas, notably the ELN, committed unlawful killings. Organized criminal groups (some of which included former members of paramilitary groups) committed numerous political and unlawful killings, primarily in areas under dispute with guerrillas or without a strong government presence (see section 1.g.).

The investigation into the killing in 2012 of land restitution leader Manuel Ruiz and his son, Samir, continued under the direction of the Office of the Attorney General’s National Directorate for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. On May 4, Manuel’s and Samir’s bodies were exhumed in coordination with the Justice and Peace Commission, international observers, and local leaders.

Forced disappearances, many of them politically motivated, continued to occur. Although the exact number of people disappeared remained unknown, there were at least 100,000 cases of disappearances during the half-century of conflict, according to the National Search Commission. From January 1 through the end of July, 48 victims of forced disappearances were found alive and 20 were found dead. The government did not provide information on the number of disappearances and forced disappearances registered.

The Attorney General’s Office did not provide information on the number of new convictions in forced disappearance cases involving members of the security forces.

There were developments in efforts to provide reparations to families of disappeared victims of the 1985 military occupation of the Justice Palace in Bogota. In October the Attorney General’s Office returned the remains of William Arturo Almonacid and Cristina del Pilar Guarin, two of the disappeared victims, to their families. The State Council ordered the Ministry of Defense to pay compensation to the family of disappeared victim Gloria Anzola de Lanao, in the amount of nearly COP 1.6 billion ($5,500,000). Lanao’s body remained missing.

As part of a peace process confidence-building measure, the FARC agreed in October 2015 to search for those missing in the conflict. The government agreed to accelerate the identification of anonymous victims killed in security operations and extrajudicial killings, and to turn over their remains to family members. The parties also agreed to create a new search unit for the missing, with support from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ELN, organized criminal gangs, and common criminals continued to kidnap persons, both for ransom and for political reasons (see section 1.g.). On February 4, the ELN kidnapped Jair de Jesus Villar, a military official, at a power plant in Antioquia Department. Villar was released in March, along with civilian Ramon Jose Cabrales, who was kidnapped in September 2015. In April former representative Odin Sanchez offered himself as a hostage to the ELN in exchange for the release of his brother, former Choco governor Patrocino Sanchez, who had been in ELN custody since 2014; however, as of November 7, Sanchez remained in custody. Between May 21 and May 24, the ELN abducted three journalists in Catatumbo. They were released May 27.

The Unified Action Groups for Personal Liberty–military and police entities formed to combat kidnapping and extortion–and other security force elements freed 33 hostages in the first seven months of the year. The government reported that two kidnapping victims died in captivity during the year through July. During that period nine kidnapping victims escaped from their captors, and 70 were released by their captors.

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were reports that police, military personnel, and prison guards sometimes committed abuses. Members of the military and police accused of torture generally were tried in civilian rather than military courts. The NGO Center for Research and Education of the Populace (CINEP) reported that during the year through September 9, security forces were allegedly involved in 13 cases of torture.

From January through July, the Attorney General’s Office charged 25 members of the security forces (23 police and two military members) with torture; 14 of the cases occurred prior to 2016. The Attorney General’s Office reported 12 convictions of members of the armed forces and no convictions of members of illegal armed groups in cases of torture during the year through June.

CINEP reported criminal bands were responsible for eight documented cases of torture through September 9. In nine other documented cases, CINEP was not able to identify the party responsible for the abuses.

According to NGOs working with the prison community, there were numerous allegations of sexual and physical violence committed by guards and other inmates.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

With the exception of new facilities, prisons and detention centers were overcrowded, lacked adequate sanitation, and provided poor health care and other basic facilities. Poor training of officials remained a problem throughout the prison system.

Physical Conditions: The national prisons had a design capacity of 78,055 prisoners but held 121,157 inmates (112,927 men and 8,230 women). Overcrowding existed in men’s as well as women’s prisons. The National Prison Institute (INPEC) operated the national prisons and oversaw the jails.

On August 23, the Constitutional Court ordered the Bogota Metropolitan Police to cease using buses, parks, and other public spaces as temporary detention centers. The court also ordered INPEC to treat inmates and detainees in a dignified manner.

The law prohibits holding pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although this sometimes occurred.

The Superior Judiciary Council stated that the maximum time that a person may remain in judicial detention facilities is three days. The same rules apply to jails located inside police stations. These regulations were often not carried out.

The practice of preventive detention, in combination with inefficiencies in the judicial system, continued to exacerbate overcrowding. In April the Constitutional Court ruled all suspects jailed longer than the legally allowed period without being tried should be released on July 7. In June Congress approved a provisional bill extending the legal time a crime suspect could be held in jail, preventing the release from prison of approximately 20,000 crime suspects.

The Inspector General’s Office continued to investigate allegations that some prison guards routinely used excessive force and treated inmates brutally. Through September it conducted 125 investigations, 71 of which concluded and 54 of which remained in the investigation phase.

Many prisoners continued to face difficulties receiving adequate medical care. Nutrition and water quality were deficient and contributed to the overall poor health of many inmates. Inmates claimed authorities routinely rationed water in many facilities. In May, INPEC and Justice Minister Jorge Londono declared an emergency in the country’s prisons due to the deterioration of health-care conditions. The ministry explained that the state of emergency would enable the implementation of an action plan to address deficiencies in health care for prisoners, to include the creation of health brigades and the prompt execution of maintenance projects related to health-care provision.

INPEC’s physical structures were in generally poor repair. The Inspector General’s Office noted some facilities had poor ventilation and overtaxed sanitary systems. Prisoners in some high-altitude facilities complained of inadequate blankets and clothing, while prisoners in tropical facilities complained that overcrowding and insufficient ventilation contributed to high temperatures in prison cells. Some prisoners slept on floors without mattresses, while others shared cots in overcrowded cells.

Administration: INPEC used a centrally managed electronic database with regular updates, and each prison also had its own local database. Foreign diplomatic observers, however, found that the information in both systems often was not well coordinated, resulting in delays in locating foreign detainees, especially dual nationals who had both Colombian and foreign citizenships.

Prisoners generally could submit complaints to judicial authorities, request investigations of inhuman conditions, and request that third parties from local NGOs or government entities, such as the Ombudsman’s Office, represent them in legal matters and aid them in seeking an investigation of prison conditions. Authorities investigated prisoner complaints of inhuman conditions, including complaints of prison guards soliciting bribes from inmates, but some prisoners asserted the investigations were slow and the results were not accessible to the public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups that exercised a high degree of independence. INPEC required a three-day notice before granting consular access. Some NGOs complained that authorities, without adequate explanation, denied them access to visit prisoners.

Improvements: INPEC launched a new 2016 Anticorruption and Citizen Services Plan with the goal of creating a culture of legality and transparency and promoting new institutional practices, such as the concept of shared responsibility and self-regulation among public servants, citizens, and prison stakeholder groups. INPEC continued a campaign to raise awareness and strengthen a culture of human rights within the institution. Through August 12, a total of 221 prison officials received human rights training. The government also continued a pilot program with local universities and other organizations to provide distance learning for inmates. More than 1,000 inmates participated in the program through July.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were allegations that authorities detained citizens arbitrarily. CINEP reported 176 cases of arbitrary detention committed by state security forces during the year through September 9 (six committed by the attorney general’s Corps of Technical Investigators (CTI), 22 by the armed forces, and 148 by police).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Colombian National Police (CNP) is responsible for internal law enforcement and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense. The Migration Directorate, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is the immigration authority. The CNP shares law enforcement investigatory duties with the CTI. In addition to its responsibility to defend the country against external threats, the army shares limited responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. For example, military units sometimes provided logistical support and security for criminal investigators to collect evidence in high-conflict or remote areas. The government continued to expand education and training of the armed forces in human rights and international humanitarian law.

By law the Attorney General’s Office is the main entity responsible for investigating allegations of human rights abuses by security forces. Of these alleged abuses, extrajudicial killings were the highest profile and most controversial. The CTI, which consists of civilian authorities under the Attorney General’s Office, typically investigated deaths resulting from action by security forces when there were allegations of foul play. In some cases the first responders were CNP members, who then investigated the death. Some NGOs complained that military investigators, not members of the Attorney General’s Office, were sometimes the first responders in cases of deaths resulting from actions of security forces and might make decisions about possible foul play.

The government made improvements in investigating and trying abuses, but NGO claims continued of impunity for security force members. This was due in some cases to obstruction of justice, opacity in the process by which cases are investigated and prosecuted in the military justice system, and a lack of resources for investigations. Inadequate protection of witnesses and investigators, delay tactics by defense attorneys, the judiciary’s failure to exert appropriate controls over dockets and case progress, and inadequate coordination among government entities that sometimes allowed statutes of limitations to expire, resulting in a defendant’s release from jail before trial were also significant obstacles.

The military functions under both the old inquisitorial and a newer accusatory system. The military had not trained its criminal justice actors to operate under the accusatory system, which they were to begin to implement during the year. The military also had not developed an interinstitutional strategy for the recruiting, hiring, or training investigators, crime scene technicians, or forensic specialists, which is required under the accusatory system. As such, the military justice system did not exercise criminal investigative authority; all new criminal investigations duties are conducted by CNP judicial police investigators.

The Attorney General’s Office continued investigations into numerous generals and field-grade officers for involvement in alleged false positive cases and other abuses (see section 1.a.).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities must bring detained persons before a judge within 36 hours to determine the validity of the detention, bring formal charges within 30 days, and start a trial within 90 days of the initial detention. Bail is generally available except for serious accusations, such as murder, rebellion, or narcotics trafficking. Public defenders contracted by the Office of the Ombudsman assisted indigent defendants. Detainees received prompt access to legal counsel and family members as provided for by law. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, this requirement was not always respected. NGOs characterized some arrests as arbitrary detention: arrests allegedly based on tips from informants about persons linked to guerrilla activities, detentions by members of the security forces without a judicial order, detentions based on administrative authority, detentions during military operations or at roadblocks, large-scale detentions, and detentions of persons while they were “exercising their fundamental rights.”

Pretrial Detention: The judicial process moved slowly, and the civilian judicial system suffered from a significant backlog of cases, which led to large numbers of pretrial detainees. The failure of many local military commanders and jail supervisors to keep mandatory detention records or follow notification procedures made accounting for all detainees difficult. No information was available on the percent of detainees in pretrial detention or the average length of time detainees spent in pretrial detention. In some cases detainees were released without a trial because they already served more than one-third of the maximum sentence that corresponded to their charges.

Civil society groups complained that authorities subjected some community leaders to extended pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Article 30 of the constitution guarantees habeas corpus review for all detainees. Such reviews must be completed within 36 hours. In the case of an illegal deprivation of freedom or illegal detention, Article 90 of the constitution provides for the government to compensate the victim.

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. Much of the judicial system was overburdened and inefficient, and subornation and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses hindered judicial functioning. The Attorney General’s Office had a witness protection program for criminal cases, but some of those who did not enter the program allegedly remained vulnerable to intimidation, and many refused to testify.

The military justice system may investigate and prosecute active-duty military and police personnel for crimes “related to acts of military service.” According to the Ministry of Defense, human rights abuses are not considered acts related to military service. The military penal code specifically excludes civilians from military jurisdiction, and civilian courts must try retired military and police personnel, but military courts are responsible for service-related acts committed prior to retirement.

According to domestic NGOs, more than 10 initiatives for military justice reform were presented in the previous five years, but few were enacted, due to removal from the legislative process because of procedural problems or rejection by the Constitutional Court. In 2015 the government dropped proposed jurisdictional adjustments from its proposed military justice reform legislation to address concerns that the legislation could lead to some human rights cases being heard by military courts. Despite explicit declarations from officials to the contrary, some NGOs remained concerned that military justice reform efforts may allow certain human rights cases to fall within the military justice system’s jurisdiction.

According to the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that settles jurisdictional questions between the military and civilian justice systems, from January 1 to July, authorities assigned to the civilian justice system 61 of 74 homicide cases reviewed for jurisdiction. During the same period, they assigned four cases to the military justice system. The magistrates abstained from ruling on the proper jurisdiction in the remaining nine cases, in which they determined that they either did not have enough information to rule or that a conflict of interest with the case prevented them from ruling.

The military penal code denies commanders the power to impose military justice discipline on, and extends legal protection to, service members who refuse to obey orders to commit human rights abuses. The army also has discretionary authority to dismiss personnel implicated in human rights abuses.

The Inspector General’s Office investigates allegations of misconduct by public employees, including members of government security forces. In addition to conducting its own investigations, the Inspector General’s Office referred all cases of human rights violations it received to the attorney general’s Human Rights Unit for separate criminal proceedings. As of July 31, the Inspector General’s Office opened 21 disciplinary processes against members of the armed forces and police for human rights offenses, resulting in 12 preliminary investigations and nine disciplinary investigations, to which 59 members of the army and one member of the National Police were linked. Additionally, the Office of Delegated Disciplinary Inspector General for the Armed Forces reported that through August, it initiated 13 disciplinary investigations for alleged offenses. Thirty-four individuals were linked to these cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the government began implementing an accusatory system of justice in 2008, the use of delay tactics by defense lawyers to slow or impede proceedings, prosecutors’ heavy caseloads, and other factors diminished the anticipated increased efficiencies and other benefits of adopting the adversarial model. Under the existing criminal procedure code, the prosecutor presents an accusation and evidence before an impartial judge at an oral, public trial. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and has the right to confront the trial evidence and witnesses against him, present his own evidence, and communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense). Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and may access government-held evidence during the trial stage. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal their proceedings. Although defendants have the right to an interpreter, the court system lacked interpreters for less-commonly encountered languages. Crimes committed before 2008 are processed under the prior written inquisitorial system in which the prosecutor is an investigating magistrate who investigates, determines evidence, and makes a finding of guilt or innocence. In those cases the trial consists of the presentation of evidence and finding of guilt or innocence to a judge for ratification or rejection.

In the military justice system, military judges preside over courts-martial. Counsel may represent the accused and call witnesses, but most fact-finding takes place during the investigative stage. Military trial judges issue rulings within eight days of a court-martial hearing. Representatives of the civilian Inspector General’s Office are required to be present at courts-martial.

Criminal procedure within the military justice system includes elements of the inquisitorial and accusatory systems. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to timely consultation with counsel. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government declared that it did not hold political prisoners. Authorities did hold some members of human rights advocacy groups on charges of conspiracy, rebellion, or terrorism, which the groups described as government harassment tactics against human rights advocates. The government did not provide information on the number of detainees in prisons, jails, or under house arrest who were accused or convicted of rebellion or aiding and abetting the insurgency. The government provided the ICRC regular access to these prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may sue a government agent or entity in the Administrative Court of Litigation for damages resulting from a human rights violation. Although critics complained of delays in the process, the court generally was considered impartial and effective. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The 2011 Victims’ and Land Restitution Law (Victims’ Law) continues to provide a legal basis for assistance and reparations to persons, including victims of the government, but the government admitted that the pace of restitution was slow. The Administrative Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) handles problems related to victims, poverty, consolidation, historical memory, and protection of children and adolescents. The Victims’ Unit of the DPS has the governmental lead on attention to victims. From 2011 through August 1, 2016, a total of 7,844,527 victims registered with the Victims’ Unit. Of these, 6,883,513 were victims of forced displacement, with 17,976 registered during the year through August 1. The government did not provide information on the number of those registered who received some form of assistance. There were 340 registered cases of collective reparations. Both individual and collective reparations are mandated by the Victims’ Law, however, the original budget for implementation of the law contemplated only 4.5 million victims. The Land Restitution Unit, a semiautonomous entity in the Ministry of Agriculture, is responsible for returning land to displaced victims of conflict. As of August 19, the government received 93,686 land restitution claims, of which more than 50,903 claims fell within the government’s target areas for restitution and went into active review. The government reported as of the same date, courts handed down 1,948 decisions on land restitution, corresponding to affirmative decisions in 3,980 cases with 23,085 beneficiaries. The Inspector General’s Office intervened to support land claimants in 679 cases through July, providing support in the administrative, judicial, and post-ruling phases in order to ensure the effective implementation of victims’ right to integral reparation.

Through July the Land Restitution Unit approved three requests for collective restitution of ethnic territories or individual restitution claims, corresponding to 130,972 acres benefitting 2,473 families and 12,365 persons. Of the 93,686 individual cases received through July, 2,888 belonged to individuals self-identified as Afro-Colombian, 1,624 to individuals self-identified as indigenous, and 638 to individuals self-identified as pertaining to other ethnic groups.

The law prohibits such actions, but there were allegations that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government authorities generally need a judicial order to intercept mail or e-mail, or monitor telephone conversations, including in prisons. Government intelligence agencies investigating terrorist organizations sometimes monitored telephone conversations without judicial authorization, but evidence obtained in such a manner may not be used in court.

During the year through July, the Attorney General’s Office initiated three new criminal investigations of government agents for illegal monitoring activities. During the year through September, the Inspector General’s Office reported it had not initiated any disciplinary investigations of public servants accused of illegal monitoring activities.

In February the Inspector General’s Office opened an investigation into journalist Vicky Davila’s accusations that police had been monitoring her communications, including trailing and wiretapping her and her reporting team, since 2014.

An investigation continued into abuses by the Army Intelligence Unit, known by its code name “Andromeda.” Semana magazine alleged that the unit illegally wiretapped personal telephones of peace negotiators belonging to both the government and FARC negotiating teams. General Mauricio Forero, former head of the military’s intelligence center, left the army on April 1 for alleged connections to Andromeda. As of October he had not been charged or arrested in connection with these allegations.

On March 10, the Attorney General’s Office pressed charges against David Parra Amin, a police sergeant assigned to the Section of Criminal Investigations in Bogota, for his alleged role as the liaison between Andres Sepulveda, convicted in 2015 for tapping into communications of peace negotiating teams and government officials, and the Bogota Metropolitan Police.

On August 29, attorneys for Martha Ines Leal, former director of operations of the dismantled Administrative Department of Security (DAS); Jorge Lagos, former DAS intelligence director; and Fernando Tabares, former DAS counterintelligence director, submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights allegations that the Attorney General’s Office placed undue pressure on them in order to coerce them into testifying in the DAS illegal surveillance case. The DAS allegedly engaged in illegal surveillance of high court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and activists, opposition leaders, and the vice presidency.

In its annual report published in March, the OHCHR registered 80 complaints of illegal surveillance of human rights defenders and social activists in 2015. While statistics for 2016 were unavailable as of October, NGOs continued to accuse domestic intelligence or security entities of spying on lawyers and human rights defenders, threatening them, and breaking into their homes or offices to steal information.

The government continued to use voluntary civilian informants to identify terrorists, report terrorist activities, and gather information on criminal gangs. Some national and international human rights groups criticized this practice as subject to abuse and a threat to privacy and other civil liberties. The government maintained that the practice was in accordance with the “principle of solidarity” outlined in the constitution and that the Comptroller General’s Office strictly regulated payments to such informants.

Following the rejection of the initial accord between the government and the FARC in an October 2 plebiscite, the government, leaders of the plebiscite “No” campaign, and the FARC engaged in a national dialogue that led to a revised accord announced November 12. The government and the FARC signed the revised peace accord November 24, and the congress ratified the agreement November 30. President Santos and the FARC leadership announced December 1 was “D-Day,” triggering a 180-day deadline for the FARC to begin demobilization and disarmament in UN-monitored concentration zones throughout Colombia. A UN mission was monitoring, as of December 15, the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities the parties established August 29. The country’s internal armed conflict with the ELN, organized criminal groups, and narcotics traffickers continued. On May 30, the government announced an agenda for formal peace negotiations with the ELN. They had not yet begun as of the end of the year.

During the year reports of human rights abuses occurred in the context of the conflict and narcotics trafficking.

Guerrilla group members continued to demobilize on an individual basis. In the first eight months of the year, according to the Ministry of Defense, 559 members of guerrilla groups demobilized, reflecting a 32 percent reduction in FARC demobilizations but a 52 percent increase in ELN demobilizations over the same period in 2015 (375 from the FARC, 179 from the ELN, and five from other dissident groups). The Organization of American States verified all stages of demobilization and reintegration into society of former combatants from the guerrilla and former paramilitary groups.

Through August 22, the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, in conjunction with the ICRC, conducted 16 human rights training sessions for 980 ministry personnel. In September the International Defense Institute for Legal Studies conducted training for 25 military and police officials, as well as nonmilitary personnel, with the objective of strengthening the working relationships between unit leaders and their operational legal advisers.

Implementation of the 2005 Justice and Peace Law (JPL) continued. The Justice and Peace Unit in the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for the required investigation and prosecution of demobilized persons, and an interagency commission on justice and peace coordinates implementation. Participants in the justice and peace process may receive reduced sentences of five to eight years in prison if they comply with the terms of the JPL. Information provided in voluntary confessions as part of the JPL also initiated investigations of politicians, military members, major agricultural producers, and government officials’ past ties to paramilitary forces. Some of the investigations resulted in prosecutions and convictions.

As of June 2015, the government reported a total of 5,024 former paramilitary and guerrilla defendants participated in confession hearings. During these sessions the defendants confessed to 57,207 crimes, and information was obtained that resulted in the exhumation of 978 victims. As of the same date, 813 defendants were formally charged in presentations before the courts by the Office of the Attorney General’s Justice and Peace Unit. During 2015 through June, 1,106 defendants reached their eight-year maximum incarceration dates under the agreed arrangement, and authorities released 39 for reintegration into society. The Justice and Peace Unit moved to expel from the JPL process those defendants who do not fully comply by confessing crimes, turning over illegally acquired assets, and ceasing their criminal activity. Updated information for 2016 was not available by November.

Application of the JPL continued to face many challenges. Thousands of former paramilitary members remained in legal limbo due to resource and capacity constraints at the Attorney General’s Office. There was also little land or money confiscated from former paramilitary leaders to be used for required victim reparations.

The creation of a truth-seeking mechanism in Law 1424 of 2010 (the Legal Status for Former Combatants Law) requires demobilized paramilitary fighters who did not commit crimes against humanity to provide testimony on the actions and structures of illegal armed groups to the Center for Historical Memory as a requirement for being granted legal status and suspended sentences for lesser crimes. The law also provides for establishing and institutionalizing formal archives, creating a Center for Historical Memory for collecting oral testimony and material documentation concerning violations of international human rights norms and law, and constructing the National Museum of Memory in consultation with victims. In a report published in 2013, the Center for Historical Memory documented the killing of at least 220,000 citizens in the context of the armed conflict from 1958 to 2012, 80 percent of whom were unarmed civilians.

Civil society groups also accused all sides of the armed conflict of having engaged in activities that targeted noncombatant civilians, including women and children.

Killings: Security forces were implicated in alleged unlawful killings. CINEP reported there were 19 such killings during the year through September 9 (eight committed by police, five by the army, one by the navy, and five by INPEC).

Guerrilla groups and criminal organizations were also implicated in unlawful killings during the year, but precise numbers were not provided by the government. On August 26, media reported that ELN members in Barbacoas, Narino, killed Camilo Roberto Taicus Bisbucus, an indigenous member of the Awa community.

According to the human rights advocacy NGO Minga, no progress had been made in the 2008 Soacha extrajudicial killings scandal, and all five cases remained in the initial investigation stage at the Attorney General’s Office. The cases of three more victims were in the evidentiary stage, that of another victim was pending plea bargain agreements with four soldiers who accepted their responsibility in the crimes, and the cases of five additional victims were in final allegation hearings. As of August 29, there were no convictions.

Abductions: Criminal and illegal armed elements engaged in abductions. According to the NGO Fundacion Pais Libre, between January 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, criminals and illegal armed groups kidnapped 320 persons, including 179 for extortion. Pais Libre also reported that authorities rescued 91 kidnapping victims; captors released 179, 20 were presumed to remain in captivity, three were released due to pressure by authorities, 22 escaped, and five died in captivity. ELN guerrillas continued to take hostages for ransom and for political reasons. The government reported that the ELN kidnapped 12 persons during the first seven months of the year. As of November 7, at least one civilian remained in ELN captivity.

The ICRC reported that from January 1 through November 16, it participated in 10 operations to release persons in the hands of nonstate actors, eight held by the ELN, and two held by the FARC.

Through July 21, the Attorney General’s Office reported one conviction for abductions committed by members of the FARC and no convictions for abductions committed by members of the ELN.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The Presidential Directorate for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines (DAICMA) reported that antipersonnel mines and IEDs, deployed primarily by the FARC and the ELN, caused 11 deaths and 63 injuries from January 1 through the end of October, including four minors. Members of the Colombian military suffered the majority of injuries. During the year the Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Agency found that the FARC’s use of IEDs fell below the number of incidents attributed to the ELN. CERAC reported that as of July 19, 228 days had passed since the last land mine or unexploded ordinance incident involving the FARC.

The army’s humanitarian demining brigade cleared more than 18 acres, destroyed 49 IEDs, and destroyed two unexploded munitions through October 2016. Halo Trust continued to engage in demining activities, and from January 1 through July 28 cleared more than 44 acres, destroyed 176 land mines, and destroyed five unexploded munitions. In a pilot project in Santa Helena, where Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) performed nontechnical studies and the army’s brigade performed land clearance, the organizations cleared more than five acres, destroyed 19 land mines, and destroyed one unexploded munition. In addition the four humanitarian demining NGOs accredited to operate in the country during the year began work in Vista Hermosa, Meta Department.

More broadly, during the year the government strengthened the oversight role of its civilian-led demining authority, DAICMA, and showcased a five-year strategy to become mine-free at the Forum of Experts in May. The plan includes targeting high-risk municipalities, establishing immediate action areas, and developing interagency rapid response teams to address the mine removal process. The army began establishing a 5,000-person Humanitarian Demining Brigade to deepen and focus military capacity for demining. In addition four NGOs supported humanitarian demining: Halo Trust, Handicap International, NPA, and the Colombian Campaign Against Mines.

There were numerous reports that ELN guerrillas mistreated civilians and prisoners, including injured and sick persons.

International organizations reported that systemic sexual violence against women and girls by some armed actors persisted (see section 6, Women). Human rights NGOs Sisma Mujer, Amnesty International, and others reported that sexual violence remained one of the main tools used by illegal armed groups to instill fear and force displacement. The government continued to employ an interagency investigative unit in Bogota, the Elite Sexual Assault Investigative Unit (GEDES), which was dedicated to the investigation of sexual assault cases (see section 6, Women).

Child Soldiers: The ELN routinely engaged in forced recruitment of persons under age 18. According to the United Nations, illegal armed groups killed or threatened children with death on suspicion of being informants for the military. The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) estimated the average age of recruitment was 12 years. Having admitted to a practice of recruiting minors in the context of the peace talks, the FARC announced February 9 that it would stop recruiting all minors under the age of 18. On May 15, the government and the FARC issued a joint communique announcing the FARC would release all children under age 15 within its ranks and develop a process for the release of all minors under 18. On September 10, media reported the FARC released 13 minors to the ICRC.

The ICBF stated that it was impossible to know how many FARC child soldiers existed but reported that more than 6,027 children were demobilized from illegal armed groups between 1999 and July 2016. Of the children demobilized through July, 10 percent were of indigenous descent, and 7 percent were Afro-Colombian. During the year through July, 451 children were demobilized. The FARC and other illegal armed groups reportedly used children as combatants and recruiters of other children to act as spies, gather intelligence, cultivate narcotics, and provide logistical support. The children were also reportedly exploited in sex trafficking.

The ICBF provided demobilized children extensive assistance, including education, health care, and psychological support. The ICBF continued its educational outreach program, which included a component on prevention of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups. The program maintained teen and preteen clubs and other avenues for educational outreach in all departments of the country.

The Interagency Committee for the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Children by Illegal Armed Groups continued activities to prevent recruitment, use, and sexual violence against children. The committee supported cases in the Attorney General’s Office and constructed a communication strategy with a focus on the rights of children and guidelines for the prevention of sexual violence. The committee also formed immediate action teams in several departments. The Attorney General’s Office prioritized key cases for processing under the JPL. Cases in which former paramilitary forces were accused of recruiting child soldiers were included in the prioritized cases.

Under the criminal code, the penalty for leaders of armed groups who use child soldiers is six to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 600 to 1,000 times the minimum wage.

International organizations continued to identify recruitment of indigenous youth by illegal armed groups as a serious concern.

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

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Guerrilla groups and organized criminal groups prevented or limited the delivery of food and medicines to towns and regions in contested drug-trafficking corridors, including efforts of international relief and humanitarian organizations. These actions strained local economies and increased forced displacement. The ELN bombed the Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline in Boyaca Department on February 9 and damaged infrastructure, including oil pipelines and energy transmission towers, on February 15. Oil spills resulting from these attacks on oil pipelines also resulted in substantial environmental damage, including harming fish and wildlife, and contaminating rivers and aqueducts carrying potable water. The ELN also held an armed strike in which they threatened anyone who went to work or left their homes in Arauca, Norte de Santander, Casanare, Boyaca, Choco, Cauca, and Bajo Cauca regions on February 14-17, and another in Arauca, Boyaca, Casanare, Santander, Norte de Santander, and Vichada Departments in September. ELN attacks on security forces, energy infrastructure, and civilians continued sporadically through May and June.

The Gulf Clan held an armed strike March 31 in Antioquia, Choco, Sucre, Cordoba, and Cesar Departments that paralyzed transportation and commerce, forced school closures, and led to violence, including the deaths of three police members and one army official.

Guerrillas routinely used civilians to shield combatant forces and forcibly displaced peasants to clear key drug and weapon transit routes in strategic zones. Guerrillas also imposed de facto blockades of communities in regions where they had significant influence. For example, international organizations reported many incidents in which illegal armed groups forcibly recruited indigenous persons or forced them to collaborate, restricted their freedom of movement, and blockaded their communities. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues received reports of rape, forced recruitment, use of minors as informants, and other abuses in the context of conflict.

Organized criminal gangs, as well as illegal armed groups, such as ELN guerrillas, forcibly entered private homes, monitored private communications, and engaged in forced displacement and conscription. Organized criminal groups also continued to displace civilians residing along key drug and weapon transit corridors (see section 2.d.).

There were reports that the FARC, the ELN, and other armed actors engaged in the extraction of, and cross-border trade in, conflict minerals, which contributed to abuses by providing funding for weapons and by prompting rebels to displace residents forcibly in order to clear mining areas.

As a confidence-building measure for the peace process, the FARC announced on July 4 an immediate suspension of the levying of extortion “taxes” on civilians engaged in legal economic activity.

Costa Rica

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. The Inspection Tribunal of the Judicial Branch acquitted nine Judicial Investigative Organization (OIJ) officers of responsibility for the death of an OIJ officer who died during an unauthorized training exercise in May 2015.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The constitution prohibits such practices. The Ombudsman’s Office received 107 complaints of police abuse, arbitrary detention, torture, and other inhuman or degrading treatment during the first six months of the year. Abuse by prison police was a recurring complaint, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, but very few of the accusers followed through and registered their complaints with the authorities. The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished police responsible for confirmed cases of abuse.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The prison population exceeded the designed capacity of prisons by 41 percent as of June. Prison overcrowding made security and control difficult and contributed to health problems. Poor conditions included inadequate space for resting, deteriorated mattresses on the floor, and inadequate access to health services. Illegal narcotics were readily available in the prisons, and drug abuse was common. The Ombudsman’s Office recorded 76 complaints of deficient conditions in prisons, including the migrant detention centers, during the first six months of the year. The Ministry of Justice was responsible for the prison system, while the Immigration Office ran the facility holding illegal migrants until they were deported or regularized their immigration status.

As of June 30, the San Sebastian, Gerardo Rodriguez, La Reforma, San Rafael, San Carlos, Pococi, Puntarenas, Liberia, Perez Zeledon, Cartago, and Centro Adulto Joven (at La Reforma) prisons remained overcrowded, with the population in pretrial detention experiencing the most overcrowding. Authorities held male pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners on occasion. In San Sebastian, where most prisoners in pretrial detention were held, 1,281 prisoners lived in unsanitary conditions in a facility with a planned capacity of 668. On April 5, the Ministry of Justice freed 380 prisoners from the Gerardo Rodriguez prison and included them in a prison alternative program after a judge on March 17 ordered the ministry to relocate prisoners to reduce overcrowding. On July 20, also to reduce overcrowding, a judge issued a resolution ordering authorities to close the San Sebastian prison over a period of 18 months. On August 4, to reduce overcrowding a judge ordered authorities either to transfer 200 prisoners from La Reforma prison to other prisons or to include them in an alternative program where they are required to spend only some nights in prison.

The detention center for undocumented migrants in Hatillo, a suburb of San Jose, was poorly ventilated and overcrowded at times, and it had no recreation area. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government ombudsman monitored detention conditions, with UNHCR visiting monthly and the ombudsman preparing annual reports.

Security and administrative staffing were insufficient to care for the needs of prisoners, including ensuring their personal safety. The Ministry of Justice’s Social Adaptation Division reported 17 deaths in closed regime centers from January to April. Four of these deaths were homicides and two were suicides; the remainder were from natural causes.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. If complaints were not processed, prisoners could submit them to the Ombudsman’s Office, which investigated all complaints at an administrative level. The Ombudsman’s Office, through the national prevention mechanism against torture, periodically inspected all detention centers.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by international and local human rights observers, including representatives from the Ombudsman’s Office. Human rights observers could speak to prisoners and prison employees in confidence and without the presence of prison staff or other third parties.

Improvements: On April 29, the Ministry of Justice inaugurated a new prison module at the Pococi prison, a Quonset-type steel-framed building with tin roofing and siding; however, prisoners complained of high temperature conditions in the facility. In August the Ministry of Justice reported maintenance and minor repairs in all of the country’s prison centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the 13 agencies that have law enforcement components, including the judicial branch’s Judicial Investigative Organization. The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for the uniformed police force, drug control police, border police, air wing, and coast guard. The Immigration Office of the Ministry of Interior is responsible for the immigration police. The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation supervises the traffic police, the Ministry of Environment supervises park police, and the Ministry of Justice manages the penitentiary police. Several municipalities manage municipal police forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. The number of licensed private security services was significantly greater than the number of police (27,625 agents compared to 13,459 uniformed police officers). There were no reports of impunity involving the private security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires issuance of judicial warrants before making arrests, except where probable cause is evident to the arresting officer. The law entitles a detainee to a judicial determination of the legality of detention during arraignment before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. The law provides for the right to post bail and prompt access to an attorney and family members. Authorities generally observed these rights. Indigent persons have access to a public attorney at government expense. Those without sufficient personal funds are also able to use the services of a public defender. With judicial authorization, authorities may hold a suspect incommunicado for 48 hours after arrest or, under special circumstances, for up to 10 days. Special circumstances include cases in which pretrial detention previously was ordered and there is reason to believe a suspect may reach an agreement with accomplices or may obstruct the investigation. Suspects were allowed access to attorneys immediately before submitting statements before a judge. Authorities promptly informed suspects of any offenses under investigation. Habeas corpus provides legal protection for citizens against threats from police; it also requires judges to give a clear explanation of the legal basis for detention of and evidence against a suspect.

Pretrial Detention: A criminal court may hold suspects in pretrial detention for up to one year, and the court of appeals may extend this period to two years in especially complex cases. The law requires a court review every three months of cases of suspects in pretrial detention to determine the appropriateness of continued detention. If a judge declares a case is related to organized crime, special procedural rules require that the period of pretrial detention not exceed 24 months (although the court of appeals may grant one extension not to exceed an additional 12 months). Authorities frequently used pretrial detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of March 31, persons in pretrial detention constituted approximately 18 percent of the prison population. In some cases delays were due to pending criminal investigations and lengthy legal procedures. In other cases the delays were a result of court backlogs.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. The legal system faced many challenges, including significant delays in the adjudication of criminal cases and civil disputes and a growing workload.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

All defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, and to trial without undue delay. All trials, except those that include juvenile defendants, are public. Trials that involve victims or witnesses who are minors are closed during the portion of the trial in which the minor is called to testify. Defendants have the right to be present during trial and communicate with an attorney of choice in a timely manner, or to have one provided at public expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law provides detainees and attorneys access to government-held evidence, and during the trial defendants can confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants, if convicted, have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants, citizens and noncitizens alike. Fast-track courts, which prosecute cases when suspects are arrested on the spot for alleged transgressions, provide the same protections and rights as other courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

An independent and impartial judiciary presides over lawsuits in civil matters, including human rights violations. Administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs are available to the public. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

Cuba

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 confirmed reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year.

There were no reports of politically motivated long-term disappearances during the year, although there were several reports of detained activists whose whereabouts were temporarily unknown because the government did not register these detentions. On August 1, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an independent human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported human rights activist Carlos Manuel Figueroa could not be located. The NGO later reported that he was detained for five days and then placed under house arrest until August 13 for filming the detentions of members of the independent civil society group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White).

The law prohibits abusive treatment of detainees and prisoners. There were reports, however, that members of the security forces intimidated and physically assaulted human rights and prodemocracy advocates, dissidents, and other detainees and prisoners during detention and imprisonment, and that they did so with impunity. Some detainees and prisoners endured physical abuse, sometimes by other inmates, with the acquiescence of guards.

There were reports of police assaulting detainees or being complicit in public harassment of and physical assaults on peaceful demonstrators (see section 2.b.).

On January 10, activists Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Gonzalez reported state security officers injected them with an unknown substance when they participated in a public march calling for the release of political prisoners. Medical evaluations in Miami produced inconclusive results about the nature of the substance.

On March 27, police officers allegedly beat two members of the Damas de Blanco with cables, and one Dama suffered an arm sprain. Members of the Damas de Blanco reported receiving head injuries, bites, bruises, and other injuries during government-sponsored counter protests and detentions.

On July 20, Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, president of the United Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU), complained of a beating by police officers that caused injuries to his ribs, abdomen, and tongue when he tried to visit a police station to check on a fellow FANTU activist.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions continued to be harsh. Prisons were overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were deficient. There were reports of prison officials assaulting prisoners.

Physical Conditions: The government provided no information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, which included not only prisons but also work camps and other kinds of detention facilities.

Prison and detention cells reportedly lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the government provided basic food and some medical care, many prisoners relied on family for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was often unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded. Prisoners often slept on concrete bunks without a mattress, with some reports of more than one person sharing a narrow bunk. Where available, mattresses were thin and often infested with vermin and insects. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care.

Prisoners, family members, and NGOs reported inadequate health care, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners also reported outbreaks of dengue, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. There were reports of prison deaths from heart attacks, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.

Political prisoners and the general prison population were held in similar conditions. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms were denied certain privileges, such as access to prison libraries and standard reductions in the severity of their sentence (for example, being transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison). Political prisoners also reported that fellow inmates, who they believed were acting on orders of prison authorities, threatened or harassed them.

Prisoners reported that solitary confinement was a common punishment for misconduct and that some prisoners were isolated for months at a time.

The government subjected prisoners who criticized the government or engaged in hunger strikes and other forms of protest to extended solitary confinement, assaults, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.

Administration: There was no publicly available information about prison administration or recordkeeping.

A legal department within the Attorney General’s Office is empowered to investigate allegations of abuse in the prison system. The results of these investigations were not publicly accessible. By law prisoners and detainees may seek redress regarding prison conditions and procedural violations, such as continued incarceration after a prison sentence has expired. Prisoners reported that government officials refused to allow or accept complaints, or failed to respond to complaints.

Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although some political prisoners’ relatives reported that prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits. Some prisoners were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and family members.

The Cuban Council of Churches, the largest Protestant religious organization, reported that it organized weekly chaplain services for all prisons in the country. There were isolated reports that prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to access religious services, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits by religious groups to a maximum of two or three times per year.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by independent international or domestic human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Although the government pledged in previous years to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, no visit occurred during the year. The government allowed foreign journalists to tour specific prisons, but others have been off-limits since 2013.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions continued to be a common government method for controlling independent public expression and political activity. By law police have wide discretion to stop and question citizens, request identification, and carry out arrests and searches. Police used laws against public disorder, contempt, lack of respect, aggression, and failing to pay minimal or arbitrary fines as ways to detain civil society activists. Police officials routinely conducted short-term detentions, at times assaulting detainees. The law provides that police officials furnish suspects a signed “act of detention,” noting the basis, date, and location of any detention in a police facility and a registry of personal items seized during a police search, but this law was not always followed. Arbitrary stops and searches were most common in urban areas and at government-controlled checkpoints at the entrances to provinces and municipalities.

Police and security officials continued to use short-term and sometimes violent detentions to prevent independent political activity or free assembly. Such detentions generally lasted from several hours to several days. The CCDHRN counted 9,940 detentions through the end of the year, compared with 8,616 in 2015. Members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign, which included Damas de Blanco, reported weekly detentions of members to prevent demonstrations. The largest opposition group, Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), also reported an increase in short-term detentions. Long-term imprisonment of peaceful government critics, while rare, sometimes occurred. In December UNPACU published a list of 46 political prisoners throughout the country serving more than one month in prison for reported peaceful protests or assemblies.

The law allows a maximum four-year preventive detention of individuals not charged with an actual crime, with a subjective determination of “potential dangerousness,” defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes, demonstrated by conduct in manifest contradiction of socialist norms.” Mostly used as a tool to control “antisocial” behaviors, such as substance abuse or prostitution, authorities also used such detention to silence peaceful political opponents. On March 14, authorities charged UNPACU activist Luis Bello Gonzalez with precriminal social dangerousness and sentenced him to three years in prison. UNPACU leaders alleged authorities arrested and charged Gonzalez because of his regular participation in protests alongside other UNPACU members.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior exercises control over police, internal security forces, and the prison system. The ministry’s National Revolutionary Police is the primary law enforcement organization. Specialized units of the ministry’s state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity. The police supported state security agents by carrying out house searches, arresting persons of interest to the ministry, and providing interrogation facilities.

The police routinely violated procedural laws with impunity and at times failed or refused to provide citizens with legally required documentation, particularly during arbitrary detentions and searches. Security force members also committed civil rights and human rights abuses with impunity.

Although the law on criminal procedure prohibits the use of coercion during investigative interrogations, police and security forces at times relied on aggressive and physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. Detainees reported that officers intimidated them with threats of long-term detention, loss of child custody rights, denial of permission to depart the country, and other punishments.

There were no official mechanisms readily available to investigate government abuses.

Undercover police and Ministry of Interior agents were often present and directed activities to disrupt efforts at peaceful assembly (see section 2.b.).

According to independent reports, state-orchestrated counter protests directed against independent civil society groups and individuals, including the Damas de Blanco and other organizations, were organized to prevent meetings or to shame participants publicly (see section 2.a.). The Damas de Blanco and other members of the #TodosMarchamos campaign experienced weekly government-sponsored counter protests at their usual gathering place in Havana from January until March, when the government shut down the demonstrations altogether. Government-sponsored counter protests continued for several months outside of the Damas de Blanco headquarters to prevent large demonstrations by activists.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under criminal procedures, police have 24 hours after an arrest to present a criminal complaint to an investigative police official. The investigative police have 72 hours to investigate and prepare a report for the prosecutor, who in turn has 72 hours to recommend to the appropriate court whether to open a criminal investigation.

Within the 168-hour detention period, detainees must be informed of the basis for the arrest and criminal investigation and have access to legal representation. Those charged may be released on bail, placed in home detention, or held in continued investigative detention. Once the accused has an attorney, the defense has five days to respond to the prosecution’s charges, after which a court date usually is set. Prosecutors may demand summary trials “in extraordinary circumstances” and in cases involving crimes against state security.

There were reports that defendants met with their attorneys for the first time only minutes before their trials and were not informed of the basis for their arrest within the required 168-hour period.

Reports suggested bail was available, although typically not granted to those arrested for political activities. Time in detention before trial counted toward time served, if convicted.

Detainees may be interrogated at any time during detention and have no right to request the presence of counsel during interrogation. Detainees have the right to remain silent, but officials do not have a legal obligation to inform them of that right.

By law investigators must complete criminal investigations within 60 days. Prosecutors may grant investigators two 60-day extensions upon request, for a total of 180 days of investigative time. The supervising court may waive this deadline in “extraordinary circumstances” and upon special request by the prosecutor. In that instance no additional legal requirement exists to complete an investigation and file criminal charges, and authorities may detain a person without charge indefinitely.

Arbitrary Arrest: Officials often disregarded legal procedures governing arrest, detaining suspects longer than 168 hours without informing them of the nature of the arrest or affording them legal counsel.

Pretrial Detention: The government held detainees for months or years in investigative detention, in both political and nonpolitical cases. In nonpolitical cases delays were often due to bureaucratic inefficiencies and a lack of checks on police.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are able to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but these challenges were rarely successful, especially regarding detentions alleged to have been politically motivated. On December 6, the mother of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” petitioned the court for a writ of habeas corpus after authorities detained her son on November 26; El Sexto had painted graffiti on an exterior wall of a Havana hotel. The court denied the petition, and his mother submitted a second petition on December 13, which remained pending at year’s end.

While the constitution recognizes the independence of the judiciary, the judiciary is directly subordinate to the National Assembly and the CP, which may remove or appoint judges at any time. Political considerations thoroughly dominated the judiciary, and there was virtually no separation of powers between the judicial system, the CP, and the Council of State.

Civilian courts exist at the municipal, provincial, and national levels. Special tribunals convene behind closed doors for political (“counterrevolutionary”) cases and other cases deemed “sensitive to state security.” Officials denied entry to trials by some observers during the year. Military tribunals may also have jurisdiction over civilians if any of the defendants are members of the military, police force, or other law enforcement agency.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Due process rights apply equally to all citizens as well as foreigners, but courts regularly failed to protect or observe these rights. The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on defendants to prove innocence.

Defendants generally have the right to a public trial, but politically motivated trials were at times held in secret, with authorities citing exceptions for crimes involving “state security” or “extraordinary circumstances.” Many cases were concluded quickly and were closed to the press. Interpretation was sometimes provided during trials, but the government claimed that limited resources prevented interpreters from always being available.

The law requires that defendants be represented by an attorney, at public expense, if necessary. Defendants’ attorneys may cross-examine government witnesses and present witnesses and evidence. Only state attorneys are licensed to practice in criminal courts.

Criteria for admitting evidence were arbitrary and discriminatory. According to reports, prosecutors routinely introduced irrelevant or unreliable evidence to prove intent or testimony about the revolutionary credentials of a defendant.

Defense attorneys have the right to review the investigation files of a defendant, but not if the charges involve “crimes against the security of the state.” In these cases defense attorneys were not allowed access until charges were filed. Many detainees, especially political detainees, reported their attorneys had difficulties accessing case files due to administrative obstacles.

In trials where defendants are charged with “potential dangerousness” (see section 1.d.), the state must show only that the defendant has “proclivity” for crime, so an actual criminal act need not have occurred. Penalties may be up to four years in prison. Authorities normally applied this provision to prostitutes, alcoholics, young persons who refused to report to work centers; repeat offenders of laws restricting change of domicile; and political activists who participated in public protests.

The law recognizes the right of appeal in municipal courts but limits it in provincial courts to cases involving lengthy prison terms or the death penalty.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government continued to deny holding any political prisoners but refused access to its prisons and detention centers by international humanitarian organizations and the United Nations.

The number of political prisoners was difficult to determine. Lack of governmental transparency and systemic violations of due process rights obfuscated the true nature of criminal charges, investigations, and prosecutions, allowing government authorities to prosecute and sentence peaceful human rights activists for criminal violations or “dangerousness.” The government used the designation of “counterrevolutionary” for inmates deemed to be political opposition, but it did not release those numbers. The government continued to deny access to its prisons and detentions centers by independent monitors who could help determine the size of the political prisoner population. At least two independent organizations estimated there were 75 to 95 political prisoners. The government closely monitored these organizations, which often faced harassment from state police.

On September 23, authorities arrested independent lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo during a police raid on the legal aid center Cubalex (see section 1.f.). Although police released all other detained employees in less than 24 hours, Ferrer remained in detention through the end of the year. According to Cubalex, Ferrer received a suspended three-year sentence in February for allegedly falsifying documents in relation to the attempted establishment of a civil society organization in 2010, and police cited this earlier arrest as a reason for refusing his release.

Political prisoners reported the government held them in isolation for extended periods. They did not receive the same protections as other prisoners or detainees. The government also frequently denied political prisoners access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and, on occasion, family visits.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although it is possible to seek judicial remedies through civil courts for violations of administrative determinations, independent legal experts noted that general procedural and bureaucratic inefficiencies often delayed or undermined the enforcement of administrative determinations and civil court orders. Civil courts, like all courts in the country, lacked independence and impartiality as well as effective procedural guarantees. No courts allowed claimants to bring lawsuits seeking remedies for human rights violations.

The constitution protects citizens’ privacy rights in their homes and correspondence, and police must have a warrant signed by a prosecutor or magistrate before entering or conducting a search. Nevertheless, there were reports that government officials routinely and systematically monitored correspondence and communications between citizens, tracked their movements, and entered homes without legal authority and with impunity. Additionally, in August civil society organizations complained that text messages containing specific words including “democracy” and “dissident” were systematically blocked.

Police searched homes and seized personal goods without legally required documentation.

In May, and again in November, UNPACU reported major search and seizure operations at private homes used as headquarters in Santiago de Cuba and Havana. In both cases police confiscated printed materials, cameras, computers, printers, flash drives, and money.

On September 23, the Center for Legal Information (Cubalex), an independent legal aid center, reported a large search and seizure operation of its headquarters. Police seized five computers, four laptops, multiple hard drives, USB drives, cell phones, and more than 300 records of legal cases. Police also strip-searched Cubalex lawyers, threatened the employees with prison time, and opened an investigation into their alleged illicit activities.

The Ministry of Interior employed a system of informants and neighborhood committees, known as “Committees for the Defense of the Revolution,” to monitor government opponents and report on their activities. Agents from the ministry’s General Directorate for State Security subjected foreign journalists, visiting foreign officials and diplomats, academics, and businesspersons to frequent surveillance, including electronic surveillance.

The CP is the only legally recognized political party, and the government actively suppressed attempts to form other parties (see section 3). The government encouraged mass political mobilization and favored citizens who actively participated (see section 2.b.).

Family members of government employees who leave international work missions without official permission at times faced government harassment or loss of employment, access to education, or other public benefits.

Dominican Republic

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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported more than 180 extrajudicial killings by police forces through September. The Attorney General’s Office reported 74 extrajudicial killings through June.

Violence connected to the 2016 national elections resulted in six deaths, but there were no reports that government agents or security forces were involved in the violence. Prior to the elections, on March 11, an intrapolitical party conflict resulted in the killing of one man. Authorities arrested the alleged perpetrator who, as of November, was incarcerated pending trial. The attorney general alleged the incident arose from a dispute over the party’s congressional candidate selection.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year. The NHRC reported it was investigating six unresolved disappearance cases of human rights activists that occurred between 2009 and 2014, which they believed were politically motivated.

Although the law prohibits torture, beating, and physical abuse of detainees and prisoners, there were reports that security force members, primarily police, carried out such practices. The law provides penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for torture and physical abuse and sentences of up to 30 years for aggravated cases.

The NHRC reported that police used various forms of physical and mental abuse to obtain confessions from detained suspects. According to the NHRC, abusive methods used to extract confessions included suffocation by covering detainees’ heads with plastic bags, hitting them with broom handles, forcing them to remain standing overnight, and hitting them in the ears with gloved fists or hard furniture foam so as not to leave marks. The Attorney General’s Office stated it did not receive any formal complaints of torture during the year. In August the Attorney General’s Office officially instructed local prosecutors to monitor prisoner treatment and allegations of torture.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions ranged from compliance with international standards in “model” prisons or correctional rehabilitation centers (CRCs) to harsh and lacking adequate space and medical care in “traditional” prisons. Threats to life and health included communicable diseases, poor sanitation, poor access to health-care services, a lack of well-trained prison guards, and prisoners attacking other inmates. These problems were exacerbated in traditional prisons, which were severely overcrowded.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem in traditional prisons. The NHRC reported that on average there were approximately 15,000 prisoners in traditional prisons and 10,000 in CRCs, a ratio constant over the past several years, as traditional prisons had not been phased out. La Victoria, the oldest traditional prison, held more than 8,000 inmates, although it was designed for a maximum capacity of 2,500. La Romana Prison was the only prison where facilities for male and female inmates were separated, but collocated.

Police and military inmates received preferential treatment, as did those with the financial means to rent preferential bed space and purchase other necessities.

According to the Directorate of Prisons, military and police personnel guarded traditional prisons, while a trained civilian guard corps provided security at CRCs. Reports of mistreatment and violence in prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors. Some prisons remained effectively outside the control of authorities, and there were allegations of drug and arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse within prisons. Wardens at traditional prisons often controlled only the perimeter, while inmates ruled the inside with their own rules and system of justice. The Attorney General’s Office reported it received 15 complaints of prison abuse, determined four had merit, and prosecuted them.

Although the law mandates separation of prisoners according to severity of offense, authorities did not have the capability to do so. According to a 2014 estimate from the Directorate of Prisons, 62 percent of inmates in La Victoria, the largest traditional prison, were in preventive custody awaiting trial. The NHRC reported that some inmates remained in pretrial detention for up to three years. The National Office of Public Defense (NOPD) reported filing 788 motions through October to cease preventive custody.

Health and sanitary conditions were generally poor. Prisoners commonly slept on the floor because there were no beds available. Prison officials did not separate sick inmates. All prisons had infirmaries, but most infirmaries did not meet the needs of the prison population. In traditional prisons inmates had to purchase their own medications or rely on family members or other outside associates to deliver their medications. Most reported deaths were due to illnesses. From late February to March, a cholera outbreak in La Victoria resulted in 75 positive cases and four deaths. The National Tuberculosis Control Program reported that the Ministry of Health, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office and the Directorate of Prisons, instituted a program to control the spread of tuberculosis in 32 prisons.

According to the Directorate for the Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS, 2 percent of the prison population was HIV-positive. The directorate reported that all prisons in the system provided on-site HIV/AIDS testing, treatment, and counseling services. According to the Directorate of Prisons, all prisons provided HIV/AIDS treatment, but the NHRC stated that, while CRCs were able to provide HIV/AIDS treatment, none of the traditional prisons was properly equipped to provide such treatment. In the case of the CRCs, some prisoners with mental disabilities received treatment, including therapy, for their conditions. The government did not provide services to prisoners with mental disabilities in traditional prisons. Neither CRCs nor traditional prisons provided access for persons with disabilities.

Administration: Recordkeeping in prisons was inadequate. Public defenders provided legal services to prisoners and in some cases assisted with certain complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits and monitoring by independently funded and operated nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers and media. The director of the NHRC served as a prisoner advocate. The NHRC, National Office of Public Defense, Attorney General’s Office, and CRC prison administration together created human rights committees in each CRC with guaranteed surprise visit access for the committees. The committees exercised this right, including a June visit to La Victoria. Prisoners could submit complaints regarding their treatment verbally or in writing to the human rights committees and most often did so through family members, lawyers, or human rights defenders.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits detention without a warrant unless authorities apprehend a suspect during the commission of a criminal act or in other special circumstances but permits detention without charge for up to 48 hours. Arbitrary arrest and detention continued to be problems, and there were numerous reports of individuals held and later released with little or no explanation for the detention. NGOs reported that many of the detainees were taken into custody at the scene of a crime or during drug raids. In many instances authorities fingerprinted, questioned, and then released those detainees.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Interior and Police oversees the National Police, Tourist Police, and Metro Police. The Minister of Armed Forces directs the military, Airport Security Authority and Civil Aviation, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps. The National Department of Intelligence and the National Drug Control Directorate, which have personnel from both police and armed forces, report directly to the president.

Police operated in a dangerous environment. Gun ownership was widespread, and crime and homicides were common, especially in urban areas. The Attorney General’s Office reported 74 extrajudicial killings through June, of which it prosecuted 18 cases. Authorities fired or prosecuted police officers found to have acted outside of established police procedures. The Internal Affairs Unit investigated charges of gross misconduct by members of the National Police. These cases involved physical or verbal aggression, threats, improper use of a firearm, muggings, and theft.

Training for military and the National Drug Control Directorate enlisted personnel and officers and the National Police included instruction on human rights. The Ministry of the Armed Forces provided human rights training or orientation to officers of various ranks as well as to civilians during the year. The Border Security Corps conducted mandatory human rights training at its training facilities for border officers. The Graduate School of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights trained civilians and armed forces personnel. The school also had programs in which members of the armed forces and civilians from Congress, district attorney offices, the Supreme Court, government ministries, the National Police, and the Central Electoral Board participated.

In July the government approved a police reform law to curb corruption, improve training, and increase transparency.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution provides that an accused person may be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant before being presented to judicial authorities. The law also permits police to apprehend without an arrest warrant any person caught in the act of committing a crime or reasonably linked to a crime, such as in cases involving hot pursuit or escaped prisoners. Police sometimes detained suspects for investigation or interrogation longer than 48 hours. Police often detained all suspects and witnesses to a crime. Successful habeas corpus hearings reduced abuses of the law significantly. There was a functioning bail system. There was also a functioning system of house arrest.

The law requires provision of counsel to indigent defendants, although staffing levels were inadequate to meet demand. The NOPD represented defendants in approximately 80 percent of all criminal cases brought before the courts, although geographically they covered only 13 of 34 judicial districts. Many detainees and prisoners who could not afford private counsel did not have prompt access to a lawyer. Prosecutors and judges handled interrogations of juveniles, which the law prohibits by or in the presence of police.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police made sporadic sweeps or roundups in low-income, high-crime communities during which they arrested and detained individuals without warrants. During these sweeps police arrested large numbers of residents and seized personal property allegedly used in criminal activity. Through July the NOPD reported 525 cases of arbitrary arrest, based on their statistics of cases where authorities subsequently released defendants because of a lack of judicial authorization. The Attorney General’s Office reported a decrease in arbitrary arrests connected to mass arrests at the scene of a crime due to training conducted in concert with human rights NGOs.

Pretrial Detention: Many suspects endured long pretrial detention. Under the criminal procedures code, a judge may order a detainee to remain in police custody between three and 18 months. According to the Directorate of Prisons, 62 percent of inmates were in pretrial custody. The average pretrial detention time was typically three months, but there were reports of cases of pretrial detention lasting up to three years. Time served in pretrial detention counted toward completing a sentence.

The failure of prison authorities to produce detainees for court hearings caused some trial postponements. Many inmates had their court dates postponed because they lacked transportation from prison to court or because their lawyer, codefendants, or witnesses did not appear. Despite additional protections for defendants in the criminal procedures code, in some cases authorities held inmates beyond the legally mandated deadlines although there were no formal charges against them.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Any prisoner detained for more than 48 hours without formal charges is entitled to file a motion of habeas corpus. The presiding judge at such a hearing is empowered to order the prisoner’s release. The judge’s decision to release a prisoner is subject to appeal by the district attorney.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: There were isolated cases of asylum seekers detained due to a lack of documentation (see sections 2.d. and 6).

The law provides for an independent judiciary. Improper influence on judicial decisions, however, was widespread. Interference ranged from selective prosecution to dismissal of cases amid allegations of bribery or undue political pressure. The judiciary routinely dismissed high-level corruption cases during President Medina’s five years in office. Corruption of the judiciary was also a serious problem (see section 4). The NOPD reported that the most frequent form of interference with judicial orders occurred when authorities refused to abide by writs of habeas corpus to free detainees.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for a presumption of innocence, the right to a defense in a fair and public trial, the right to confront or question witnesses, and the right against self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and the indigent have a right to a public defender. The law provides for free interpretation as necessary. The constitution also provides for the right to appeal and prohibits higher courts from increasing the sentences of lower courts.

The District Attorney’s Office is required to notify the defendant and attorney of criminal charges as well as of evidence the office will present in court. Defendants and attorneys have access to government-held evidence and may confront adverse witnesses, but only after the preliminary hearing, when the judge has approved the indictment. Defendants have the right to present their own witnesses and evidence.

Military and police tribunals share jurisdiction over cases involving members of the security forces. While the tribunals have jurisdiction over cases involving violations of internal rules and regulations, civilian criminal courts handled cases of killings and other serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are separate court systems for claims under criminal law, commercial and civil law, and labor law. Commercial and civil courts reportedly suffered lengthy delays in adjudicating cases, although their decisions were generally enforced. As in criminal courts, undue political or economic influence in civil court decisions remained a problem.

Citizens had recourse to file an “amparo,” an action to seek redress of any violation of a constitutional right, including violations of human rights protected by the constitution. This remedy was used infrequently and only by those with sophisticated legal counsel.

The law prohibits arbitrary entry into a private residence, except when police are in hot pursuit of a suspect, when a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, or if police suspect a life is in danger. The law provides that all other entries into a private residence require an arrest or search warrant issued by a judge. Police conducted illegal searches and seizures, however, including raids without warrants on private residences in many poor neighborhoods.

Although the government denied using unauthorized wiretaps, monitoring of private e-mail, or other surreptitious methods to interfere with the private lives of individuals and families, human rights groups and opposition politicians alleged that such interference continued. Opposition political parties alleged that government officials at times threatened subordinates with loss of employment and other benefits in order to compel them to support the incumbent PLD party and attend PLD campaign events. The NOPD reported incidents where police imprisoned family members of a suspect in order to compel the suspect to surrender. Individuals without access to citizenship documents were not able to vote, marry, or access education or other basic services.

Ecuador

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 killings. Credible reports continued that security forces, particularly police units, used excessive force and committed isolated unlawful killings.

In November 2015 Francisco Cajigas, a Colombian citizen, was found dead, two weeks after the police detained him outside his house in Ibarra for allegedly breaking a car’s mirror. After the autopsy and investigation process, Cajigas’ family received his body with his cranium missing. On May 26, Vice Minister of Interior Diego Fuentes stated that an investigation was underway to determine possible police responsibility. In June the director of the Truth and Human Rights Commission of the Prosecutor’s Office stated that an investigation was in progress due to allegations that Cajigas was a victim of an extrajudicial execution. According to local human rights activists, the prosecutor in charge failed to perform a thorough forensic examination at the start of the investigation. On October 10, the Attorney General’s Office conducted a crime scene reconstruction.

A Quito-based human rights organization reported that an investigation continued into the death of John Jairo Urrutia Guaman, a 15-year-old who died in December 2015 while in police custody. As of December 7, the investigation remained in progress.

Human rights organizations reported additional alleged unlawful killings by security forces in Guayaquil and Carapungo, but no additional public information was available regarding law enforcement investigations.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

While the constitution and laws prohibit torture and similar forms of intimidation and punishment, some police officers reportedly tortured and abused suspects and prisoners, at times with impunity.

On May 31, approximately 80 police officers from the Maintenance of Order Unit (UMO) and Intervention and Rescue Group carried out an operation in the medium-security wing of the Turi Rehabilitation Center. Prisoners and human rights groups reported that UMO agents attacked prisoners with tear gas, batons, electric shocks, and kicks. On June 22, 13 prisoners filed a habeas corpus petition. On June 30, a judge in the Family, Woman, Children, and Adolescence judicial unit ruled in favor of the prisoners and ordered their transfer to another detention facility, respect for existing protocols and guarantees in all future operations carried out in the Turi center, and a public apology issued by the National Police. On July 25, the civil and commercial division of the court of Azuay nullified the process to adopt the habeas corpus petition, claiming the judge did not have the purview to rule on the petition. A second hearing on the habeas corpus petition took place on September 7. On September 28, a judge ruled that the inmates suffered cruel and degrading treatment. The judge ordered the inmates’ transfer to other detention centers in the country, as well as medical and psychological care. The police officers involved in the operation were prohibited from entering any prison in the country. In addition, the judge ordered the Ministries of Justice and of Interior to offer a public apology and provide human rights training to prison authorities around the country on May 31, 2017, the first anniversary of the operation. Public Defender Ernesto Pazmino stated that the aggression against prisoners in Turi constituted “torture.” Local human rights organizations, including the Ecumenical Human Rights Commission (CEDHU) and the Regional Human Rights Advisory Foundation, called on the government to improve human rights training for police officers and prison authorities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh due to food shortages, harassment by security guards against prisoners and visitors, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: While government authorities announced that the expanded prison capacity had reduced overcrowding, gross overcrowding continued in some prisons. On July 26, El Universo newspaper reported that 79 inmates from the Social Rehabilitation Center in Ibarra were transferred to a prison in Latacunga following a fire. According to the article, the Ibarra prison held 540 inmates, although its operating capacity was only 140 inmates.

Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together in some detention facilities. Despite the opening of new prisons with more modern amenities, prisoners and human rights activists complained about a lack of resources for inmates, which meant that prisoners or their families were expected to provide many basic supplies, including mattresses, clothing, toiletries, and medicines. In some facilities the health measures provided remained sufficient only for emergency care. Prisoners reported that medicines often were not available and that they had no access to dental care. Prisoners also complained of harsh living conditions, including sanitary problems, a lack of food, the poor nutritional quality of the food, and lack of heating and hot water. A human rights lawyer reported lack of access to potable water in certain prisons.

Reports continued that prison guards ordered female relatives of prisoners to remove their clothing prior to visits, and in some cases they subjected the relatives to inappropriate touching during security body searches. On June 28, government representatives told the UN Human Rights Committee that a protocol prohibits bodily searches and uses body scanners to search visitors.

Vulnerabilities in security remained a problem. Official information was unavailable concerning the national prevalence of deaths in prisons. According to local human rights organizations, prison authorities threatened family members of prisoners who died or suffered serious injuries to prevent them from making their complaints public.

On May 16, television station Teleamazonas reported that a fight between prisoners in the maximum-security wing of the Turi prison in Cuenca left one prisoner dead and seven injured.

Police conducted searches and raids in prisons throughout the year and discovered guns, grenades, ammunition, and drugs. They also continued to take action against criminal gangs operating within prisons, which sometimes involved prison authorities. On July 28, the newspaper El Telegrafo reported that law enforcement officials dismantled an extortion network operating in the Cotopaxi Social Rehabilitation Center. The network included a prison guard and an employee from a food services contractor. On November 24, El Comercio reported that a Guayas criminal court sentenced 10 individuals, including seven employees at a Guayaquil prison, to five years in prison for their role in allowing drugs and other prohibited items to enter the prison.

Administration: Despite improvements in recordkeeping in the new prison centers, upon completing their sentences some prisoners remained incarcerated due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, lack of recordkeeping on the length of their sentence or incarceration, and corruption. It was extremely difficult to obtain a firm release date from prison authorities, and the onus was often on inmates to schedule their own review boards.

Public defenders assisted inmates in filing complaints and other motions. Prisoners have the right to submit complaints to local and national human rights ombudsmen. Human rights activists stated that independent authorities did not sufficiently investigate allegations of poor prison conditions.

Justice Minister Ledy Zuniga reported that procedures existed for transferring prisoners to different locations outside of prison centers. Media, however, reported that in several provinces, police did not have enough official vehicles, and there were reports police officers used taxis to accompany prisoners to medical checkups and other outside visits.

Independent Monitoring: Independent nongovernmental monitors complained that their access to prisoners was limited. According to the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDH), prison authorities placed strict limits on who can visit prisoners and monitor prison conditions, which led to a “progressive isolation of prisoners.” Independent observers must submit in writing their reasons for visiting a prison, specifying general and specific objectives of the visit, as well as other information required by an administrative order. The CDH reported that many requests never received a response, which effectively prohibited independent monitors from accessing prisons.

Improvements: In newer prison facilities, prisoners may acquire goods through a biometric system, limiting the flow of cash currency among prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and other laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were reports that national, provincial, and local authorities in some cases did not observe these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police maintain internal security and law enforcement. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, including combating organized crime. Both the police and military are in charge of border enforcement. Migration officers are civilians and report to the Ministry of Interior. The National Police are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, and the military is under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense. The National Police’s internal affairs unit investigates killings by police and examines whether they were justified. The unit can refer cases to the courts. An intelligence branch within the military has a role similar to the police internal affairs unit. The law states that the Public Prosecutor’s Office must be involved in all investigations concerning human rights abuses, including unlawful killings and forced disappearance.

Corruption, insufficient training, poor supervision, and a lack of resources continued to impair the effectiveness of the National Police.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police and the armed forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, although some problems with impunity existed. According to official figures published on February 28, the National Police expelled 866 officials from its ranks between 2013 and 2016, including 83 during the first two months of the year. In late December 2015, media reported the arrests of 19 police officers involved in a corruption scheme that sold “passes” (workplace transfers) to other officers for $1,500 to $2,000 per pass (country’s official currency is U.S. dollar). On May 30, El Universonewspaper reported that 27 former police officers were initially linked to the process. Four individuals were convicted, the prosecutors dropped charges against five individuals, and court proceedings continued against 17 other former police officers. On September 5, 15 police officers–including the former commandant of the National Police, Fausto Tamayo–and a civilian participated in a hearing held at the National Court of Justice. On October 31, the Provincial Criminal Court of Pichincha sentenced Tamayo and Lieutenant Alexis Cifuentes to 13 years and three months in prison for organized delinquency. On December 3, state-owned media outlet El Telegraforeported that the Provincial Criminal Court of Pichincha sentenced nine defendants to nine years and three months in prison, while other individuals received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years.

Police receive required human rights instruction in basic training and in training academies for specialized units. In the police academy, human rights training is integrated throughout a cadet’s four-year instruction. Additionally, there is a mandatory human rights training regimen concerning preservation of life and human rights, along with a human rights handbook. There were reports that police officers complained to local nonprofit groups about the lack of knowledge and preparation of police instructors teaching human rights in the academy. Authorities offered other human rights training intermittently. The government continued to improve the preparedness of police, including increasing funding, raising salaries, and purchasing equipment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires authorities to issue specific written arrest orders prior to detention, and a judge must charge a suspect with a specific criminal offense within 24 hours of arrest. Authorities generally observed this time limit, although in some provinces initial detention was often considerably longer. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them. By law, if the initial investigation report is incriminating, the judge, upon the prosecutor’s request, may order pretrial detention.

Detainees have a constitutional right to an attorney. Indigents have the right to request a court-appointed attorney from the autonomous Public Defenders’ Office. Although the number of available court-appointed defenders was higher than in previous years, the high number of cases and limited time they had to prepare for the defense of the detainees continued to represent a disadvantage during trials.

Although the law entitles detainees prompt access to lawyers and family members, human rights organizations continued to report delays depending on the circumstances and officials’ willingness to enforce the law.

Pretrial Detention: Corruption; a lack of resources to train police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges; and general judicial inefficiency caused trial delays. On June 28, a government delegation stated during its presentation to the UN Human Rights Committee that 30 percent of the 26,421 persons in detention had not received sentences.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detained persons may challenge the legality of their detention through an appeal to any judge in the locality where the detention took place, and there is no time limit in which such an appeal must be filed. The detainee may also request bail or other alternatives (for example, house arrest or probation) to pretrial detention. Such alternatives are allowed only in cases of crimes punishable with prison terms of less than five years.

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and human rights organizations reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. Judges reached decisions based on media influence or political and economic pressures in cases where the government expressed interest. Delays often occurred in cases brought against the government, whereas cases brought by the government moved quickly through the courts. A nongovernmental organization (NGO), the judicial watchdog Observatorio de Derechos y Justicia, issued a report in June arguing that government officials implicated in a corruption scandal at state-owned company PetroEcuador received preferential treatment (see section 4), whereas persons critical of the government, including students and indigenous leaders, were subject to “disproportionate sanctions” for minor crimes or without evidence of any infraction. There were credible reports that the outcome of many trials appeared predetermined. According to human rights lawyers, the government also ordered judges to deny all “protectionary measures,” i.e., legal motions that argued the government had violated an individual’s constitutional rights to free movement, due process, and equal treatment before the law. Lawyers and human rights activists stated the government initiated disciplinary action based on “inexcusable error” against judges who allowed protectionary measures against the government.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, although delays occurred frequently. By law defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges.

The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided, and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. They have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. They also have the right to be present at their trial and to access evidence held by police or public prosecutors. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or, in some cases, the payment of bribes. There were reported delays of up to a year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in summary proceedings against defendants with few if any due process protections.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups continued judge members independently for violations occurred in indigenous territory.

From June 6 to July 13, 121 Cuban citizens were deported because they did not have legal status in Ecuador. Authorities placed some Cuban citizens in a temporary detention center and a local jail prior to deporting them. Human rights lawyers argued the deportations violated the migrants’ human rights because they did not receive due legal process. They also claimed that 40 Haitian citizens were deported without due legal process. Government authorities stated the migrants received due process in deportation hearings.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Civil lawsuits seeking damages for alleged wrongs by the government rarely were filed, since such suits were difficult to prosecute and time-consuming, with judges taking up to a decade to rule on the merits of a case.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Human rights groups denounced forced evictions by government authorities without due process or timely relocation to other housing. The evictions mostly affected Afro-Ecuadorian families in urban areas or indigenous families living near natural resource extraction projects. According to human rights organizations, in some cases the government failed to provide timely restitution or compensation to evicted families.

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Human rights, environmental, and labor activists and opposition politicians reported physical surveillance by authorities, including monitoring of their private movements and homes. According to some human rights activists, the physical surveillance was an act of intimidation intended to silence any potential criticism of the government.

El Salvador

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 no verified reports that the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings. There were reports, however, of security force involvement in unlawful killings. As of October the attorney general was investigating 53 possible cases of extrajudicial killings. One took place in 2013, none in 2014, 11 in 2015, and 41 in 2016. The Attorney General’s Office also announced the formation of a Special Group Against Impunity, dedicated to investigating this type of crime. As of March the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) had received 12 complaints of alleged unlawful killings committed by security, military, and other public officials and found substantial evidence in two cases. In September the PDDH stated that it was aware of approximately 50 cases involving potential extrajudicial killings. From January to July, the Office of the Inspector General of the National Civilian Police (PNC) reported that 12 PNC officers faced charges of homicide. All but one of the alleged homicides were committed while the accused officers were on duty.

On April 25, the PDDH found indications that the PNC and the armed forces had committed extrajudicial killings during the March 2015 San Blas case (involving the killing of seven alleged gang members and one other person) and the August 2015 Pajales case (which involved the close-range killing of four unarmed gang members). The PDDH criticized the PNC and the armed forces for issuing a press release portraying the killings as the product of clashes with gang members. The PDDH also noted weak internal controls in the PNC and the armed forces and regretted the lack of interagency collaboration in the investigations. On July 9, the attorney general ordered the arrest of seven police officers accused of committing extrajudicial killings in the San Blas case on charges of homicide and obstruction of justice. Seven officers were charged in the Pajales case, although there was no confirmation arrests were made.

On July 9, the Attorney General’s Office ordered the arrest of five police officers and five civilians for their participation in at least eight homicides as part of an alleged extermination group operating in San Miguel; on July 13, a judge ordered preventive detention of the accused. Eleven additional defendants fled from justice, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Funding for the extermination group reportedly came from Salvadorans living abroad.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Cristosal compared PNC data that showed 366 armed confrontations through July 2016, during which 350 suspected gang members died. A total of 359 suspected gang members were killed in 676 armed confrontations in 2015, and 83 were killed in 256 confrontations in 2014. The mortality rate of suspected gang members in confrontations with police during the first six months of the year was 109 percent higher (i.e., more than double) that the 2015 mortality rate, which was itself 41 percent higher than in 2014. On October 4, the digital newspaper El Faro cited a Brazilian expert who analyzed PNC data and concluded that the data demonstrated a pattern of abuse of lethal force by police authorities.

As of August, the Office of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Public Security and Justice had received two complaints of extrajudicial killings against police members and two complaints for violations to the right of life.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, abductions, or kidnappings. As of September, the NGO Association for the Search for Missing Children (Pro-Busqueda) received five new complaints regarding children who disappeared during the 1980-92 civil war. Pro-Busqueda reported in August that it was investigating 960 open cases, had solved 425 cases, and determined that in 15 percent of solved cases the child had died.

According to the PNC inspector general, eight complaints of forced disappearances were filed against the PNC between January and August.

The law prohibits such practices, but there were multiple reports of violations. The PDDH received 21 complaints of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the PNC, armed forces, and other public officials.

As of August, the Office of the Inspector General reported 31 complaints against police officers for alleged cruel treatment. The NGOs Foundation of Studies for the Application of the Law, and Passionist Social Service, as well as other civil society institutions reported that poor male youths were sometimes targeted by the PNC and armed forces because they fit the stereotype of gang members. Other credible sources indicated that youths suspected to have knowledge of gang activity were mistreated by law enforcement personnel.

NGOs reported that public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities. Persons from the LGBTI community stated that the agencies in charge of processing identification documents, the PNC, and the Attorney General’s Office harassed transgender and gay individuals when they applied for identification cards or reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons. The LGBTI community reported authorities harassed LGBTI persons by conducting strip searches and questioning their gender in a degrading manner. The government responded to these abuses primarily through PDDH reports that publicized specific cases of violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening due to gross overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and gang activities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a serious threat to prisoners’ health and lives. As of August 15, the prison directorate reported 34,938 inmates were being held in correctional facilities with a designed capacity of 10,035 inmates. As of July 11, the minister of security noted that his office had moved 1,600 inmates from pretrial detention into the regular prison system. The Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES) estimated that, as of June 30, prison overcrowding was 346 percent. The prison population included 24,675 inmates with convictions and 10,263 inmates in pretrial detention. In many facilities, provisions for sanitation, potable water, ventilation, temperature control, medical care, and lighting were inadequate. On November 14, the PDDH published a report on deteriorating prison conditions, observed during fact-finding missions between April and July. The report highlights worsening conditions since the April implementation of extraordinary measures, including decreased access to medical care while infectious diseases increased, lack of sanitation facilities for the number of inmates, inmates sleeping on the floor without blankets, and inmates lacking space to sleep because of extreme overcrowding.

Men and women had separate accommodations within the prisons. A separate women’s prison in Ilopango was generally clean and allowed inmates to move freely within and inmates’ children under the age of five to stay with their mothers.

Due to prison overcrowding, police authorities held some pretrial detainees in small detention centers at police stations, which had a combined capacity of 2,102 persons. FUSADES reported in February that authorities held approximately 83 percent of these pretrial detainees in detention centers longer than the 72 hours legally permitted before presenting them to a court, some for up to two years. Similarly, due to the lack of holding cells, authorities often held pretrial detainees in regular prisons with violent criminals.

On March 16, the Legislative Assembly approved temporary provisions to allow parole for inmates considered low-level threats and with prison sentences of less than eight years (291 inmates).

On May 27, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the systematic violation of basic human rights by prison overcrowding, citing the government for violating prisoners’ right to health, and ordered periodic visits by the Ministry of Health. The court ordered prison authorities to build new prisons and to remodel others to shelter inmates humanely and the judicial system to review the inmate rosters with an aim of reducing the number of prisoners. Authorities closed one prison during the year, and another was under construction.

In November 2015 the Public Opinion Institute of the University of Central America (IUDOP-UCA) released the findings of its 2009-15 study on the penitentiary and prison system. The report estimated that 9 percent of the prison population was ill, including with highly communicable diseases such as tuberculosis. In August the General Directorate of Prisons (DGCP) began addressing tuberculosis within the prison system by creating mobile tuberculosis treatment teams and separate holding cells for infected inmates.

Prisoners conducted criminal activities from their cells, at times with the complicity of prison guards. Smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other contraband such as cell phones and cell-phone SIM cards was a major problem in the prisons. On April 1, the Legislative Assembly unanimously approved “extraordinary security measures” to prevent gang members from orchestrating crimes from within the prison system. These measures included preventing communication between inmate gang leaders and their members outside prison, suspending all private communication and contact with their families and limiting access to their lawyers, and detaining and isolating known gang leaders in higher security prisons. The measures also subjected the inmates in prisons designated for convicted gang members to isolation and restriction to their cells for 24 hours per day. According to the PDDH, prison authorities modified some of the measures in July and August and allowed prisoners up to one hour outside of their cells. The extraordinary measures affected 13,162 inmates housed in seven prisons: Izalco, Quezaltepeque, Chalatenango, Ciudad Barrios, Gotera, and Zacatecoluca penitentiaries, as well as one sector of Ilopango penitentiary. In response, approximately 200 relatives of imprisoned gang members organized a march on June 29 to demand the government reinstate family visits and file a complaint with the PDDH. On November 18, the government launched additional extraordinary measures in response to an increase in homicides of police officers and soldiers by gang members. These measures included moving gang members considered responsible for attacks against police officers to higher-security prisons and increasing their isolation.

Gang activities in prisons and juvenile holding facilities remained a serious problem. As of August 15, detention center facilities held 16,215 inmates who were current or former gang members. On October 22, the Prison Directorate ordered 235 inmates moved to different prisons in an effort to break up gang “cliques” within prisons. As of May, the Salvadoran Institute for Child Development (ISNA) reported that two adolescents died in juvenile detention facilities. ISNA also reported that there were 418 juveniles convicted and 230 juveniles awaiting trial.

According to news reports, 25 prisoners were killed within prisons between January and August, including 11 prisoners killed in the Gotera Penitentiary by fellow inmates. As of August, the Prison Directorate had reported only 11 homicides within prisons.

As of September 6, prison authorities removed two guards from duty for carrying illegal objects and sanctioned 29 guards for misconduct. Prison authorities received 17 complaints of human rights violations allegedly committed by prison personnel.

There was no information available regarding abuse of persons with disabilities in prisons, although the government’s National Council for Comprehensive Attention to Persons with Disability (CONAIPD) previously reported isolated incidents, including sexual abuse.

Administration: The IUDOP-UCA report noted that, between 2009 and 2015, parole board staffing decreased by 48 percent. In 2015 the prison system had 69 technical employees (including attorneys, sociologists, social workers, and psychologists) to provide services to more than 31,000 inmates. The PDDH has authority to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court has authority regarding the protection of constitutional rights.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison-monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, NGOs, and the media, except to those prisons covered by the extraordinary measures. The PDDH continued to monitor all prisons. Church groups, the Central American University’s Human Rights Institute, LGBTI activists, and other groups visited prisons during the year. After the implementation of the extraordinary measures, which restricted monitoring of the prisons subject to the measures, the International Committee for the Red Cross suspended all prison visits until visitation was restored in the prisons subject to the extraordinary measures.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, there were numerous complaints that the PNC and military forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. As of August, the Office of the Inspector General had received 45 complaints against police officers for alleged violations of freedom of movement. NGOs reported that the PNC had arbitrarily arrested and detained groups of persons on suspicion of gang affiliation. According to these NGOs, the accused were ostracized by their communities upon their return, even when they were not affiliated with gangs.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is responsible for maintaining public security, and the Ministry of Defense has responsibility for maintaining national security. Although the constitution separates public security and military functions, it allows the president to use the armed forces “in exceptional circumstances” to maintain internal peace and public security “when all other measures have been exhausted.” President Sanchez Ceren renewed the decree authorizing military involvement in police duties through the end of the year.

The three quick reaction military battalions that were created in 2015 to support PNC operations and whose troops have arrest and detention authority continued to operate. The military is responsible for securing the international border and conducting joint patrols with the PNC.

On April 20, the government announced the launch of the Fast Reaction Force (FERES), a joint operation consisting of two 200-officer police units supported by 250 Special Forces military soldiers. Battalion soldiers are legally able under citizen’s arrest authority to detain persons they believe have committed criminal acts.

In response to an alleged rise in extrajudicial killings, the PNC in January launched a newly organized internal investigative office, the Secretariat for Professional Responsibility. The body is composed of a Complaints Office, a Disciplinary Office, and the Inspector General’s Office.

From January to August, the Inspector General’s Office received 492 complaints of human rights violations–31 for inhuman and cruel treatment, 181 for physical abuse, 117 for personal security, 40 for violence against women (including rape and sexual abuse), 15 for failure to provide access to justice, two for extrajudicial killing, and two for deprivation of life. The Inspector General’s Office referred three of the cases to the Attorney General’s Office for possible criminal charges.

In June the PDDH released its annual findings on the status of human rights. The report stated that, between June 2015 and May 2016, the PDDH received 1,883 complaints of human rights violations, 1,284 of which were reportedly committed by the PNC and the military.

Inadequate training, lack of enforcement of the administrative police career law, arbitrary promotions, insufficient government funding, failure to enforce evidentiary rules effectively, and instances of corruption and criminality limited the PNC’s effectiveness. The PDDH has the authority to investigate (but not prosecute) human rights abuses and refers all cases it deems to involve human rights abuse to the Attorney General’s Office.

In May PNC director Howard Cotto stated that since January 80 police officers had been arrested for illicit activities, such as extortion, theft, and murder for hire. In June the Inspector General’s Office reported that it sanctioned 781 officers in response to complaints filed during the year and in prior years. These sanctions included 84 arrests and 165 officers suspended without pay. As of July 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported that it had filed charges against 587 police officers and 14 judges for unspecified crimes. The office also reported that it successfully convicted 15 police officers for criminal activities.

The Inspector General’s Office and the Ministry of Defense Human Rights Office reported most PNC officers, police academy cadets, and all military personnel had received human rights awareness training, including training by the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Women, the Human Rights Institute of the University of Central America, and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. The Inspector General’s Office reported that 633 police officers received human rights training in the past year. The Ministry of Defense Human Rights Office reported that 6,097 soldiers received human rights training during the year.

On May 29, the PNC revised its guidelines on the use of force to improve accountability of police personnel. The guidelines specifically outline situations that permit the use of force, proportionality of force for various confrontational situations, and internal investigation procedures for alleged misconduct.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires a written warrant of arrest except in cases where an individual is in the act of committing a crime. Authorities apprehended persons with warrants based on evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them.

The law permits release on bail for detainees who are unlikely to flee or whose release would not impede the investigation of the case. The bail system functioned adequately in most cases. The courts generally enforced a ruling that interrogation without the presence of counsel is coercive and that evidence obtained in such a manner is inadmissible. As a result, PNC authorities typically delayed questioning until a public defender or an attorney arrived. Detainees normally had access to counsel of their choice or to an attorney provided by the state. The constitution permits the PNC to hold suspects for 72 hours before presenting them to court, after which the judge may order detention for an additional 72 hours to determine if an investigation is warranted. The law allows up to six months for investigation of serious crimes before requiring either a trial or dismissal of the case. In exceptionally complicated cases, the prosecutor may ask an appeals court to extend the deadline for three or six months, depending on the seriousness of the crime. Many cases continued beyond the legally prescribed period.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of November 8, the PDDH reported 62 complaints of arbitrary detention or illegal detention during the year.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a significant problem. As of June 30, 29 percent of the general prison population was in pretrial detention. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages caused trial delays. Because it could take several years for a case to come to trial, some persons remained in pretrial detention longer than the maximum legal sentences for their alleged crimes. In such circumstances, detainees may request a Supreme Court review of their continued detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution grants detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination on the legality of their detention, and persons arrested or detained may obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In some cases persons were not promptly released and/or did not receive compensation for unlawful detention.

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was burdened by inefficiency and corruption, and the Solicitor’s Office (responsible for public defenders) of the Attorney General’s Office and the PDDH suffered from insufficient resources. As of July 18, the Attorney General’s Office reported that it had initiated 14,162 cases and obtained 3,268 convictions.

As of August, the Office of the Inspector General of the Ministry of Public Security and Justice reported 15 cases of violations of access to justice committed by police officers, and one police officer was accused of obstructing due process.

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court struck down the 1993 Amnesty Law on the grounds that it violated citizens’ constitutional right of access to justice and the right to compensation for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The law provided blanket protection against criminal prosecution and civil penalties for crimes committed during the country’s civil war (1980-92), and the court’s ruling held that the Legislative Assembly did not have authority to grant an absolute amnesty. Nevertheless, the court held that the law continues to be enforced for those crimes committed during the civil war years that do not constitute serious human rights abuses. The ruling declaring the Amnesty Law unconstitutional empowered parties to request judges to reopen cases related to civil war era crimes and for individuals to petition the attorney general to open new cases.

On August 25, the Supreme Court denied the extradition to Spain of former colonel Guillermo Benavides for the 1989 murder of four Jesuit priests. The court ordered Benavides to remain in prison to await a hearing before the Fourth Instruction Court of San Salvador to determine whether he would be held criminally responsible for the murders as a result of the Amnesty Law ruling. On September 30, in response to a petition by the victims, a judge issued an order to reopen the investigation into the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which an estimated 800 persons were killed. On October 17, the Human Rights Institute at the University of Central America filed five complaints with the Attorney General’s Office on behalf of victims of torture, forced disappearances, and murder from 1975 to 1989, allegedly by agents of the state. On October 20, Armando Duran filed a complaint against former Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) commanders, including the sitting president, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, for their alleged participation in a kidnapping in 1987. On November 15, the Constitutional Court ordered a lower court judge to determine how to investigate and prosecute the 1982 “El Calabozo” massacre, in which approximately 200 persons were killed.

Substantial corruption in the judicial system contributed to a high level of impunity, undermining the rule of law and the public’s respect for the judiciary. Between January 1 and June 30, the Supreme Court heard 201 cases against judges due to irregularities, removed four judges, suspended 10 others, and brought formal charges against 63 judges.

The Legislative Assembly did not always comply with Supreme Court rulings. As of September 8, the Legislative Assembly had not complied with a ruling from the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber that mandated the Legislative Assembly renominate magistrates on the Court of Accounts (a transparency oversight body) by July 29 because those nominated by the legislature had political party affiliations in contravention of legal standards. On September 6, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court admitted a complaint against the Legislative Assembly for failing to nominate members to the National Judicial Council after a delay of more than a year. The council is responsible for selecting judicial candidates.

Between January and June 20, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s Executive Technical Unit (UTE), which provides witness protection services, provided protection to 682 victims, 821 witnesses, and 457 victim/witnesses. The unit also provided household protection for 55 persons. In 2015 the unit provided protection to 4,218 victims and witnesses. Some judges denied anonymity to witnesses at trial, and gang intimidation and violence against witnesses contributed to a climate of impunity from criminal prosecution.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although some trial court judges were subject to political and economic influence. Although procedures called for juries to try certain crimes, including environmental pollution and certain misdemeanors, judges decided most cases. By law juries hear only a narrow group of cases, such as environmental complaints, to which the law does not assign to judges. After the jury’s determination of innocence or guilt, a panel of judges decides the sentence in such cases.

Defendants have the right to be present in court, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence. The constitution further provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, the right to a trial without undue delay, protection from self-incrimination, the right to communicate with an attorney of choice, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, freedom from coercion, the right to confront adverse witnesses and present one’s own witnesses and evidence, the right to appeal, access for defendants and their attorneys to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, and government-provided legal counsel for the indigent. In criminal cases a judge may allow a private plaintiff to participate in trial proceedings (calling and cross-examining witnesses, providing evidence, etc.), assisting the prosecuting attorney in the trial procedure. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through the appeals process if the defendant does not understand Spanish. Authorities did not always respect these legal rights and protections. Although a jury’s verdict is final, a judge’s verdict is subject to appeal. Trials are public unless a judge seals a case. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to the courts, enabling litigants to bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for, as well as cessation of, human rights violations. Domestic court orders generally were enforced. Most attorneys pursued criminal prosecution and later requested civil compensation.

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

In many neighborhoods, armed groups and gangs targeted certain persons, interfered with privacy, family, and home life, and created a climate of fear that the authorities were not capable of restoring to normal.

Guatemala

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of August 31, the PNC and its Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP), the mechanism for investigating security force abuses, reported no complaints of homicide. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), however, reported one complaint of murder, and the Attorney General’s Office, commonly known as the Public Ministry, reported one case of homicide, three cases of manslaughter, and one case of premeditated murder by PNC officers through August. Local media reported that a PNC officer killed a grocery store owner on January 4 in Santiago Atitlan, Solola. The trial was pending at year’s end.

On October 9, authorities arrested 13 members of the military from the San Juan Sacatepequez military brigade for the alleged extrajudicial killing of Hector Donaldo Contreras Sanchez in December 2015. According to media reports, the soldiers accused Contreras of consuming marijuana and proceeded to beat him unconscious. Forensics report later found no evidence of the victim being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The case was under Public Ministry investigation at year’s end.

On January 6, the Public Ministry arrested 14 high-ranking former military officers on charges of human rights violations for hundreds of extrajudicial executions during the internal armed conflict (1990-96) at former Military Zone 21, a site currently known as the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations (CREOMPAZ) in Coban, Verapaz. The CREOMPAZ case was assigned to a high-risk court, a special court created in 2009 with competence to hear cases that pose a serious risk to the judges, the prosecutor, the defense, or any other individual involved in the case. On June 7, the court found sufficient evidence to send eight individuals to trial. On September 14, the Public Ministry appealed the exclusion of a number of charges in the proceedings. At year’s end the trial date had not been confirmed.

Retrial proceedings restarted on March 16 against former head of state Efrain Rios Montt and his intelligence chief, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, in the case of genocide involving the Maya Ixil community. Proceedings had been suspended after the First Court of Appeals ruled that Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez should be tried separately. Rios Montt had been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and was originally sentenced to 80 years in prison. Later the Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds and returned the case to a different court for rehearing. In 2015 a high-risk court determined that Rios Montt was mentally unfit for public trial but ordered that the trial continue behind closed doors and with a guardian present. It also ruled that any verdict could be used only for the application of corrective measures on behalf of the victims and that Rios Montt cannot be sentenced to prison.

On November 16, in a different case against Rios Montt, a high-risk court dismissed a motion by the defense team to suspend criminal prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. The defense argued that Rios Montt was mentally unfit to stand trial. The court was scheduled to rule on February 9, 2017, on whether to send Rios Montt to trial. At year’s end the retrial dates had not been set for either case.

As of December the government had paid $14.2 million in reparations to families affected by the Chixoy Hydro-Electric Dam. During the dam’s construction (1975-85), more than 400 individuals died and thousands were displaced. As part of a 2014 reparations agreement, the government agreed to pay $156 million over 15 years in individual and community reparations to those who were affected.

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances. The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of forced disappearances from the internal armed conflict period (1960-96). On January 6, four high-ranking retired army officers were arrested for the 1981 forced disappearance of minor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. On August 22, the Attorney General’s Office presented new charges against retired army general Benedicto Lucas Garcia, who was also charged in the CREOMPAZ mass graves case. On October 25, a high-risk court found sufficient evidence to charge Lucas Garcia with illegal detention, torture, and sexual violence, and it accepted new charges of aggravated sexual assault for the other four defendants. The court was to determine whether all five defendants would go to trial on January 13, 2017.

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, there were credible reports of abuse and other mistreatment by PNC members.

In October preliminary hearings, a court ordered the trial of PNC agents Carlos Baten Perez, Rogelio Perez Hernandez, Nancy Evelia Rodriguez Alai, and Cesar Augusto Funes Morales for the torture and illegal detention of four suspects in April 2015 in the Villa Nueva suburb of Guatemala City. As of November the case was in the evidentiary phase, during which the Public Ministry presents all available evidence in advance of the trial.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening, with multiple instances of inmates killing other inmates. Sexual assault, inadequate sanitation and medical care, and gross overcrowding continued to place prisoners at significant risk. On July 18, prisoner Byron Lima Oliva, a former army captain, was killed, along with 12 others, inside the Pavon prison. Lima Oliva was serving a 20-year sentence for the 1998 murder of human rights defender Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi and had alleged ties to political corruption and narcotics-trafficking networks. At year’s end CICIG was investigating the case.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding continued to be a problem. According to the prison system registry, as of September 6, there were 20,743 inmates, including 1,974 women, held in facilities designed to hold 6,742 persons. Physical conditions including sanitation and bathing facilities, dental and medical care, ventilation, temperature control, and lighting were wholly inadequate. Prisoners had difficulty obtaining potable water, complained of inadequate food, and often had to pay for additional sustenance. Illegal drug sales and use continued to be widespread. Prison officials continued to report a loss of safety and control, including escape attempts, gang fights, inability to control the flow of contraband goods into prisons, and the fabrication of weapons. Prisoners continued to direct criminal activity both inside and outside of prisons. From January through September 5, at least 55 inmates died of unnatural causes while in prison.

Conditions for male and female prisoners were generally comparable throughout the country. Media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that female and juvenile inmates faced continuing physical and sexual abuse. Female inmates reported unnecessary body searches and verbal abuse by prison guards. Children below age four could live in prison with their mothers, although the penitentiary system provided inadequate food for young children, and many suffered from illness. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights groups alleged that other prisoners often sexually assaulted LGBTI individuals and that there were insufficient facilities to protect LGBTI individuals under custody. The Ministry of Government approved treatment standards for LGBTI prisoners in 2015, and NGOs trained authorities on their implementation during the year, although NGOs considered the improvements to be minimal. Occasionally authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and male and female detainees together.

Media reported similar conditions of abuse and overcrowding at the four juvenile detention centers administered separately by the Secretariat of Social Welfare. In October a judge ordered the closing of the annex of one of the detention centers for one year and mandated reform of the facilities.

Administration: The government’s independent Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) and the National Office for the Prevention of Torture (NOPT), whose responsibilities include prisoner rights, received complaints and conducted oversight of the prison system. The PDH and the NOPT can submit recommendations to the prison system based on complaints. No independent agency or unit, however, had a mandate to change or implement policy or to act on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Recordkeeping remained inadequate.

While the law requires authorities to permit prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities failed to investigate most allegations of inhuman conditions and treatment or to document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by local and international human rights groups, the Organization of American States (OAS), public defenders, and religious groups. The PDH and the NOPT also periodically visited prison facilities. The PDH reported it was sometimes difficult to gain access to the juvenile detention centers administered by the Secretariat of Social Welfare.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but there were credible reports of extrajudicial arrests, illegal detentions, and denial of timely access to a magistrate and hearing, as required by law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNC, which is overseen by the Ministry of Government and headed by a director general appointed by the ministry, is responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order in the country. The Ministry of National Defense oversees the military, which focuses primarily on operations in defense of the country, but the government also used the army in internal security and policing as permitted by the constitution.

Civilian authorities in some instances failed to maintain effective control over the PNC, and the government lacked effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Despite a 5 percent increase in its operating budget, the PNC remained understaffed, inadequately trained, and insufficiently funded, all of which substantially impeded its effectiveness.

There were reports of impunity involving security forces. In cases involving police forces, the ORP is responsible for internal investigations and the Public Ministry is responsible for external investigations. Authorities arrested approximately 272 police officials through August, similar to the previous year’s rate. A Police Reform Commission, established under a previous administration, has a legal mandate to make necessary changes to reform the police forces. Under this framework the commission developed software to improve PNC information systems, including through a new automated victim support system that consolidates information from victims as soon as they interact with PNC at the police station; created a professional school for officers and a formal education policy; and provided almost all of the country’s 54 Victim Support Offices with improved facilities and upgraded information systems.

During the year there were 747 complaints of police extortion and 206 for abuse of authority, compared with 31 and 856, respectively, in 2015. The PNC routinely transferred officers suspected of wrongdoing rather than investigating and punishing them.

Critics accused police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting antigang operations in some high-crime neighborhoods. Security officials allegedly arrested and imprisoned suspected gang members without warrants or on fabricated drug charges. The local press also reported police involvement in kidnappings for ransom.

On March 3, a soldier, Guilber Josue Barrios, allegedly drugged and raped a 14-year-old student at a civil-military institute administered by the Ministry of Defense. The suspect absconded, which prevented his trial from moving forward. A number of NGOs asserted that the Ministry of Defense demonstrated a lack of effective collaboration with civilian authorities to prevent this type of incident.

The ORP conducted internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. In the first eight months of the year, the ORP reported receiving 1,462 complaints alleging misconduct by police personnel.

All new PNC and military soldiers receive some training in human rights and professional ethics. During the year the Ministry of Defense elevated its Office of Human Rights to a directorate, providing it direct access to the minister; more than doubled its personnel; and conducted active outreach to human rights organizations.

The government took actions to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual abuse from the internal armed conflict period. On February 26, retired army officers Esteelmer Reyes and Heriberto Valdez were sentenced to 120 and 240 years of prison, respectively, for sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery involving 15 indigenous women in Sepur Zarco in 1982-83.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires presentation of a court-issued warrant to a suspect prior to arrest unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for more than six hours without bringing the case before a judge. Authorities did not regularly respect this right and did not promptly inform some detainees of the charges against them. After arraigning suspects, the prosecutor generally has three months to complete the investigation and file a case in court or seek a formal extension of the detention period. The law prohibits the execution of search warrants between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless the government has declared a state of siege. Judges can order house arrest for some suspects. The law provides for access to lawyers and bail for most crimes. The government provides legal representation for indigent detainees and detainees have access to family members. A judge has the discretion to determine whether bail is permissible for pretrial detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were no reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions, although most accounts indicated that police continued to ignore writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention, particularly during neighborhood anti-gang operations.

Pretrial Detention: As of September 6, prison system records indicated 46 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The law establishes a three-month limit for pretrial detention but authorities regularly held detainees past their legal trial or release dates. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often led to lengthy pretrial detentions, delaying trials for months or years. Authorities did not release some prisoners after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic delays.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Suspects are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention. If successful, their release is not immediate and usually takes several days. There was no compensation for those ruled unlawfully detained.

The constitution and the law provide for an independent judiciary. The judicial system failed to provide fair or timely trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses.

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug-trafficking organizations. By the end of September, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 192 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 202 for the same period in 2015.

CICIG assisted the Ministry of Government and Public Ministry with the investigation of cases, including allegations of extrajudicial executions, extortion, trafficking in persons, improper adoptions, corruption, and drug trafficking.

The Supreme Court continued to seek the suspension of judges and to conduct criminal investigations of improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. The Judicial Disciplinary Unit investigated 1,178 complaints of wrongdoing against judges, technicians, and judiciary administrative staff through October, held hearings on 570 complaints, and applied sanctions in 360 cases, including disciplinary suspension without pay (277 cases) and recommending dismissal (34 cases).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right to be present at trial, and the right to legal counsel in a timely manner. The law requires the government to provide attorneys for defendants facing criminal charges if the defendant cannot find or afford an attorney. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case and may confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for plea bargaining and the right of appeal. Three-judge panels render verdicts. The law provides for oral trials and mandates free language interpretation for those needing it; however, interpreters were not always available. Officials conduct trials in Spanish, the official language, although many citizens only speak one of the 23 officially recognized indigenous languages. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

The Public Ministry, acting semi-independently of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as plaintiffs.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On July 22, a high-risk court released seven community leaders from Huehuetenango because kidnapping charges against them could not be substantiated. The seven had been arrested in 2015 for detaining 11 hydroelectric company workers in 2013 and had been held in preventive prison for 18 months. The court confirmed that the prisoners were community leaders or indigenous authorities mediating between the community and the hydroelectric company and expressed concern over criminalization of the rights to assemble and protest. Specifically, the presiding judge stated, “attempting to mediate a community conflict is not a crime.”

Local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders registered 68 cases of criminalization of human rights defenders through October. Charges included defamation, legal complaint, and arbitrary detention.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies, excessive workload, and a legal system that often permits time-consuming but spurious complaints.

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. On September 5, President Jimmy Morales dismissed Jorge Lopez, the secretary of administrative and security matters of the president, and his deputy, Cesar Sagastume, for alleged illegal surveillance. At year’s end the Public Ministry was investigating their suspected involvement in the illegal monitoring of journalists, human rights defenders, business owners, and politicians. Media sources reported that former presidential advisor and current member of congress Herbert Melgar’s name also appeared in the criminal complaint filed with the Public Ministry, but he continued to serve in congress and had not been formally charged.

Honduras

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

Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.

On March 3, environmental and indigenous activist, Berta Caceres, was killed in her home in Intibuca Department (see also section 6, Indigenous People). In early May the Public Ministry arrested five individuals implicated in her killing, including an active duty Honduran Special Forces officer and a manager at a hydroelectric project that Caceres had actively opposed. Law enforcement authorities arrested a sixth suspect in September. As of November a judge had remanded all six to custody pending trial, and their defense lawyer had submitted a request for dismissal of the charges, which was still pending. The Public Ministry continued its investigation into whether others were involved in planning the crime. The Honduran Armed Forces dishonorably discharged the Special Forces officer implicated in Caceres’ death.

Also in March local and international media reported that corrupt senior police officials working for drug traffickers were responsible for the killings of senior antinarcotics officials Julian Gonzalez in 2009 and Alfredo Landaverde in 2011, and the murder of senior anti-money-laundering prosecutor Orlan Chavez in 2013. According to media reports, other senior police and Ministry of Security officials covered up the crimes or failed to take action to bring those responsible to justice. Subsequently, the government passed legislative decree 21-2016, which created the Special Commission in Charge of Purging and Restructuring the Honduran National Police (HNP), comprising the minister of security, a former president of the Supreme Court, and two prominent members of civil society, to review systematically the performance and integrity of all police officials. As of December 19, the commission had reviewed the personnel files of 3,004 officials and dismissed 1,835 officers, while allowing 256 officers to retire voluntarily, for a total of 2,091 police officers dismissed from the HNP. In February a three-judge tribunal acquitted all senior military officials previously accused of covering up the 2012 killing of 15-year-old Ebed Jassiel Yanes Caceres.

On May 19, Military Police for Public Order (PMOP) soldier, Jose Alonzo Miranda Almendarez, shot and killed Alexis Alberto Avila Ramirez when Avila and his brother fled from the PMOP squad executing arrest warrants against them in the city of Danli, El Paraiso Department. A judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to hold Miranda on a charge of abuse of authority and manslaughter pending a trial; his defense requested a dismissal of the charges, and an appeals court was reviewing the appeal as of October. Miranda’s PMOP patrol was participating in a joint operation directed by the National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA), but it reported to the 110th Infantry Brigade.

In August the trial of four armed forces intelligence personnel implicated in the 2014 killings of siblings Ramon Eduardo Diaz Rodriguez and Zenia Maritza Diaz Rodriguez was scheduled to begin in February 2017.

In February a judge issued a warrant for the arrest of PMOP members involved in the shooting of 11-year-old Yoslin Isaac Martinez Rivera in November 2015. As of October the individuals had not been arrested.

Authorities arrested HNP officer, Donis Joel Figueroa Reyes, for the November 2015 torture of three detainees and murder of detainee Jose Armando Gomez Sanchez. The three individuals had been detained for public intoxication but allegedly attempted to escape detention, after which they were handcuffed to the ceiling in the police station and beaten by Figueroa, resulting in Gomez’s death. Figueroa was originally detained in November 2015 but had escaped from custody.

There continued to be reports of violence related to land conflicts and criminal activity in the Bajo Aguan region, but the overall level of violence in the area was far below its 2012 peak. On October 18, Jose Angel Flores, president of the Unified Farm Workers Movement of the Aguan (MUCA) and his colleague Silmer Dionicio George, were killed after leaving a meeting of MUCA leaders. On November 21, the Public Ministry announced arrest warrants for two individuals–Osvin Nahun Caballero and Wilmer Giovanni Fuentes–believed to be involved in the October 18 attack; the ministry stated that the murders appeared to be related to the continuing land conflict. No members of the security forces or private security guards were reported to have been responsible for deaths related to the land conflict. One private security guard of an agricultural company, however, was reportedly killed due to land conflict, and agricultural workers reported at least one other violent encounter between private security guards and agricultural workers as of August.

Organized criminal elements, including narcotics traffickers and local and transnational gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, committed murders, extortion, kidnappings, human trafficking, and acts of intimidation against police, prosecutors, journalists, women, and human rights defenders. Major urban centers and drug trafficking routes experienced disproportionate rates of violence. Media reported that as of September 7,176 individuals working in the transportation sector had been killed during the year, often for failing to make extortion payments. The Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) reported that 290 workers from the transportation sector were killed in 2015, a 40 percent increase from 2014.

On May 27, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions recognized that the government had taken steps to reduce the homicide rate, but urged authorities to do more to protect the right to life and reduce violence. According to the UNAH Violence Observatory, there was no significant change in the overall annual homicide rate in the first six months of the year compared with 2015, which remained at approximately 60 per 100,000 after several years of steep decline. Reports linked many of these homicides to organized crime and gangs.

The HNP reported 40 kidnappings in 2015, a 48 percent decrease from 2014. As of October the HNP projected a further 65 percent decrease in kidnappings during the year. The HNP reported that in 2015 it rescued 28 victims. Nine more were freed through negotiations and partial payment. Kidnappers killed three others. As of October the HNP had rescued 16 victims. The HNP estimated that it prevented 80 million lempiras ($3.2 million) in ransom payments to criminals in 2015. Court cases took on average two years. In one case from 2014, the HNP rescued the victim within 24 hours and arrested a suspect. Further investigation led to two additional arrests. On July 21, all three were sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) received complaints of abuse by members of the security forces on the streets and in detention centers. On August 10, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern over numerous reports of human rights violations, including torture, by members of the security forces. As of September the National Human Rights Commission (CONADEH) reported 221 complaints implicating members of the security forces or other government officials in torture or other cruel or inhuman treatment, whereas the quasi-governmental National Committee for the Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) reported 70 complaints against government officials for human rights violations, the majority relating to detention conditions. The Public Ministry had 49 active torture cases against members of police and military as of October.

In April agents from the Public Ministry’s Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations arrested nine prison guards in Danli, El Paraiso Department, for allegedly torturing an inmate. Media reported that the alleged victim, Carlos Lenin Meza Navas, had lodged a complaint against a guard on February 6 for not permitting him to make an authorized telephone call. The guard and eight of his colleagues subsequently assaulted Navas in his cell, beating him unconscious.

There were reports that criminal gangs tortured individuals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening because of pervasive gang-related violence and the government’s failure to control criminal activity within the prisons. Prisoners suffered from overcrowding, insufficient access to food and water, violence, and abuse by prison officials.

Following a 2014 fire in the Comayagua prison that killed 361 inmates, the National Congress approved the National Prison System Act in 2015, which modified the organization of prisons and mandated the professionalization of police charged with prison administration. In February the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that the country’s prisons still suffered from many of the same problems that contributed to the 2014 Comayagua tragedy. These problems included the delegation of internal controls to prisoners themselves and a corresponding lack of responsible management by prison authorities; overcrowding and deplorable incarceration conditions; and a failure to segregate men and women fully in most prisons.

Physical Conditions: Prisoners suffered from severe overcrowding, malnutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care, and, in some prisons, lack of adequate ventilation and lighting. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that as of August the total prison population was 17,253 in 27 prisons, an 8 percent increase over September 2015. According to the ministry, the system had designed capacity for approximately 10,600 inmates.

The National Prison Institute (INP) reported that as of August 12, 16 inmates had died in prison, 14 from natural causes and two from suicide. Seven inmates were killed outside prison while receiving medical care or on conditional home release. In contrast, CONAPREV reported that 19 prisoners died in altercations between inmates, three committed suicide, and four died from illness.

As of August the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that the country’s four pretrial detention centers held 75 individuals. Three of these centers were on military installations, and the other was located on the installations of the HNP’s Special Operations Command (known as COBRAS). The government used pretrial detention centers to hold high-profile suspects and those in need of additional security. The military provided some support services to the three detention centers located on military bases; however, the military neither administered them nor provided guards for the facilities. Instead, the INP oversaw them, as it did other prisons.

Due to overcrowding and lack of adequate training for prison staff, prisoners were subjected to serious abuses, including rape by other inmates. Prisons lacked trained personnel to safeguard the psychological and physical wellbeing of inmates, and some prisons lacked sufficient security personnel.

Many prisoners had access to weapons and other contraband, inmates attacked other inmates with impunity, escapes were frequent, and inmates and their associates outside prison threatened prison officials and their families. These conditions contributed to an unstable, dangerous environment in the penitentiary system. Media reported multiple prison riots and violent confrontations between gang members in prisons throughout the year. Inmates killed several prison guards, including the deputy director of the San Pedro Sula prison, either inside prison facilities or by giving orders that criminal associates on the outside carried out on their behalf.

There were credible reports from human rights organizations that, in addition to subjecting prisoners to isolation and threats, prison officials used excessive force, such as beatings, to control prisoners.

The government held approximately one-half of its female prisoners at a facility for mothers with young children and pregnant women. Others were housed in separate areas of men’s prisons. In the San Pedro Sula prison, for instance, approximately 70 women resided in their own wing of the prison but shared communal space with upwards of 2,900 men. Children up to the age of three could stay with their mothers in prison. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.

Authorities did not segregate those with tuberculosis or other infectious diseases from the general prison population; there was only limited support for persons with mental illnesses or disabilities. CONAPREV reported that every prison had a functioning health clinic with at least one medical professional, except for the National Penitentiary in Francisco Morazan Department. Basic medical supplies and medicines, particularly antibiotics, were in short supply throughout the prison system. In most prisons only inmates who purchased bottled water or had water filters in their cells had access to potable water.

As of August the NGO Casa Alianza said juvenile detention staff reported there were 438 minors (394 boys and 44 girls) in five juvenile detention centers, segregated by gender. CONAPREV, however, reported that 542 boys resided in two juvenile detention centers and the COBRAS pretrial detention center as of August. According to the Directorate of Childhood and Family, 304 youths benefited from alternative sentencing outside the juvenile detention system between January 2015 and August (see section 6, Institutionalized Children).

Administration: The INP, an autonomous agency, managed the country’s adult prisons. The minister of human rights, justice, governance, and decentralization, together with the minister of security, an NGO representative, and a representative of the National Municipal Association formed a committee that supervised the INP. Public defenders and judges sought alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders as a means to alleviate prison overcrowding. Flawed recordkeeping procedures meant that some inmates served more time in prison than their sentences specified.

Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and could submit requests for the investigation of inhuman conditions directly to the director of the prison in which they were incarcerated. Directors could then transfer the complaints to the INP director. Prisoners also could file complaints with the INP’s Human Rights Protection Unit, the Public Ministry’s Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, and the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization. CONADEH also took complaints and conducted investigations. The results of investigations by NGOs and government officials were available to the public. CONAPREV reported there were three complaints of torture and mistreatment in detention centers as of September. NGOs reported that some prisoners were reluctant to file official complaints because they did not trust the authorities and there was no effective system for witness protection (also see section 1.c.).

The 2015 Law of Obligatory Labor for Prisoners stipulates that prison populations must engage in at least 400 hours of community service per individual. Officials had not implemented the law, however, with the exception of some minor farming initiatives at the Comayagua prison (also see section 7.b.).

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted prison visits by independent local and international human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. Faith-based organizations such as the San Pedro Sula-based Roman Catholic Penitentiary Pastoral engaged in small-scale rehabilitation and vocational programs with willing inmates. The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization made inspection visits to pretrial detention centers. The Human Rights Protection Unit of the INP made routine inspections of prison facilities and pretrial detention centers. CONAPREV made more than a dozen visits to juvenile detention facilities as of the end of August.

Improvements: In late 2015 the government launched an initiative to reduce prison overcrowding. After reviewing a list of cases recommended by prison administrators, at the end of 2015, the government released approximately 2,000 inmates who had completed their sentences or had already been in pretrial detention for longer than the maximum sentences for their alleged crimes. The government opened two new prisons, with a capacity of 2,300 prisoners.

The Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization reported that as of July, it had trained 1,100 prisoners in five prisons on human rights, a culture of peace, and their responsibilities under the 2015 National Prison System Act. The Human Rights Protection Unit trained an additional 600 prisoners on their human rights and national and international standards applicable to prisoners.

The INP trained 250 staff members on human rights for prisoners; nondiscrimination; the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; minimum standards for treatment of prisoners; national and international standards applicable to prisoners; and the appropriate use of lethal and nonlethal force.

Antiretroviral treatment programs expanded significantly throughout the prison system, and many HIV-positive patients who were not previously receiving treatment began a course of medication. Testing programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and diabetes improved. On April 27, the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization and INP signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health to improve prison health services. As of August the government had hired 18 doctors to staff prisons. CONAPREV reported an increase in technical personnel available to assist prisoners, including public defenders, psychologists, and social workers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but human rights NGOs reported that authorities at times failed to enforce these prohibitions effectively. CONADEH reported 12 cases of arbitrary arrest as of September. The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras reported 23 illegal or arbitrary arrests: five by the PMOP, 13 by the HNP, and five by municipal police.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The HNP maintains internal security and reports to the Secretariat of Security. The Technical Agency for Criminal Investigations at the Public Ministry (Attorney General’s Office) has legal authority to investigate 21 types of crimes and make arrests. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities. The PMOP reports to military authorities but conducts operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. As of August the PMOP had approximately 3,000 personnel organized into six battalions and was present in all 18 departments. In 2015 a total of 2,400 members of the PMOP received human rights training. FUSINA coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. FUSINA reports to the National Security and Defense Council. The president chairs the council, which includes representatives of the Supreme Court, National Congress, Public Ministry, and Secretariats of Security and Defense.

The armed forces surrendered members accused of human rights violations to civilian authorities. The armed forces sometimes dishonorably discharged such individuals, even before a criminal trial. The Public Ministry, primarily through the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life, is responsible for investigating cases in which a government agent is allegedly responsible for killing a civilian. Prosecutors try such cases in civilian courts. Prosecutors and judges attached to FUSINA prosecute and hear cases related to FUSINA operations. A unit within the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Life manages some cases of homicides committed by members of the security forces and government officials. The human rights office of the joint staff of the armed forces investigated allegations of human rights abuses by members of the armed forces.

Corruption and impunity remained serious problems within the security forces. Some members of police committed crimes, including crimes linked to local and international criminal organizations.

On April 11, in response to media reports that high-ranking HNP officers had ordered the killing of senior antinarcotics and anti-money-laundering officials in 2009, 2011, and 2013, the president approved a decree creating the Special Commission in Charge of Purging and Restructuring the HNP. The minister of security heads the commission and oversees the work of three prominent members of civil society and a small group of advisors. The commission has authority to: determine the suitability of HNP officials and dismiss officers without cause, implement a mechanism to follow-up and supervise the evaluation and dismissal processes, pass the personnel records of dismissed police officers suspected of criminal activity to the Public Ministry and the Supreme Auditing Tribunal for review and possible prosecution, and report progress to the president and National Congress on a quarterly basis.

As of mid-December the commission reported that it had evaluated 3,004 HNP officers. The commission recommended that 887 of these be retained, 1,835 dismissed, 256 voluntarily retired, 15 suspended pending further review, and another 11 retained pending further evaluation; many of those dismissed were high-ranking officers. The commission referred 23 of these officers to the Public Ministry for possible criminal prosecution. At the commission’s request, the attorney general formed a special unit to investigate cases that the commission referred to it. The process has led to more dismissals than the previous five efforts undertaken since 1998 combined. The commission still needed to evaluate rank-and-file members of the HNP. The commission said the personnel it recommended for retention remained subject to continued suitability evaluations.

The Human Rights Office of the Honduran Armed Forces reported that as of August, more than 4,500 service members had received human rights training. The Honduran Armed Forces and various NGOs provided the training. The Honduran Armed Forces Cadet Leadership Development course trained approximately 220 cadets on human rights in 2015-16.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law provides that police may make arrests only with a warrant, unless they make the arrest during the commission of a crime, there is strong suspicion that a person has committed a crime and might otherwise evade criminal prosecution, they catch a person in possession of evidence related to a crime, or a prosecutor has ordered the arrest. The law requires police to inform persons of the grounds for their arrest and bring detainees before a competent judicial authority within 24 hours. It stipulates that a prosecutor then has 24 additional hours to decide if there is probable cause for indictment, whereupon a judge has 24 more hours to decide whether to issue a temporary detention order. Such an order may be effective for up to six days, after which the judge must hold a pretrial hearing to examine whether there is probable cause to continue pretrial detention. The law allows persons charged with some felonies to avail themselves of bail and gives prisoners a right of prompt access to family members. The law allows the release of other suspects pending formal charges, on the condition that they periodically report to authorities. The government generally respected these provisions. Persons suspected of any of 22 felonies must remain in custody, pending the conclusion of judicial proceedings against them; however, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled during the year that when a trial is delayed excessively, prisoners may be released on the condition that they continue to report periodically to authorities. The law grants prisoners the right to prompt access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to government-provided counsel, although authorities did not always abide by these requirements.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Public Ministry reported 35 cases of illegal detention or arbitrary arrest as of October.

Pretrial Detention: Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings in the criminal justice system, and lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. As of August according to the UNAH’s Institute for Democracy, Peace, and Security, 53 percent of the country’s prison population had not been convicted. For crimes with minimum sentences of six years, the law authorizes pretrial detention of up to two years. The prosecution may request an additional six-month extension, but many detainees remained in pretrial detention much longer, including for more time than the maximum period of incarceration for their alleged crime. The law does not authorize pretrial detention for crimes with a maximum sentence of five years or less. The law mandates that authorities release detainees whose cases have not yet come to trial and whose time in pretrial detention already exceeds the maximum prison sentence for their alleged crime. Even so, many prisoners remained in custody after completing their full sentences, and sometimes even after an acquittal, because officials failed to process their releases expeditiously.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons are entitled to challenge the legal basis or assert the arbitrary nature of their arrest or detention. Judicial inefficiency, corruption, and insufficient resources delayed proceedings, however, and excessively protracted legal processes were a serious problem.

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the justice system was poorly funded and staffed, inadequately equipped, often ineffective, and subject to intimidation, corruption, politicization, and patronage. Low salaries and a lack of internal controls rendered judicial officials susceptible to bribery. Powerful special interests, including organized criminal groups, exercised influence on the outcomes of some court proceedings.

In March the president of the Supreme Court disbanded the National Judicial Council, created in 2013 to implement an evaluation system for judges, for corruption and incompetence. The council had allegedly committed contracting irregularities, nepotism, overvalued travel expenses, and other irregular acts. Prosecutors had already charged the vice president of the council with influence peddling for pressuring a judge to drop money-laundering charges against his cousin. He and other members of the council resigned before the president of the Supreme Court formally disbanded the council.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, to consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, to have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and to request an appeal. Defendants can receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law grants the right to a fair public trial, permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense, and grants defendants access to government evidence relevant to their case. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, and an ineffective witness protection program (some protected witnesses were killed during the year).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law establishes an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to seek damages for human rights violations. Litigants may sue a criminal defendant for damages if authorized by a criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the Inter-American Human Rights system.

Although the constitution and law generally prohibit such actions, a legal exception allows government authorities to enter a private residence to prevent a crime or in case of other emergency. There were credible complaints that police occasionally failed to obtain the required authorization before entering private homes. As of June the judicial system reported three convictions in 10 alleged cases of illegal entry by government officials.

Ethnic minority rights leaders and farmworker organizations continued to claim that the government failed to redress actions taken by the security forces, government agencies, and private individuals and businesses to dislodge farmers and indigenous people from lands over which they claimed ownership based on land reform laws or ancestral land titles (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Mexico

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 many reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, often with impunity. Organized criminal groups also were implicated in numerous killings, often acting with impunity and at times in league with corrupt state, local, and security officials. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) reported 27 complaints for “deprivation of life” between January and November.

On August 2, authorities arrested Juan Carlos Arreygue, the mayor of the municipality of Alvaro Obregon, and four police officers, including a commander, in connection with the killing of 10 persons detained by police on July 29. According to news reports, Alvaro Obregon police under instructions from the mayor, detained the civilians and executed them, later burning their bodies. The criminal investigation into the case continued at year’s end.

In April a federal court charged the commander of the 97th Infantry Battalion and three other military officers for the July 2015 illegal detention and extrajudicial killing of seven suspected members of an organized criminal group in Calera, Zacatecas. No trial date had been set at year’s end.

On August 18, the CNDH released a report that accused federal police of executing 22 persons after a gunfight in May 2015 near Tanhuato, Michoacan, and of tampering with evidence. The CNDH report concluded that two of the men killed were tortured and 13 were killed after they had been detained. One police officer was killed in the incident. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia claimed the officers acted in self-defense. In response to the CNDH report, President Enrique Pena Nieto removed Federal Police Chief Enrique Galindo from his position to allow for “an agile and transparent investigation.” No federal police agents were charged, and the federal investigation continued at year’s end.

Authorities made no additional arrests in connection with the January 2015 killing of 10 individuals and illegal detentions and injury to a number of citizens in Apatzingan, Michoacan.

In May a civilian federal judge acquitted and dismissed all charges against the remaining members of the military with pending charges in relation to the 2014 killings of 22 suspected criminals in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico. The court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to convict. In April the press reported that in October 2015 the Sixth Military Court dropped the charges against six soldiers and convicted one soldier, sentencing him to time served. In a report released in October 2015 before the verdicts, the CNDH determined that authorities arbitrarily deprived at least 12 to 15 of the civilians of life and tortured some of the witnesses. In July authorities of the State of Mexico declared they intended to fire nine state-level investigators from the General Prosecutor’s Office and suspend 21 others for misconduct related to the case. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concerns regarding the lack of convictions in the case and the perceived failure to investigate the chain of command.

Former military corporal, Juan Ortiz Bermudez, appealed his 2015 conviction to 18 years’ imprisonment for intentional homicide in the 2010 killing of two unarmed civilians in Nuevo Leon. Authorities had not scheduled a hearing at year’s end.

Criminal organizations carried out human rights abuses and widespread killings throughout the country. For example, from July 9 to 15, criminal gangs executed several families in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas in what media reported as a war among drug-trafficking organizations. Criminals also targeted mayors (at least six killed this year) and other public officials. From 2006 to the middle of the year, 82 mayors were killed in the country.

News reports and NGO sources noted that from January 2015 to August, authorities discovered more than 724 bodies in several hundred clandestine graves throughout the country, the majority of killings were suspected to have been carried out by criminal organizations.

Federal law prohibits forced disappearances, but laws relating to forced disappearances vary widely across the 32 states and not all classify “forced disappearance” as distinct from murder or kidnapping. Investigation, prosecution, and sentencing for the crime of disappearance remained rare. The CNDH reported to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that as of October 2015, authorities opened 95 investigations at the state level for forced disappearances in nine states, resulting in four indictments but no convictions.

There were many reports of forced disappearances by security forces. There were numerous cases of disappearances related to organized criminal groups. In its data collection, the government often merged disappeared persons with missing persons, making it difficult to compile accurate statistics on the extent of the problem.

The CNDH registered 16 cases of alleged forced disappearances through the end of October.

The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) revamped its Special Unit for Disappeared Persons in 2015, establishing expanded authorities and transferring 846 open cases from the predecessor PGR unit. The unit employed approximately 30 prosecutors and, as of May, was investigating the cases of 1,050 missing or disappeared persons. In June the attorney general appointed a prosecutor to lead the unit.

Authorities arrested 13 persons, including eight state police officers; they faced charges for the January 11 disappearance of five youths from Tierra Blanca, Veracruz. On February 8, federal authorities located the remains of two of the youths on a property reportedly used by drug traffickers after one officer admitted to the abduction and transfer of the youths to a local criminal gang. Several containers found there contained human remains estimated to belong to hundreds of victims killed over a period of several years.

On April 28, a 17-year-old boy disappeared in the state of Veracruz, with the alleged participation of the Veracruz state police called “Fuerza Civil.” International NGOs reported that the boy’s mother had difficulty filing the disappearance report with the state attorney general’s office.

On November 10, the IACHR launched the follow-up mechanism agreed to by the government, the IACHR, and the families of the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. The government provided funding for the mechanism that follows up the work of the group of independent experts who supported the investigation of the disappearances and assisted the families of the victims from March 2015 to April 30. At the end of their mandate in April, the experts released a final report strongly critical of the government’s handling of the case.

According to information provided by the PGR in November, authorities had indicted 168 individuals and arrested 128, including 73 police officers from Cocula and Iguala and 55 alleged members of the Guerrero-based drug trafficking organization, Guerreros Unidos. Representatives of civil society organizations and the IACHR-affiliated experts noted that authorities held many of those arrested on charges such as participation in a criminal organization but not on involvement in the students’ disappearances. A CNDH report implicated federal police and local police officers from nearby Huitzuco. In October authorities arrested the former police chief of Iguala, who had been in hiding since the 2014 disappearances. Both federal and state authorities continued at year’s end to investigate the case, including the whereabouts of the missing students or their remains.

Kidnappings remained a serious problem for persons at all socioeconomic levels, and there were credible reports of instances of police involvement in kidnappings for ransom, often at the state and local level. The government’s statistics agency (INEGI) estimated that 94 percent of crimes were either unreported or not investigated and that underreporting for kidnapping may be even higher.

Coahuila state authorities issued arrest warrants in June for 15 individuals–10 of whom were former police–for forced disappearances in the border state of Coahuila. According to state authorities, from 2009 to 2012, the Zetas transnational criminal organization, allegedly in collusion with local police, carried out mass disappearances in the border towns of Piedras Negras, Allende, and Nava. Elements of the organization allegedly killed some of the victims and disposed of their remains in Piedras Negras’ state prison.

The law prohibits such practices and stipulates confessions obtained through illicit means are not admissible as evidence in court, but there were reports that government officials employed them.

There is no national registry of torture cases, and a lack of data on torture cases at the state level.

As of October 31, the CNDH registered 206 complaints of alleged torture and 451 cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. NGOs stated that in some cases the CNDH misclassified torture as inhuman or degrading treatment.

News reports indicated that the PGR was examining 4,000 cases of torture in the first nine months of the year. The reports indicated that judges issued 14 arrest warrants for torture, including five arrest warrants for army and federal police members.

In June a report by Amnesty International accused security officials of using sexual and other types of torture to secure confessions from women.

On April 14, a video was posted on social media showing a woman being tortured by two soldiers and members of the Federal Police in an incident that took place in February 2015 in Ajuchitlan del Progreso, state of Guerrero. The secretary of defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, made an unprecedented public apology. National Security Commissioner Renato Sales also offered a public apology. In January authorities detained two of the soldiers allegedly implicated, and they faced civilian charges of torture as well as military charges of disobeying orders. Authorities suspended members of the Federal Police for their involvement.

On January 20, a federal court in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua sentenced army Colonel Elfego Jose Lujan Ruiz (the former commander of the 35th Infantry Battalion in Nuevo Casas Grandes) to 33 years in prison for the 2009 torture, homicide, and clandestine burial of two men. Authorities also sentenced five other convicted former soldiers of the 35th Infantry Battalion; three to 33 years in prison for the same crimes and two to 39 months in prison for torture.

In April authorities sentenced army General Manuel Moreno Avina to 52 years’ imprisonment for the torture, homicide, and destruction of human remains of a man in Chihuahua in 2008. The federal judge also ordered the Ministry of Defense (SEDENA) to offer a public apology and accept responsibility for killing the man. Media reported that, as of October 31, authorities sentenced 21 soldiers who were under Moreno’s command on charges related to torture, homicide, drug trafficking, and other crimes.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers were often harsh and life threatening due to corruption, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, and lack of security and control.

Civil society groups reported abuses of migrants in some detention centers.

Physical Conditions: In a report published during the year, the IACHR noted that federal and state detention centers suffered from “uncontrolled self-government in aspects such as security and access to basic services, violence among inmates, lack of medical attention, a lack of real opportunities for social reintegration, a lack of differentiated attention for groups of special concern, abuse by prison staff, and lack of effective grievance mechanisms.”

There were numerous cases of corruption in the penitentiary system, including allegations of high-level corruption related to the July 2015 escape of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The IACHR reported that 200 of the 388 penitentiary centers in the country were overcrowded. News reports indicated that Hidalgo State had the most overcrowded prisons and identified the district jail in Tepeaca, Puebla, as the most overcrowded (329 inmates in a jail designed for 49); 239 of the prisoners were awaiting their sentences. In April the CNDH reported that overcrowding in prisons was the main factor in lack of social rehabilitation. Health and sanitary conditions were poor, and most prisons did not offer psychiatric care. Some prisons often were staffed with poorly trained, underpaid, and corrupt correctional officers, and authorities occasionally placed prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely. Prisoners often had to bribe guards to acquire food, medicine, and other necessities. In some cases prisoners reportedly had to pay a fee to be permitted to visit with family members. Authorities held pretrial detainees together with convicted criminals. The CNDH noted a lack of access to adequate health care was a significant problem. Food quality and quantity, heating, ventilation, and lighting varied by facility, with internationally accredited prisons generally having the highest standards.

The CNDH reported conditions for female prisoners, particularly for women who lived with their children in prison, were inferior to those for men, due to a lack of appropriate living facilities and specialized medical care. There were reports women who lived with their children in prison did not receive extra food or assistance.

The CNDH reported 52 homicides and 23 suicides in state and district prisons in 2015. The CNDH noted in its 2015 report on prisons that 86 prisons did not have a suicide prevention system. On February 11, 49 inmates were killed in the deadliest prison riot in history at the Nuevo Leon state prison of Topo Chico. In June, three prisoners were killed and 14 injured in another riot at the same prison. A senior Nuevo Leon state official cited poor prison conditions and a lack of funding as primary contributing factors for continued violence at the prison.

Administration: At some state prisons, recordkeeping remained inadequate. While prisoners and detainees could file complaints regarding human rights violations, access to justice was inconsistent, and authorities generally did not publicly release the results of investigations.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the CNDH, and state human rights commissions. Independent monitors were generally limited to making recommendations to authorities to improve prison conditions.

Improvements: In June a new law allowed women to have full custody of their children while in prison until the children reached three years of age.

On June 16, the National Criminal Enforcement Act went into effect, which defines the guiding principles of the prison system to be dignity, equality, legality, due process, transparency, confidentiality, and social reinsertion. The law points out that women require different accommodations than men and identifies the important role community contact plays in successful social reintegration.

Both federal and state facilities sought international accreditation from the American Correctional Association, which requires demonstrated compliance with a variety of international standards. As of September 1, 12 additional correctional facilities achieved association accreditation, bringing the total number of accredited facilities to 42.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government often failed to observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The federal police, as well as state and municipal police, have primary responsibility for law enforcement and the maintenance of order. The federal police are under the authority of the interior minister and the National Security Committee, state police are under the authority of each of the 32 governors, and municipal police are under the authority of local mayors. SEDENA, which oversees the army and air force, and the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR), which oversees the navy and marines, also play a role in domestic security, particularly in combatting organized criminal groups. The National Migration Institute (INM), under the authority of the Interior Ministry (SEGOB), is the administrative body responsible for enforcing migration laws and protecting migrants. The INM’s 5,400 agents worked at ports of entry, checkpoints, and detention centers, conducting migrant apprehension operations in coordination with the federal police.

The law requires military institutions to transfer all cases involving civilian victims, including human rights cases, to the civilian justice system under the jurisdiction of the PGR. If the victim is a member of the military, alleged perpetrators remain subject to the military justice system. SEDENA, SEMAR, the federal police, and the PGR have security protocols for the transfer of detainees, chain of custody, and use of force. The protocols, designed to reduce the time arrestees remain in military custody, outline specific procedures for handling detainees.

According to the Office of the Attorney General of Military Justice, as of April 18, the military had transferred to the civilian Attorney General’s Office prosecutorial jurisdiction for more than 1,273 military personnel accused of human rights violations in 558 criminal cases, 257 homicide cases, 229 torture cases, and 72 forced disappearance cases. As of June SEDENA reported there were no cases before military courts that involved a civilian victim.

Although civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces and police, impunity, especially for human rights abuses, remained a serious problem. The country had extremely low rates of prosecution, and prosecutions could take years to complete.

There were new developments in the 2006 San Salvador Atenco confrontation between local vendors and state and federal police agents in Mexico State during which two individuals were killed and more than 47 women were taken into custody with many allegedly sexually tortured by police officials. In 2009 an appeals court acquitted the only individual previously convicted in the case, and in September the Inter-American Court of Human Rights agreed to hear the case, but no date has been set.

By law elected officials enjoy immunity from prosecution, including for corruption, while they hold a public office, although state and federal legislatures have the authority to waive an elected official’s immunity.

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

In May the code of military justice was reformed to establish procedures for the conduct of military oral trials, in accordance with the transition to an adversarial justice system. On June 15, the CNDH published and submitted to the Supreme Court a “Report of Unconstitutionality” in which it claimed aspects of the recently revised code of military justice and military code of criminal procedures (military code or CMPP) violated constitutional guarantees, including against unreasonable searches and seizures. The CNDH based its claims on provisions of the military code that allow military prosecutors to request permission from civilian prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office to intercept communications and search premises during the investigation of military personnel for ties to organized crime, murder, and weapons violations. The CNDH criticized the ability of a military judge to call a civilian to testify in military court, the requirement that authorities must conduct all procedural acts in Spanish, and the expanded roles given to the Military Ministerial Police (the top-level investigative entity of the military).

In February, SEMAR expanded its human rights program to include a weeklong course (from the previous one-day course), an intensive program for commanding officers, and a human rights diploma program, among others.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution allows any person to arrest another if the crime is committed in his or her presence. A warrant for arrest is not required if an official has direct evidence regarding a person’s involvement in a crime, such as having witnessed the commission of a crime. Bail exists, except for persons held in connection with drug trafficking or other forms of organized crime. In most cases the law provides for detainees to appear before a judge, and for authorities to provide sufficient evidence to justify continued detention, within 48 hours of arrest, but there were violations of the 48-hour provision. In cases involving three or more parties to a conspiracy to commit certain crimes, authorities may hold suspects for up to 96 hours before being presented to a judge.

Only the federal judicial system may prosecute cases involving organized crime. Under a procedure known in Spanish as “arraigo” (a constitutionally permitted form of detention, employed during the investigative phase of a criminal case before probable cause is fully established), certain suspects may, with a judge’s approval, be detained for up to 80 days prior to the filing of formal charges. Human rights NGOs claimed arraigo allowed some corrupt officials to extort detainees, detain someone, and then seek reasons to justify the detention, or obtain confessions using torture. In the absence of formal charges, persons detained under arraigo are often denied legal representation and are not eligible to receive credit for time served if convicted.

Some detainees complained about lack of access to family members and to counsel after police held persons incommunicado for several days and made arrests arbitrarily without a warrant. Police occasionally provided impoverished detainees counsel only during trials and not during arrests or investigations as provided for by law. Authorities held some detainees under house arrest.

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

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. According to an IACHR report, SEGOB figures as of August 2015 noted that 107,441 of 254,469 individuals detained were in pretrial detention. According to an international NGO, more than 40 percent of prisoners were awaiting their trial at the end of 2015. The law provides time limits within which authorities must try an accused person. Authorities generally disregarded time limits on pretrial detention since caseloads far exceeded the capacity of the federal judicial system.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons who are arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, may challenge their detention through the Juicio de Amparo. The defense may argue, among other things, that the accused did not receive proper due process; suffered a human rights abuse; or that authorities infringed upon basic constitutional rights. By law individuals should obtain prompt release and compensation if found to be unlawfully detained, but the authorities did not always promptly release those unlawfully detained.

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, court decisions were susceptible to improper influence by both private and public entities, particularly at the state and local level. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders, and at the state and local levels, arrest warrants were sometimes ignored.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

As of June the civilian and military courts officially transitioned from an inquisitorial legal system based primarily upon judicial review of written documents to an accusatory trial system reliant upon oral testimony presented in open court. While observers expected the new system would take several years to implement fully, the federal government and all of the states began to adopt it. In some states implementing the accusatory system, alternative justice centers employed mechanisms such as mediation, negotiation, and restorative justice to resolve minor offenses outside the court system.

Under the new system, all hearings and trials are conducted by a judge and follow the principles of public access and cross-examination. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence and to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to attend the hearings and to challenge the evidence or testimony presented. Defendants have access to government-held evidence, although the law allows the government to keep elements of an investigation confidential until the presentation of evidence in court. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law also provides for the rights of appeal and of bail in many categories of crimes.

The law provides defendants with the right to an attorney of their choice at all stages of criminal proceedings. Attorneys are required to meet legal qualifications to represent a defendant. Not all public defenders had preparation and training to serve adequately on the defendants’ behalf, and often the state public defender system was not adequate to meet demand. Public defender services functioned either in the judicial or executive branch. According to the Center for Economic Research and Economic Teaching (CIDE), most criminal suspects did not receive representation until after they came under judicial authority, thus making individuals vulnerable to coercion to sign false statements prior to appearing before a judge.

Although required by law, interpretation and translation services from Spanish to indigenous languages at all stages of the criminal process were not always available. Indigenous defendants who did not speak Spanish sometimes were unaware of the status of their cases and were convicted without fully understanding the documents they were allegedly required to sign.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. On August 13, authorities released antilogging activist Ildefonso Zamora from prison after a court dropped burglary charges against him. Human rights NGOs had criticized his 2015 arrest as politically motivated due to his antilogging activism.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

Nicaragua

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

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, many during confrontations with illegal armed groups in the northern part of the country; however, a lack of clear and impartial investigations into deaths made attribution difficult. Human rights organizations and independent media alleged some killings were politically motivated.

On April 18, Andres Cerrato was kidnapped, shot, and killed in the community of San Martin de Daca, in Ayapal, Jinotega. As early as February, Cerrato reportedly experienced repeated harassment by the Nicaraguan National Police (NNP) and army, which accused him of aiding politically motivated armed groups in the region. Cerrato’s family claimed armed men forcibly took him from his home at or after midnight. His body was found approximately three miles from his home later that day, bearing gunshot wounds and signs of torture. Prior to his death, Cerrato had claimed that soldiers entered his home in March and forcibly coerced him into confessing to having information on members of armed groups, although Cerrato denied any ties to the groups. Following Cerrato’s death, the army stated it did not conduct such operations and did not have information on the case.

Reports of shootings were increasingly common in the area of Jinotega. These shootings were widely believed to be related to the army’s pursuit of what many refer to as armed antigovernment groups in the north central region, although the army claims only the presence of criminals and/or delinquents.

There were no developments in or investigations of the January 2015 killing of Modesto Duarte Altamirano or the 2014 killing of Carlos Garcia, a former Contra and member of the Independent Liberal Party (see also section 1.d., “Role of the Police and Security Apparatus”).

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

Although the law prohibits such practices, there were numerous reports that police abused suspects during arrest, used excessive force, and engaged in degrading treatment. In the first six months of the year, the NGO Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH) received 610 complaints against the NNP for excessive force, arbitrary detention, and cruel or degrading treatment, including in prisons. CENIDH was able to confirm abuse in 391 of those complaints.

There were numerous claims of torture by agents of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), a special police investigations unit, especially during arrests related to organized crime. Human rights organizations alleged the directorate operated outside the normal NNP chain of authority and was not accountable to normal NNP internal affairs procedures.

Following their release, two prisoners arrested for involvement in a 2014 attack on an FSLN bus caravan claimed to the press that they were regularly beaten while in the DAJ prison. Additionally, a Mexican student reportedly held in custody at the DAJ prison for nine days appeared for his trial with bloodshot eyes and bruises. Prison officials claimed that the bruising was “self-inflicted” to discredit the government.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, difficulties obtaining medical care, and violence among prisoners remained serious problems in prison facilities.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a problem. Pretrial detainees often shared cells with convicted prisoners. Juvenile prisoners shared cells with adults due to overcrowding. Human rights organizations reported police regularly left suspects in holding cells during their trials due to negligence or a lack of funds to transport them to court.

Prison conditions continued to deteriorate due to antiquated infrastructure and increasing inmate populations. Many prisoners suffered mistreatment from prison officials and other inmates. Inmates also suffered from parasites, inadequate medical attention, frequent food shortages, contaminated water, and inadequate sanitation. Released prisoners and family members of prisoners reported there was poor ventilation and lighting in the DAJ prison. Family members, churches, and charitable organizations supplemented the national budget of 10 cordobas ($0.35) per prisoner per day for food. There was no budget allocation for health or personal care.

Conditions for female inmates were generally better than those for men but were nevertheless overcrowded and unhygienic.

Conditions in jails and temporary holding cells were also harsh. Most facilities were physically decrepit and infested with vermin; had inadequate ventilation, electricity, or sewage systems; and lacked potable water.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate, and the government took no steps to improve it. The problem was particularly serious in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACN) and the South Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS). In certain instances, the government restricted prisoners’ access to visitors, attorneys, physicians, and human rights officials. Although prisoners and detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, authorities often ignored or did not process complaints. The extent to which the government investigated allegations of poor prison conditions was unknown. The government ombudsman could serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees to consider such matters as informal alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, although this generally did not occur. The government announced in February that it had provided early release to more than 8,000 prisoners since 2014, and in November it further stated that approximately 1,600 additional prisoners serving less than five years for misdemeanors had been released on parole. Due to a lack of consistent national statistics from previous years, it was difficult to estimate the impact of these releases on prison conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government frequently denied prison visits by local human rights groups as well as the media. The government denied CENIDH access to all prison facilities when it attempted to investigate reports of hazardous conditions. NGOs generally received complaints through family members of inmates and often were unable to follow up on cases until after the release of the prisoner, due to lack of access.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government and its agents did not always comply with or enforce the law. Human rights NGOs noted several cases of arbitrary arrests by the NNP and army, including irregular arrests and detentions while the NNP investigated armed opposition groups in the Pacific north of the country.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The constitution establishes the NNP as an apolitical, nonpartisan institution protecting all citizens equally under the law. The NNP Office of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating complaints and abuses regarding police officers or internal police activities. Many duties previously held by the Ministry of Interior to administer the NNP, with the president as commander in chief, were transferred to the presidency in accordance with changes made to the constitution in 2014. The Ministry of Interior and the NNP each have law enforcement and internal security responsibilities throughout the country. The Ministry of Interior oversees the General Directorate for Migration and Foreigner Services, which works together with the police to oversee topics of migration and border security.

The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic responsibilities, including countering illicit trafficking in narcotics and providing for the transportation of election-related materials, including ballots. Many informed observers in civil society and the independent press regarded the army functionally as an autonomous force responding directly to the president, following a series of constitutional and military code reforms enacted in 2014, which gave the president greater control over the armed forces. The Office of the Inspectorate General is responsible for investigating abuses and corruption in the army, but limited public information was available on its activities.

There were instances in which the government failed to maintain effective control over the NNP, and the government failed to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There continued to be numerous reports of impunity involving security forces.

The NNP Office of Internal Affairs, and to a lesser extent the Office of the Inspector General, are responsible for investigating police abuse; however, corruption, inefficiency, and lack of transparency of the justice system contributed to a public perception of police impunity. According to a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in 2015 the NNP received 162 complaints of use of excessive force. Of these, the NNP investigated 127 and found officers guilty in 93. Information on the final disposition of those found guilty was not available. Due to the lack of specificity on the activities of the Office of Internal Affairs and a general lack of access to government information, human rights organizations and experts on security found it difficult to assess how the NNP investigated allegations of human rights violations by its members. The government generally did not take action on complaints against security forces.

NGOs reported that President Ortega had politicized the NNP and led many to question its professionalism. For instance, the president renewed the tenure of the national chief of police for a third consecutive term, making her the longest standing police chief since 1990. The extension was legal under changes to the constitution in 2014, but the president had previously extended her term through a 2011 executive decree that allegedly violated term limits prescribed in law at the time. The extension followed after sweeping changes to the police code granted the president greater power over the NNP. The media also highlighted the NNP’s use of an emblem with President Ortega and Sandino’s shadow as part of the officer’s uniform, and the use of the FSLN red and black party flag painted on select police stations or at police celebrations. NGOs and the press alleged the NNP continued to provide preferential treatment for progovernment and FSLN rallies.

The 2015 Sovereign Security Law significantly broadened the definition of state sovereignty and security and established a National Committee of Sovereign Security (NCSS), an executive-level committee with the enforcement backing of the military. The law defines “sovereign security” as the “existence of permanent peace” within the country and states the government is responsible to protect against “any risk, threat, or conflict that puts itself against sovereign security.” The law includes “any other factor that creates danger to the security of the people, life, family, and community, as well as the supreme interests of the Nicaraguan nation,” when outlining potential risks and threats to the nation’s sovereign security. The law stipulates the NCSS, made up of representatives from the NNP and the military, has the power to dispatch security forces. Human rights groups continued to express strong concern over the law and its implications on democratic space in the country.

Impunity remained a problem. There were no developments in the 2013 killing of four civilians, including former Contra leader Joaquin Torres Diaz, alias “Cascabel,” or the 2013 killing of Yairon Diaz Pastrana in Pantasma, all allegedly killed by military forces. According to local NGOs, there was no effort to investigate police beatings of and use of excessive force against demonstrators during 2013 protests in front of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute. The NNP and prosecutors declared they had no official evidence of the event to continue an investigation, despite videos on YouTube and other public media.

Likewise, there were no developments in the 2012 death of former Contra Santos Guadalupe Joyas Borge (“Pablo Negro”) or in the 2012 case of community leaders Pedro Ramon Castro and Miguel Angel Oliva, who allegedly were killed by four NNP members in the municipality of Pantasma.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judicial authority prior to detaining a suspect and to notify family members of the detainee’s whereabouts within 24 hours. While the law also stipulates a prosecutor accompany police making an arrest, CENIDH claimed irregularities in arrest procedures led to arbitrary arrest and detentions.

Police may hold a suspect legally for 48 hours before arraignment, when they must bring the person before a judge. A judge then must order the suspect released or transferred to jail for pretrial detention. After the initial 48 hours, the suspect should be allowed family member visits. The detainee has the right to bail unless a judge deems there is a flight risk. In most instances detainees were informed of charges against them, although there were instances when this did not occur, and at other times there were delays. Detainees have the right to an attorney immediately following their arrest, and the state provides indigent detainees with a public defender.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to NGOs and other human rights groups, arbitrary arrests occurred regularly. There were numerous reports of the use of the DAJ jail cells for arbitrary arrests for more than the prescribed 48 hours of detention legally allowed. Many arrests were allegedly made without warrants and without informing family members or legal counsel.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem, especially in the RACN and the RACS, where detainees often waited an average of six months for their cases to be presented to a judge. Observers attributed delays to limited facilities, an overburdened judicial system, judicial inaction, and high crime rates. No information was available on the percentage of the prison population in pretrial detention or the national average length of pretrial detention.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: While the law provides detainees the ability to challenge the legality of their detention before a court, procedural information for doing so was not publically available. There were reports on the obstacles legal counsels faced when they attempted to invoke constitutional protections for detainees, including habeas corpus, and courts frequently ignored their requests.

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system did not function independently. The law requires vetting of new judicial appointments by the CSJ, a process unduly affected by nepotism, personal influence, and political affiliation. Once appointed, many judges submitted to political and economic pressures that compromised their independence. NGOs complained of a delay of justice caused by judicial inaction and widespread impunity, especially regarding family and domestic violence and sexual abuse. Authorities occasionally failed to respect court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, but the judiciary did not always enforce this right. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be fully informed of the charges against them and the right to a fair trial. While the law establishes specific time periods for cases to come to trial, most cases encountered undue delay. Trials are public, but in some cases involving minors or at the victim’s request, they may be private. The law requires that defendants must be present at their trial, although this was not always respected. Defendants have the right to legal counsel, and the state provides public defenders for indigent persons. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and access to all information and evidence registered with the government, as well as the right to know why and how it was obtained, but only during the discovery and trial phases, not during the pretrial period. Although the constitution recognizes indigenous languages, defendants were not granted court translators. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and have the right to appeal a conviction. Defendants may present their own witnesses and evidence in their defense; however, some judges refused to admit evidence on behalf of the defense. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends these rights to all citizens regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, or other status.

Independent press reported the court system had unofficial orders to forego jail time or pretrial detention in domestic violence cases. The president of the CSJ did not refute these claims but instead reinforced that judges were free to act independently in these matters, while also referring to issues of overcrowding in prisons and preventive detention facilities. According to reports, this order applied only to domestic violence cases considered mild.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There was no reliable information available on the number or treatment of political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may file suit in civil courts to seek damages for human rights violations, but authorities did not always respect court orders.

The lack of an effective civil law system resulted in some civil matters being pursued as criminal cases because criminal cases were often resolved more quickly. In a number of instances, individuals and groups appealed to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which passed their cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

While the government resolved some property claims during the year, it regularly failed to enforce court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation of private property. Enforcement of court orders was frequently subject to nonjudicial considerations. Members of the judiciary, including those at senior levels, were widely believed to be corrupt or subject to political pressure. The government failed to evict those who illegally took possession of private property.

Several foreign citizens claimed they were arrested and at times sentenced for unrelated–and they claimed untrue–crimes, due to outstanding property disputes with well-placed citizens of the country. In April, Juan Venerio Espinales was found guilty of shooting and killing two men who were part of a group of squatters allegedly attempting to seize his property in Chinandega. He stated that he did so only after authorities failed to take action in the matter.

The Small Business Enterprise Association, several domestic NGOs, and opposition members alleged the government seized minor private property such as laptops, cell phones, and vehicles without due process.

While the law prohibits such actions, several domestic NGOs, members of the Catholic Church, and opposition members alleged the government monitored their e-mail and telephone conversations.

Inhabitants in northern towns, particularly in the departments of Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Madriz, as well as the RACS and the RACN, alleged repeated government interrogations and searches without cause or warrant, related to supposed support for armed groups, while government officials claimed they were confronting common criminals.

The ruling party reportedly required citizens to demonstrate party membership in order to obtain or retain employment in the public sector and have access to public social programs.

Panama

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 the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh, due primarily to overcrowding, a shortage of prison guards, lack of adequate medical services, and inadequate sanitary conditions. There were no private detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: As of November the prison system, with an intended capacity of 14,174 inmates, held 17,165 prisoners. Pretrial detainees shared cells with convicted prisoners due to space constraints. Prison conditions for women were generally better than for men, but conditions for both populations remained poor, with overcrowded facilities, poor medical care, and a lack of basic supplies for personal hygiene. Some older facilities lacked potable water and adequate ventilation. There were no reports of inadequate lighting.

Juvenile pretrial and custodial detention centers also suffered from a lack of prison officials. There were 1,005 prison guards nationwide, including 176 new guards hired during the year, almost double the 547 guards in 2010. Officials estimated the system required 1,400 guards. In adult prisons, inmates complained of limited time outside cells and limited access for family members. Authorities acknowledged that insufficient Panama National Police (PNP) agent coverage limited exercise time for inmates on certain days.

In March, prompted by a motion filed before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), authorities transferred the six high-level gang leaders who were detained in the Punta Coco facility on a Pacific island to the Gran Joya complex on the mainland, leaving the facility vacant. Since Punta Coco’s 2015 opening, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) had complained that there was no physician on the island; inmates could receive medical assistance only from the sole National Air Naval Service paramedic stationed there. In September, using public safety as a justification, President Varela ordered the transfer of four high-risk Chorrillo gang members to Punta Coco after they injured a child. The gang members’ lawyer argued that the poor conditions of the detention center, including mosquito infestation, violated the detainees’ human rights. They were transferred to a mainland prison in late November, leaving the facility vacant, and subsequently released pending trial.

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported that the principal prisoner concern was poor or inadequate medical attention. Hypertension, diabetes, dermatitis, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and respiratory illnesses were the most-common diseases among the prison population. Prison medical care was inadequate due to lack of personnel, transportation, and medical resources. As of August there were 73 medical staff (39 physicians, and 34 nurses and technical staff) assigned to all prisons nationwide. Authorities transferred patients with serious illnesses to public clinics, but there were difficulties arranging for the inmates’ transportation. The penitentiary system did not have an ambulance; inmates were transported in police vehicles or in emergency services ambulances when available. As of September prison medical units continued to lack sufficient medicine. Authorities permitted relatives of inmates to bring medicine, although some relatives paid bribes to prison personnel, including PNP members, to bypass the required clearances.

As of October, 25 male inmates had died in custody. Twenty-one of these deaths resulted from chronic illnesses, including tuberculosis and HIV, and all but two occurred after inmates had been transferred to medical centers for attention. An additional four individuals died in prison from inmate-on-inmate violence.

Administration: The computerized system installed in 2015 to update and ensure accurate information on all inmates, including biographical data on inmates, their legal status, and information related to rehabilitation programs in which they participated, remained inaccessible to prosecutors at the Attorney General’s Office, legal authorities of the judiciary, and the judicial investigative directorate within the National Police. During the year the penitentiary system’s new Office for Special Projects installed more sophisticated software to allow interagency access, but as of August the software was not fully functional.

The penitentiary system continued to apply a policy of “two-for-one” reduction in time served, in which two days’ work and/or study resulted in a one-day reduction in time remaining on the sentence. Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but authorities did not make the results of such investigations public. The Ombudsman’s Office negotiated and petitioned on behalf of prisoners and received complaints about prison conditions. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to conduct weekly prison visits to prisons in Panama City and Colon and, twice a year, to prisons elsewhere in the country. The government generally did not monitor its meetings with prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The Roman Catholic NGO Justice and Peace visited the two prisons in David, Chiriqui. The NGO reported overcrowding and corrupt behavior by prison officials, which included smuggled weapons, cigarettes, and cell phones for the inmates. Human rights NGOs wishing access to the prisons during fixed visiting hours must send a written request to the National Directorate of the Penitentiary System 15 days in advance.

Improvements: During the year the government reduced overcrowding at juvenile centers, including by employing alternatives to detention. The government also continued to transfer nonviolent prisoners to the La Nueva Joya complex; as of July, 2,283 inmates occupied 48 percent of the complex. By August authorities released 963 inmates throughout the penitentiary system due to sentence reductions and conditional releases. In September the president signed amendments to Law 42, which provides a career path for civilian prison officials, technicians, and administrative personnel within the National Directorate of the Penitentiary System.

In October, 139 prison inmates were the first beneficiaries of a higher learning partnership program between the prison system and Panamanian institutions of higher education.

During the year La Joyita’s 60-bed clinic was remodeled and better equipped, although only available for limited hours.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The country has no military forces. The PNP is principally responsible for internal law enforcement and public order. Civilian authorities in the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of the Presidency maintained effective control over all police, investigative, border, air, maritime, and migration services in the country. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but information on the process and results of investigations were rarely made public. Due to the lack of prison guards, the PNP was increasingly responsible for security both outside and inside of the prisons. Its leadership expressed concern over insufficient training and equipment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

There were two judicial systems operating during the year, as the country completed its transition to an accusatory justice system in September, but cases opened prior to September 2 in the country’s largest judicial districts (Panama, Colon, Darien, and Guna Yala continued to be tried under the old inquisitorial system.

Under the inquisitorial system, the prosecutor’s office issues detention orders based on evidence. The law provides for suspects to be brought promptly before a judge. Lack of prompt arraignment continued to be a problem for cases tried under the old system; under the new system, a magistrate must arraign suspects expeditiously.

A functioning bail system existed for a limited number of crimes but was largely unused for most cases tried under the old system. Most bail proceedings are at the discretion of the Prosecutor’s Office and cannot be independently initiated by detainees or their legal counsel.

The law requires arresting officers to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for arrest or detention and of the right to immediate legal counsel. Detainees gained prompt access to legal counsel and family members, and the government provided indigent defendants with a lawyer.

The law prohibits police from detaining adult suspects for more than 48 hours but allows authorities to detain minor suspects for 72 hours.

The preliminary investigation phase of detention under the old system lasted eight days to two months and the follow-up investigation phase lasted two to four months, depending on the number of suspects. In the new system, arrests and detention decisions are made on the basis of probable cause.

Pretrial Detention: The government regularly imprisoned inmates under the inquisitorial system for more than a year before a judge’s pretrial hearing, and in some cases pretrial detention exceeded the minimum sentence for the alleged crime. As of July according to government statistics, 66 percent of prisoners were pretrial detainees. Some criticized the judiciary for applying unequal pretrial restrictive measures for individuals facing substantially similar charges.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption and outside influence, and faced allegations of manipulation by the executive branch.

During the year the judiciary hired 931 lawyers to serve as public defenders, judges, and magistrates under the new accusatory system; however, the NGO Pro-Justice Alliance and the National Bar Association complained that the Supreme Court did not comply with Law 53 of 2015, which establishes hiring practices and merit-based promotions in the judiciary. In addition, the NGO alleged that the new hires lacked independence, as some of them previously worked for current Chief Justice Jose Ayu Prado. The Supreme Court hired the 931 new employees on a “temporary” basis allegedly due to insufficient time and budget for permanent staff.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides that all citizens charged with crimes enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary for non-Spanish speaking inmates from the moment charged through all appeals), to a fair trial without undue delay, to counsel of their choice and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to refrain from incriminating themselves or close relatives, and to be tried only once for a given offense. The accused may be present with counsel during the investigative phase of proceedings.

During the year the government completed the transition from an inquisitorial to an accusatory system of justice. In July the judiciary received 9.5 million balboas ($9.5 million) of the 20 million balboas ($20 million) requested in order to implement the new system, an amount the judiciary said, that only covered the salaries of newly hired justice employees, procurement of basic equipment, staff training, and facility costs. The Public Ministry received an additional 10 million balboas ($10 million) funding to implement its requirements under the new accusatory system of justice.

On September 2, the government implemented the accusatory system in the provinces of Panama (including the Special District of San Miguelito), Colon, Darien, and the Guna Yala, Wargandi, Madugandi, and Embera Wounnan comarcas (indigenous regions with a high degree of administrative autonomy). On September 3, a woman received a 60-month prison sentence for drug trafficking–the first conviction under the accusatory system in Panama Province.

Under the accusatory system, trials are open to the public. Judges may order the presence of pretrial detainees for providing or expanding upon statements or for confronting witnesses. Trials are conducted based on evidence presented by the public prosecutor. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants and their attorneys have access to relevant government-held evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens, and the judiciary generally enforced them.

The judiciary complained that many hearings were canceled due to inmates’ failure to appear. The penitentiary system cited lack of sufficient PNP agents to transfer the inmates to the courts. As of September amendments to Law 42 give prison officials the authority to provide security during transfers, providing an alternate mechanism to transport inmates for court, medical, and other appointments.

The judiciary continued to promote videoconference hearings. Judges were increasingly receptive to using this tool, and during the year the government added several video conference and hearing rooms to prison facilities.

According to judiciary statistics, judicial response time has decreased since the accusatory justice system was implemented–from 278 days to 86 days in the Second Judicial District (Cocle, Veraguas), from 422 days to 18 days in the Third Judicial District (Chiriqui, Bocas del Toro and Comarca Ngabe Bugle), and from 170 days to 60 days in the Fourth Judicial District (Herrera, Los Santos).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees. Some individuals detained under corruption charges claimed their charges were politically motivated because they had served under former president Ricardo Martinelli’s administration.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations, although most do not pursue such lawsuits due to the length of the process. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities often granted them to citizens who followed through with the process. The court can order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the individual injured. Individuals or organizations may initiate cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights by submitting petitions to the IACHR, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

The law also sets forth requirements for conducting wiretap surveillance. It denies prosecutors authority to order wiretaps on their own and requires judicial oversight.

The investigation of the 2015 illegal wiretapping case against former president Martinelli, as well as against Alejandro Garuz and Gustavo Perez, two former intelligence directors in his administration, continued during the year. In October the Foreign Ministry announced it had formally sought Martinelli’s extradition from the United States.

Paraguay

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

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

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

On June 19, the Attorney General’s Office ordered the arrest of nine agents of Paraguay’s National Antinarcotics Secretariat (SENAD) for a failed operation on June 18 that resulted in the death of a three-year-old girl by gunshot. The incident occurred in Nueva Italia, Central Department, in full view of civilian witnesses who alleged the SENAD agents did not identify themselves or attempt to verify the identity of the civilians before firing more than 60 bullets at them. The Attorney General’s Office charged the agents with murder and attempted murder. The case was pending as of November 1.

On April 30, the Attorney General’s Office ordered the arrest of three San Pedro Department Councilmen, charging them with aggravated murder for the April 24 death of Ramon Carillo, the mayor of Tacuati. The case was pending as of November 1.

Armed guerrilla groups continued to target and kill security forces. During the year, the Paraguayan government alleged the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) killed eight military personnel and kidnapped three civilians. The kidnapping victims remained missing as of November 1.

Incidents of violence related to narco-trafficking were prevalent in the northeastern region. On June 16, unidentified assailants gunned down prominent narco-trafficker Jorge Rafaat on one of the major thoroughfares in the city of Pedro Juan Caballero. On August 5, assassins shot and killed Miguel Louteiro Echeverría, the mayor of Bella Vista Norte, Amambay, and his secretary Celso Carballo, shortly after a large police seizure of cocaine. On August 9, two assailants on a motorcycle shot and killed police officer Osvaldo Ramirez Lezcano in Curuguaty, Canindeyu Department.

On July 11, a Paraguayan court convicted all 11 defendants involved in the 2012 Marina Cue confrontation near Curuguaty that resulted in the death of 11 protestors and six police officers. In a ruling of more than 2,000 pages, four defendants received four years, or time served, for criminal association; three defendants received six years, including two under house arrest, for complicity to murder, criminal association, and land invasion; and, four defendants were sentenced to between 18 and 35 years for land invasion, criminal association, and attempted premeditated murder. Defense attorneys appealed the sentence on August 1, and the appeal was pending as of November 1.

On July 24, defense attorneys and Amnesty International filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office alleging security forces tortured several of the Marina Cue protestors and killed two of them. The court that convicted the 11 defendants recommended that the Attorney General’s office investigate these allegations, but the Attorney General’s office has not announced an investigation or made findings available to the public. On October 26, Senate President Roberto Acevedo announced the formation of an independent commission led by Diego Bertolucci to investigate the role of the police in the events of June 15, 2012, in Curuguaty/Marina Cue.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. There were press and government reports of short-term “express kidnappings” for monetary gain, particularly in the departments of San Pedro and Concepcion.

The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated two cases of forced disappearance, compared with 25 cases in 2015, and investigated five cases of kidnapping.

On June 23, the Attorney General’s Office charged and ordered the arrest of police officers for aggravated assault and kidnapping of Juan Marcos Rivera Dominguez in San Lorenzo. Rivera was later released without paying a ransom. The case was pending as of November 1.

On July 27, the EPP kidnapped Franz Wiebe Boschman, a farmer from San Pedro Department, and demanded a $700,000 ransom, but Wiebe’s family was unable to pay. The government alleged the EPP or an offshoot organization kidnapped rancher Felix Urbieta on October 12 in Concepcion Department. Additionally, the government alleged the EPP still held Eladio Edelio Morinigo, a police officer, and Abraham Fehr, a Paraguayan-Mexican dual national farmer, both of whom the EPP kidnapped in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Morinigo’s, Fehr’s, Wiebe’s, and Urbieta’s whereabouts and conditions were unknown as of November 1.

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions, but there were credible reports that some government officials employed such practices. The Attorney General’s Human Rights Unit opened 31 torture investigation cases during the year, but there were no convictions, and all investigations were pending at the end of the year. Unlike criminal cases not involving torture, torture charges do not have a statute of limitations nor a defined period within which charges, an investigation, or the oral trial must be completed.

Several civil society groups publicly criticized the Joint Task Force (FTC), which operates in northeastern Paraguay and includes personnel from the armed forces, the National Police, and SENAD, for human rights violations in the northeastern region of the country. Five bishops issued a letter denouncing the Attorney General’s Office and the tactics used by the FTC against the local population as abusive and arbitrary violations of human rights.

On August 17, Diana Vargas, commissioner of the independent government watchdog agency the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture (NMPT), filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s Office alleging that police officers in the city of Ciudad del Este tortured a detainee. Vargas claimed doctors in the regional hospital had detected evidence of torture, but did not alert authorities. The case was pending as of November 1.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions continued to fall short of international standards. Conditions were harsh and, at times, potentially life threatening due to inmate violence, mistreatment, overcrowding, poorly trained staff, deteriorating infrastructure, and unsanitary living conditions.

Physical Conditions: According to a report by NMPT in June, the country’s 16 penitentiaries held almost double their design capacity. The NMPT also reported that nine facilities for juveniles housed 21 percent more inmates than their design capacity. Penitentiaries did not have adequate accommodations for inmates with physical disabilities.

The Justice Ministry’s Directorate for the Care of Convicted Juveniles assigned minors convicted of juvenile crimes to one of nine youth correctional facilities in the country, one of which was dedicated to young women. Some juvenile offenders served their sentences in separate sections of adult prisons, such as the women’s Ciudad del Este penitentiary.

According to official reports, 42 prisoners died in custody during the year: 18 from natural causes/illnesses, ten from inmate-on-inmate violence, six from smoke inhalation caused by the prison fire in Tacumbu, two from accidental electrocutions, one during a riot, one from suicide, and four from undefined causes.

There were credible reports that criminal rings engaged in extortion and racketeering within the country’s prisons.

Prisons lacked adequate security controls and prison guard staffing, especially at Tacumbu prison. Inmates were frequently caught carrying handmade weapons, and there were reports of inmates committing acts of violence, including rape, against other inmates. There were four prison riots during the year resulting in injuries to prison guards and inmates, two inmate deaths, and extensive property damage.

Prisons and juvenile facilities generally lacked adequate temperature control systems, of particular concern during the exceedingly hot summer months. Some prisons had cells with inadequate lighting, in which prisoners were confined for long periods without an opportunity for exercise. Although sanitation and medical care were generally considered adequate, some prisons lacked sufficient medical personnel. Adherence to fire prevention norms was lacking.

On June 10, an electrical short-circuit in a basement workshop caused a fire in Tacumbu prison. Six inmates and the prison Security Chief, Blas Gaona, were killed, while ten inmates suffered from smoke inhalation and burns. Gaona died while freeing several trapped prisoners. The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation of possible negligence that may havecaused the fire and the government’s response, and the investigation was ongoing as of November 1.

Administration: Visitors reportedly needed to offer bribes to visit prisoners, hindering effective representation of inmates by public defenders. During the year, the Justice Ministry’s Internal Affairs Office continued random, unannounced visits to several prisons. Although married and unmarried heterosexual inmates were permitted conjugal visits, the Justice Ministry prohibited such visits for homosexual inmates.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted the media, independent civil society groups, and diplomatic representatives access to prisons with prior coordination. Representatives of the media, UNCAT, the ombudsman’s office, and NGOs conducted regular prison visits. Government agencies, such as the NMPT, the Public Defender’s office, and representatives of the Judicial Branch also conducted independent visits. By law, the Judicial Branch is responsible for overseeing funds it transfers annually to the Justice Ministry.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law stipulates that persons detained without a judge-ordered arrest warrant must appear before a judge within 24 hours for an initial hearing. Police may arrest a person apprehended in the act of committing a crime and detain the suspect for up to six hours, after which the Attorney General’s Office may detain persons up to 24 hours. In some cases, police ignored requirements for a warrant by citing obsolete provisions that allow detention if individuals are unable to present personal identification upon demand (although the law does not obligate citizens to carry or show identity documentation).

On May 25, Santiago Ortiz, the Secretary General of the Union of Paraguayan Journalists, filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office alleging a group of police officers detained and physically assaulted him. The police stated they detained Ortiz after he refused to produce his personal identification. The case was still pending as of November 1.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the authority of the Interior Ministry, are responsible for preserving public order, protecting the rights and safety of persons and entities and their property, preventing and investigating crimes, and implementing orders given by the judiciary and public officials. The constitution charges military forces with guarding the country’s territory and borders. By law civilian authorities are in charge of the security forces.

The law authorizes the president to mobilize military forces domestically against any “internal aggression” endangering the country’s sovereignty, independence, or the integrity of its democratic constitutional order. The law requires the president to notify congress within 48 hours of a decision to deploy troops. By law the president’s deployment order must define geographic location, be subject to congressional scrutiny, and have a set time limit. As of September 12, a total of 310 personnel from the FTC were deployed to the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay in accordance with the law to allow military mobilization domestically .

The Defense Ministry, also under the president’s authority but outside the military’s chain of command, handles some defense matters. The ministry is responsible for the logistical and administrative aspects of the armed forces, especially the development of defense policy.

The law authorizes the SENAD and the National Police’s Anti-Narcotics Unit, both under the president’s authority, to enforce the law in matters related to narcotics trafficking and terrorism, respectively. The law provides for SENAD to lead operations in coordination with the Attorney General’s Office and judiciary. To arrest individuals or use force, SENAD must involve members of the National Police in its operations, but it reportedly often did not do so.

The Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office and the Disciplinary Review Board of the National Police are responsible for determining whether police killings legitimately occurred in the line of duty. The military justice system has jurisdiction over active military personnel.

On July 23, inmates detained in the Vinas Cue military prison contested their incarceration by claiming the government never published in the official government registry the military laws under which they were being held. Defense lawyers and family members allege that 90 percent of those sentenced or held without trial were arrested in retribution for whistleblowing on corruption cases involving high ranking officials.

On March 2, the president ordered the transfer and investigation of six officers accused of physically and psychologically abusing several underage cadets at a military school in Central Department. The case was pending as of November 1.

The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s office investigated 182 cases of excessive use of force by security forces, opened 31 cases of torture, investigated 52 cases of improper prosecution of innocents, and investigated seven cases of improper conviction of innocents. No information was available as to whether any of these cases resulted in convictions or penalties.

Although the National Police reportedly struggled with inadequate training, funding, and widespread corruption, it continued to investigate and punish members involved in crimes and administrative violations. On July 12, the National Police removed 14 police chiefs from Canindeyu Department after uncovering evidence they received bribes to allow the transport of approximately 20 tons of marijuana.

Several human rights NGOs and the media reported incidents of police involvement in homicides, rape, arms and narcotics trafficking, car theft, robbery, extortion, and kidnapping, with reported abuses particularly widespread in Ciudad del Este and other locations on the border with Brazil.

On August 18, a court sentenced three police officers to 18 years in prison and a fourth to four years in prison for their involvement in a 2012 robbery of 5.2 billion Guaranies (Gs.) ($945,400) from a security firm.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police may arrest individuals with a warrant or with reasonable cause. The law provides that after making an arrest, police have up to six hours to notify the Attorney General’s office, at which time that office has up to 24 hours to notify a judge if it intends to prosecute. The law allows judges to use measures such as house arrest and bail in felony cases. According to civil society representatives and legal experts, in misdemeanor cases judges frequently set bail too high for many poor defendants to post bond, while they set minimal or no bail for the wealthy or for those with political connections.

The law grants defendants the right to hire counsel, and the government provides public defenders for those who cannot afford counsel. According to the NGO Paraguayan Human Rights Coordinator (CODEHUPY), heavy caseloads adversely affected the quality of representation by public defenders. Detainees had access to family members.

Arbitrary Arrests: The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. CODEHUPY reported several cases during the year of arbitrary arrest and detention of persons without a warrant.

On January 20, four residents of Hernandarias, Alto Parana Department, filed a formal complaint alleging two police officers and two other unidentified individuals detained them as robbery suspects, tortured them, and threatened to kill them on January 8. They also filed a complaint against Prosecutor Humberto Rossetti as an accomplice for being present during the alleged torture. The allegations included the use of electric cattle prods, beatings, and asphyxiation with nylon bags. The case was pending as of November 1.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits detention without trial for a period equivalent to the minimum sentence associated with the alleged crime, a period that could range from six months to five years. Some detainees were held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum allowed time.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides detainees with the right to prompt judicial review of the legality of their detention. Defendants have the right to initiate habeas corpus, habeas data, and other court proceedings to decide the lawfulness of detention or otherwise obtain a court-ordered release. Defendants have the right to sue the state for unlawful detention.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Undue external influence, however, often compromised the judiciary’s independence. Interested parties, often including politicians, routinely attempted to influence investigations and pressure judges and prosecutors. Judicial selection and disciplinary review board processes were often politicized, with specific seats on the board allocated by law to congressional representatives, presidential nominees, lawyer’s union representatives, law professors, and Supreme Court justices.

The Council of Magistrates (CEM) continued to utilize a process to improve transparency in selecting judges. The process filtered out a number of unsuitable candidates during the year.

Courts were inefficient and subject to corruption, and allegations that some judges and prosecutors solicited or received bribes to drop or modify charges against defendants were reported. Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, which the judiciary nominally provides, albeit through a lengthy trial process.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and a right of appeal. Both defendants and prosecutors may present written testimony from witnesses and other evidence. Defendants have the right of access to state evidence relevant to their cases and may confront adverse witnesses, except in cases involving domestic or international trafficking in persons, in which case victims may testify remotely or in the presence of the defendant’s lawyers, in lieu of the defendant. Defendants have the right to prompt information and detail of the indictments and charges they face, but some defendants received notification only when they faced arrest charges or seizure of their property.

Defendants have the right to access free interpretation services from the moment they are charged through all appeals, including translation to Guarani–the country’s second official language. Defendants have the right to a fair trial without undue delay as well as the right to be present at the trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or one provided at public expense. Defendants have the right to a reasonable amount of time to prepare their defense and to access their legal files and government-held evidence. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and may choose to remain silent.

The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated four cases of security forces using psychological and physical pressure to obtain statements from citizens during the year.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have access to the courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. There are administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs, and authorities generally granted them to citizens. The court may order civil remedies, including fair compensation to the injured party; however, the government has experienced problems enforcing court orders in such cases. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government generally enforced court orders with respect to seizure, restitution, or compensation for taking private property. Systemic inadequacies within the land registry system, however, prevented the government from compiling a reliable inventory of its landholdings. Registered land far exceeded the size of the country, and there were allegations of corruption within local government and INDERT, the government agency charged with registering and administering land, and reports of forced evictions.

On October 8, approximately 1,200 police personnel used a water cannon and rubber bullets to evict approximately 200 campesino families on disputed land in Colonia Guahory, Caaguazu Department. Currently, 70 Brazilian-Paraguayan families claim title to the 2,200 hectares of land, alleging the campesino families began occupying 1,200 hectares of it in 2014 and have been renting it to local and national political figures. The Brazilian-Paraguayan families admitted to paying the police Gs. 200 million ($36,364) to proceed with the operation. Police also initiated an eviction operation on September 15 in which they allegedly demolished and burned numerous informal structures belonging to the campesino families. Legal counsel for the campesino families alleged the Brazilian-Paraguayan families illegally purchased land titles. The case was pending as of November 1.

On April 4, Vilmar and Joel Eisen recovered their property after being illegally evicted in 2014 in a process initiated by the mayor of San Carlos del Apa, Concepcion Department.

Despite the government’s acceptance of the donation of the disputed land on which the June 2012 Marina Cue confrontation occurred, the Public Registry did not transfer or register the property. Officials explained they could not act until lawsuits establishing previous ownership were resolved.

The registered land far exceeded the size of the country and there were credible allegations of the complicity of judges and public officials in falsifying land titles for the purpose of usurping property from legitimate owners.

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions, but there were reports that members of the security forces failed to respect the law in certain instances. CODEHUPY, local Catholic Church organizations, and some national legislators alleged FTC personnel in the departments of Concepcion, San Pedro, and Amambay searched homes and schools without warrants. The Special Human Rights Unit in the Attorney General’s Office investigated seven cases of unlawful interference with private correspondence during the year.

On August 25, newspaper ABC Color alleged that General Luiz Gonzaga Garcete, Commander of the Paraguayan Armed Forces, ordered two military intelligence units to spy on an ABC Color journalist who had been investigating an alleged corruption scandal involving Garcete and his wife. The allegations were under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office as of November 1.

Peru

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

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

After taking office on July 28, the Kuczynski administration launched an investigation into allegations that members of the Peruvian National Police (PNP) committed the extrajudicial killings of more than 20 criminal suspects from 2012 to 2015 as part of a scheme to receive awards and promotions. These allegations first surfaced in August. According to press and Ministry of Interior accounts, an “irregular” group of nine PNP officers and sub-officers allegedly paid informants to entrap individuals and provide regular police units with false intelligence, setting the stage for deadly confrontations. As of November, the government had produced no evidence that policy-level officials directed the alleged killings or had knowledge of the scheme.

On September 1, a special tribunal found 10 former army officers and enlisted persons guilty of killing 71 villagers, including 23 children, in the 1985 “Accomarca Massacre” that occurred during the conflict with the Shining Path terrorist group. The tribunal sentenced five officers to prison terms ranging from 23 to 25 years, including general Wilfredo Mori, lieutenant colonels Nelson Gonzalez Feria and Carlos Pastor Delgado Medina, and lieutenants Juan Rivera Rondon and Telmo Hurtado. Five low-ranking soldiers also received 10-year sentences. The tribunal acquitted six others, including general Jose Williams Zapata, for lack of sufficient evidence.

The Shining Path conducted several terrorist acts during the year that resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.g.), including an April 9 attack on army officers carrying electoral materials the day before the first round of national elections.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year. The government, however, continued to address disappearances that occurred during the internal conflict of 1980-2000. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimated that more than 15,000 persons disappeared during this period.

The government approved a new law in July that requires the Ministry of Justice to oversee the recovery, identification, and return of the approximately 15,000 “disappeared” human remains from the internal conflict as a humanitarian priority. The law requires the government to simultaneously collect evidence and proceed with criminal investigations.

On September 27, a court found Vladimiro Montesinos, the intelligence chief and chief advisor to former president Alberto Fujimori, guilty of the disappearance and murder of two students and one professor in 1993. Both Fujimori and Montesinos were already serving 25-year prison sentences for human rights abuses. By law the decision did not add additional time to Montesinos’ prison sentence.

The law prohibits such practices. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), however, reported that torture remained a problem, primarily within the police force and stated the government did not effectively prevent and punish those who committed such abuses.

According to the local NGO Human Rights Commission, many victims did not file formal complaints about their alleged torture, and those who did so purportedly had difficulty obtaining judicial redress and adequate compensation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh for most of the country’s inmates, due to overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition and health care, and corruption among guards, which included guards smuggling weapons and drugs into the prisons. Guards received little to no training or supervision.

Physical Conditions: As of June the National Penitentiary Institute (INPE) reported that the national penitentiary system had 77,086 prisoners in 67 facilities originally designed for 32,890 prisoners. On July 10, the government opened a new prison in Cochamarca, which was built to hold 1,300 prisoners. As of January, the San Juan de Lurigancho men’s prison held 9,958 prisoners in a facility designed for 3,204. The Sarita Colonia prison in the Callao Region had a designed capacity of 572 persons but held 3,296 in January. Prisons for women also were overcrowded. The Santa Monica women’s prison in Chorrillos was designed for 450 inmates but held 823.

INPE operated 31 of the 68 active prisons, the PNP had jurisdiction over five, the PNP and INPE operated 31 prisons jointly, and INPE and the army jointly operated one prison. The judicial system used pretrial detention centers located at police stations, judiciary buildings, and the Palace of Justice to hold pretrial detainees temporarily.

Prison guards and fellow inmates reportedly abused prisoners, and inmates killed fellow inmates during the year. Inmates had intermittent access to potable water, bathing facilities were inadequate, kitchen facilities were unhygienic, and prisoners often slept in hallways and common areas for lack of cell space. Prisoners with money had access to cell phones, illegal drugs, and meals prepared outside the prison; prisoners who lacked funds experienced much more difficult conditions.

Most prisons provided access to basic medical care, but there was a shortage of doctors, and inmates complained of having to pay for medical attention. Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS reportedly remained at near-epidemic levels. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to report the incidence of tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS infections were significantly higher in prisons than in the general population. The Ombudsman’s Office also reported insufficient accessibility and inadequate facilities for prisoners with disabilities. Prisons lacked specialized medical equipment needed for prisoners with disabilities, such as wheelchairs and transferrable beds. Low accessibility to adequate psychological care for prisoners with mental disabilities was also reported.

Administration: Independent and government authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment in prisons and made the results of their investigations public.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights and international humanitarian law observers. Between January and October, International Committee of the Red Cross officials made 12 unannounced visits to inmates in 12 different prisons and detention centers and individually monitored approximately 95 individual prisoners. During the year, the Ombudsman’s Office representatives made 150 visits to Lima and provincial prisons and 30 visits to juvenile detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. The government constitutionally suspended the right to freedom from arrest without warrant in designated emergency zones (see section 1.g.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The PNP, with a force of approximately 114,830 personnel, is responsible for all areas of law enforcement and internal security, including migration and border security. The PNP functioned under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces, with approximately 100,000 personnel, are responsible for external security under the authority of the Ministry of Defense but also have limited domestic security responsibilities, particularly in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) emergency zone.

Corruption and a high rate of acquittals in civilian courts for military personnel accused of crimes remained serious problems. The Public Ministry conducted investigations, although access to evidence held by the Ministry of Defense was not always forthcoming. The Ombudsman’s Office can also investigate cases and submit conclusions to the Public Ministry for follow-up. The Ministries of Interior and Defense employed internal mechanisms to investigate allegations of security force abuse. The Ministry of Interior’s Office of Inspector General reported that it disciplined approximately 7,400 police officers from January to August.

The Public Ministry is charged with witness protection responsibilities but lacked resources to provide sufficient training to prosecutors and police officers, conceal identities, or furnish logistical support to witnesses.

Police continued operating under a use of force doctrine adopted in 2015. When a police action causes death or injury, the law requires an administrative investigation and notification to the appropriate oversight authorities. The law is applicable to all police force members and defines the principles, rules, situations, and limitations for police use of force and firearms.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits police to detain persons for investigations. The law requires a written judicial warrant based on sufficient evidence for an arrest, unless authorities apprehend the alleged perpetrator of a crime in the act. Only judges may authorize detentions. Authorities are required to arraign arrested persons within 24 hours, except in cases of terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, for which arraignment must take place within 15 days. In remote areas, arraignment must take place as soon as practicably possible. Military authorities must turn over persons they detain to police within 24 hours. The law requires police to file a report with the Public Ministry within 24 hours after an arrest. The Public Ministry, in turn, must issue its own assessment of the legality of the police action in the arrest, and authorities respected this requirement.

Judges have 24 hours to decide whether to release a suspect or continue detention, and the judiciary respected this provision. A functioning bail system exists, but many poor defendants lack the means to post bail. By law detainees are allowed access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. Police may detain suspected terrorists incommunicado for 10 days.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. In January authorities had sentenced only 38,198 of the 77,298 detainees held in detention facilities and prisons. Delays were due mainly to judicial inefficiency, corruption, and staff shortages. Under the criminal procedure code, the law requires the release of prisoners held more than nine months whom the justice system has not tried and sentenced; the period is 18 months for complex cases. In one prominent case, a judge released regional Governor Gregorio Santos, who was accused of corruption, from prison on July 27 after 23 months of pretrial imprisonment. During this time Santos was allowed to participate as a candidate in regional (2014) and national (2016) elections.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. NGOs and other advocates alleged the judiciary often did not operate independently, was not consistently impartial, and was subject to political influence and corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders from the judiciary.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, although reports of corruption in the judicial system were common. The government continued the implementation, begun in 2006, of a criminal procedure code designed to streamline the penal process. As of October, the government had introduced the code in 28 of the 31 judicial districts, although implementation in the largest judicial districts–Lima and Callao–remained pending. The code requires public hearings for each case and assigns investigative responsibility to public prosecutors and police.

The law presumes all defendants innocent. The government also must promptly inform defendants in detail of the charges against them and provide defendants a fair and public trail without undue delay. Defendants also have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense; however, state-provided attorneys often have poor training. Although the law grants citizens the right to trial in their own language, language services for non-Spanish speakers were sometimes unavailable. This deficiency primarily affected indigenous people living in the highlands and Amazon Regions. In a case from 2015, however, a court in Puno issued its decision in the Aymara indigenous language, which is prevalent in the region. As of October, the decision was on appeal to a court in Lima, and any additional court findings would use Aymara. The law also gives all defendants the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare for their defense.

Defendants generally had access to government-held evidence related to their cases. Exceptions reportedly occurred in some human rights abuse cases from the 1980-2000 period. In many of these cases, the government classified related documents as secret and subject to disclosure limitations under the law. Defendants have the right to confront adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. The government cannot compel defendants to testify or confess to a crime. Defendants may appeal verdicts to a superior court and ultimately to the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Tribunal may rule on cases involving issues such as habeas corpus or the constitutionality of laws.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

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

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek civil remedies for human rights violations, but court cases often take years to resolve. Press reports, NGOs, and other sources continued to allege that persons outside the judiciary frequently corrupted or influenced judges.

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The government’s declaration of emergency zones in the VRAEM and Callao Region, due to drug trafficking and criminal activity, suspended the right to home inviolability.

The Shining Path terrorist organization was responsible for killings and other human rights abuses during the year.

Killings: The Shining Path terrorist organization conducted several terrorist attacks against military personnel in the VRAEM emergency zone. On April 9, the day before the first round of the national elections, Shining Path members ambushed and killed eight soldiers and two civilians.

The Public Ministry continued to investigate the killing of a pregnant woman that occurred during a 2014 counterterrorist operation in Uchuy Sihuis, Huancavelica Region.

Abductions: The government, NGOs, and journalists reported the Shining Path abducted persons, including children, to work for the terrorist organization.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The government, NGOs, and journalists reported the Shining Path continued to use forced labor.

Child Soldiers: The government, NGOs, and journalists reported the Shining Path recruited and used child soldiers under forced labor conditions, and in combat and drug-trafficking activities, including crop production and chemical laboratories. The Shining Path kidnapped or recruited children from nearby towns, while others apparently were the children of Shining Path members.

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

Uruguay

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.

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

In August 2015 a judge indicted 26 employees of the Uruguayan Institute for Children and Adolescents (INAU) Adolescent Offenders’ Division (SIRPA) for abuses of juveniles at the Ceprili home for youth. In June an internal INAU investigation determined the employees did not torture the juveniles, and in December an appeals court acquitted 14 of the 26 employees. The crime, initially classified as “torture,” was changed to “abuse of authority” for the remaining 12 employees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions continued to be harsh and potentially life threatening in some facilities.

Physical Conditions: The National Rehabilitation Institute (INR) reported 10,228 prisoners in facilities with a capacity for approximately 9,095 inmates. Approximately 65 percent of the prisoners were awaiting sentencing. Some facilities had inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, medical care, and access to potable water. Prisoners depended on visitors for clothing and lacked sufficient food to reach their daily minimum caloric intake. Female and poorer male prisoners often received no support from their families.

Some prison facilities were inadequate. Many lacked formal clearances from the fire department. The INR closed the El Molino facility in Montevideo due to poor building conditions and transferred nine women with 10 accompanying children to an annex of the Unidad Penitenciaria No.5. The public mental health hospitals Vilardebo, Colonia Etchepare, and Santin Carlos Rossi, which held prisoners, suffered overcrowding and infrastructure problems.

In April and June, Juan Miguel Petit, the country’s special rapporteur on the prison system, reported that the conditions of modules 8, 10, and 11 of unit 4 of Comcar prison were very bad. The report described inadequate building conditions, rodent infestation, poor hygiene of inmates, overcrowding, and insufficient space designated for work, educational activities, and family visits. The report also stated few inmates had access to exercise activities and noted a lack of reliable medical attention, due to understaffing. The rapporteur alerted prison authorities to a serious problem of internal violence in several prison facilities and requested urgent action.

Five prisoners died in these facilities in the first half of the year due to violence. In September a male prisoner died in one of the units of Comcar prison as the result of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In an overcrowded facility in the department of Maldonado, prisoners set fire to mattresses and caused damage to the prison infrastructure. Two police officers were injured during the incident. Lawyers provided to prisoners who could not afford legal counseling held video conferences with their clients due to unsafe conditions that prevented them from visiting modules 8, 10, and 11.

In December 2015 the government created INISA to replace SIRPA, and in June INISA authorities took over management of the organization. According to the new director, many facilities were aging or damaged and could not be refurbished due to budget limitations, which additionally affected hiring staff. An audit of the buildings presented by the Bureau of Architecture in the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works concluded that most facilities were inadequate to develop and implement rehabilitation programs.

In July the Pan American Health Organization presented the results of a 2015 poll on prisoner health conditions. The report noted that four of 10 prisoners were overweight or obese due to lack of physical activity, medical treatment was inadequate, and 74 percent of prisoners smoked tobacco and 33 percent smoked marijuana. In addition, 19 percent took psychotropic drugs without prescriptions or medical controls, 5 percent consumed cocaine paste, and 3 percent consumed cocaine powder. Slightly more than 8 percent attempted suicide, and 18 percent alleged suffering mistreatment.

In August the government’s National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture reported as major problems the lack of sufficiently trained staff, poor building conditions that resulted in overcrowding and violence, and insufficient social and educational activities. Concerning INISA facilities, the report noted pervasive use of psychotropic drugs, with scarce medical control.

In September the labor union for law enforcement personnel expressed concern over the working conditions of police officers and civilian prison staff members in some facilities. Union representatives noted unhealthy and dangerous labor conditions, such as extended work hours (shifts of 12 to 18 hours) and unmanageable responsibilities, including an instance where a single guard, without adequate communication systems, was in charge of monitoring 700 detainees.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions. The Office of Probation Measures continued to lack sufficient human and financial resources to work in most departments.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers, local human rights groups, media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and international bodies. The country’s special rapporteur on the prison system and the National Institution of Human Rights (INDDHH) were also allowed to monitor prisons.

Improvements: In March the State Health Services Administration collaborated with the INR on a program to provide medical and psychological support to drug-addicted prisoners in Montevideo. In May officials from the INR and INISA participated in six workshops on prison management led by experts from a foreign country.

Authorities provided inmates several new options for work, both during incarceration and after release. The government’s budget law created the National Unit to Support Released Prisoners. The INR and the National Institute for Employment and Professional Training signed an agreement to teach prisoners skills in garment making, construction, carpentry, cooking, and vegetable gardening. In February volunteer prisoners joined municipal workers of the department of Salto to clean up the city after major floods. The Salto municipality also agreed to hire 16 inmates, who were allowed to leave the prison compound on a regular basis to do work for the community. In September the Ministry of Interior and the Canelones municipality signed an agreement for 27 prisoners to repair sidewalks and lanes at a local resort. In June a private fishing-port services operator in Montevideo began hiring former prisoners for its operations. The INR created industrial sites in the departments of Canelones, Maldonado, and Salto to help prisoner rehabilitation.

Government authorities and private entities also provided other opportunities for adult prisoners to participate in sports activities, such as soccer and rugby. In June INISA began a pilot program to train juvenile inmates in sports to allow them to compete in events at the national level.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, under the Ministry of Interior, maintain internal security. The National Directorate for Migration, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the National Police, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, are responsible for external security and have some domestic responsibilities as guardians of the outside perimeter of six prisons. There were no reports of impunity involving police and security forces during the year.

The judiciary continued to investigate the serious human rights violations committed during the 1973-1985 military dictatorship. The law classifies crimes committed during the dictatorship as crimes against humanity. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Truth and Justice Group was responsible for further investigating human rights abuses committed between 1968 and 1985.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police apprehended suspects with warrants issued by a duly authorized official and brought them before an independent judiciary. The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and requires that the detaining authority explain the legal grounds for the detention. For any detainee who cannot afford a defense attorney, the court appoints a public defender at no cost to the detainee. The constitution states police cannot hold persons for longer than 24 hours without informing a judge. The judge then has another 24 hours to determine whether the subjects will be indicted and detained, indicted but released on their own recognizance, or released for lack of probable cause. If no charges are brought, the case is filed but the investigation may continue and the case reopened if new evidence emerges.

The possibility of bail exists but was not used in practice. For most persons accused of crimes punishable by at least two years in prison, the criminal code procedure prohibits bail. A judge may set bail if the individual is a first-time offender and if there are provisions in place to prevent the subject from fleeing. Most persons facing lesser charges were not jailed. Officials allowed detainees prompt access to family members.

Confessions obtained by police prior to a detainee’s appearance before a judge and without an attorney present are not valid. A lawyer assigned to each police station reports to the Ministry of Interior concerning treatment of detainees. A judge leads the investigation of a detainee’s claim of mistreatment.

Pretrial Detention: The use of pretrial detention is mandatory for particular crimes, and lengthy legal procedures required in the judge-led, inquisitorial criminal justice system, large numbers of detainees, and staff shortages in the judicial system led to trial delays and prison overcrowding. Some detainees spent one year or more in jail awaiting the conclusion of their trial. For most individuals credibly accused of crimes punishable by at least two years’ incarceration, the accused is sent to prison pending trial. First-time offenders (with no criminal record) and individuals facing lesser charges are usually released pending trial. The number of instances in which the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime could not be determined due to a lack of statistics.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them, to have a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay), to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, to access government-held evidence, to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and to appeal. Defendants may cross-examine witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

Juries are not used; trial proceedings usually consist of written arguments to the judge and were not normally made public. Only the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney have access to the written record. Individual judges may elect to hear oral arguments, but most judges chose to rule on a case solely based on an examination of written documents, a major factor slowing down the judicial process.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There are transparent administrative procedures to handle complaints of abuse by government agents. An independent and impartial judiciary handles civil disputes, but its decisions were ineffectively enforced. Local police lacked the training and staff to enforce restraining orders, which often were generated during civil disputes related to domestic violence. Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions filed by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court may order civil remedies including fair compensation to the individual injured.

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

Venezuela

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

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

Although the government did not release statistics on extrajudicial killings, NGOs reported that national, state, and municipal police entities, as well as the armed forces and government-supported paramilitary groups, known as “colectivos,” carried out such killings during the year.

There was also no official information available on the number of public officials prosecuted or sentenced to prison for involvement in extrajudicial killings, which, in the case of killings committed by police, were often classified as “resistance to authority.” The NGO Committee for the Families of Victims of February-March 1989 (COFAVIC) continued to report there was no publicly accessible national registry of reported cases of extrajudicial killings.

COFAVIC reported that in 2015 there were 1,396 alleged extrajudicial killings committed by members of security forces, a 37-percent increase over 2014. The national police Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigative Corps (CICPC) reportedly committed 30 percent of the acts, with others committed by regional and municipal police. According to NGOs, prosecutors occasionally brought cases against such perpetrators, but prosecutions often resulted in light sentences, and convictions often were overturned on appeal.

COFAVIC reported cases in all 23 states and the national capital district of what it defined as extrajudicial killings committed by elements within local and state police forces. COFAVIC reported these elements systematically and arbitrarily detained and killed individuals (mainly young men from lower social classes) without any recourse to proper investigation by the government.

The government continued its nationwide anticrime strategy begun in 2015, the Operation for the Liberation and Protection of the People (OLP), characterized by large-scale raids conducted by hundreds of government security agents in neighborhoods allegedly harboring criminals. These operations often resulted in the deaths of suspected criminals. The NGO Venezuela Program for Education/Action on Human Rights (PROVEA) reported that 245 persons were killed during OLP security exercises in 2015.

The government continued to prosecute individuals connected with the 1989 killings in Caracas known as the “Caracazo,” in which the Public Ministry estimated 331 individuals died, and the 1988 El Amparo massacre, in which government security forces allegedly killed 14 persons.

On November 27, the state prosecutor stated the government would charge 11 members of the military for responsibility in the death of 12 civilians following a security raid in October in the coastal state of Miranda. The Defense Ministry declared that it condemned the deaths, as did the National Assembly in a rare, unanimous resolution.

There were no substantiated reports of politically motivated disappearances.

Although the constitution states no person shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment, there were credible reports security forces tortured and abused detainees.

There were no reports of any government officials being charged under the law that states an agent or public official who inflicts pain or suffering–whether physical or mental–on another individual to obtain information or a confession, or seeks to punish an individual for an act the individual has committed, may be imprisoned for a maximum of 25 years, dismissed from office, and barred from holding public office for a maximum of 25 years. Prison and detention center officials who commit torture may face a maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of 53.5 million bolivars (BsF) ($5.3 million at the official rate, or $80,666 at the secondary Dicom exchange rate as of December 1). The law also includes mechanisms for reparations to victims and their families and creates a special National Commission for Torture Prevention composed of several government ministries.

The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and the Public Ministry did not publish statistics regarding allegations of torture by police during the year. Several NGOs detailed cases of widespread torture and “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.” The Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal documented more than 138 cases of torture in the country between February 2014 and May 2015. Foro Penal maintained that hundreds of cases were not reported to government institutions because of victims’ fear of reprisal. NGOs detailed reports from detainees whom authorities allegedly sexually abused, threatened with death, and forced to spend hours on their knees in detention centers.

Human rights groups reported that the government continued to influence the prosecutor general and the public defender to conduct investigations selectively and subjectively. No data was available on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in cases of alleged torture.

Press and NGO reports of beatings and humiliating treatment of suspects during arrests were common and involved various law enforcement agencies and the military. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners were reported during the year. Two common methods of cruel treatment were the denial of medical care by prison authorities and the remanding of prisoners to long periods in solitary confinement. In the case of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, family members stated that prison authorities held him in solitary confinement for much of his imprisonment, subjected him to strip searches multiple times daily, denied him visitation rights, and occasionally deprived him of reading and writing material. Prison officials also subjected visiting family members to humiliating strip searches.

The NGO Foro Penal reported multiple instances of political prisoners denied adequate medical treatment while in government custody. Foro Penal noted instances where detainees were transferred to a medical facility, where instead of receiving treatment, they were interrogated by security officials.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Most prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to insufficient numbers of staff, who were also poorly trained and allegedly corrupt; weak security; deteriorating infrastructure; severe overcrowding; lack of adequate medical care; and shortages of food and potable water. Armed gangs effectively controlled some prisons in which they were incarcerated.

Physical Conditions: The Ministry of Penitentiary Services reported there were 50,791 inmates in the country’s 58 prisons and penitentiaries and an estimated of 33,000 inmates in police station jails. According to the NGO Venezuelan Observatory for Prisons (OVP), the capacity for penitentiaries was 22,459 inmates, and for police station jails, the capacity was for 5,000 inmates. Overcrowding was 126 percent for penitentiaries and 560 percent for police station jails on average, although the OVP noted that in some jails the overcrowding ranged from 800 to 1,200 percent.

According to OVP reports, records for detainees were not properly maintained and often featured incomplete information. Official figures taken from the Penitentiary Services Ministry’s 2015 annual report estimated 31,503 pretrial detainees and 17,374 convicted prisoners were held in the same facilities. Authorities assigned another 265 individuals to work detachment programs and held 522 individuals in police station facilities not fit to serve as detention centers. Women (2,629 inmates) and men (48,162 inmates) generally were held in separate prison facilities. There was only one penitentiary exclusively for women, and female prisoners in other detention centers were held in annexes or separate women’s departments in otherwise male-only prisons. Security forces and law enforcement authorities often held minors together with adults, even though separate facilities existed. Because institutions were filled to capacity, hundreds of children accused of infractions were confined in juvenile detention centers where they were reportedly crowded into small, unsanitary cells.

The CICPC and police station jails and detention centers also were overcrowded, causing many police station offices to be converted into makeshift prison cells. Prisoners reportedly took turns sleeping on floors and office chairs, and sanitation facilities were inadequate or nonexistent. In the temporary detention facility in the downtown Caracas Zona 7 police station, a reported 700 detainees awaiting transport to prisons were held in a facility built for 70. On January 21, Mayor Ramon Muchacho of the Caracas municipality of Chacao declared that Chacao Police Department detention centers were operating at 300 percent of capacity, and temporary facilities were being used for long-term detention due to the lack of space in national penitentiaries. Muchacho highlighted that temporary detention centers lacked the infrastructure and security conditions to handle long-term imprisonment, and that overcrowding limited the fundamental rights for prisoners to receive visitors and legal counsel.

The National Guard and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace have responsibility for prisons’ exterior and interior security, respectively. The government failed to provide adequate prison security. The OVP estimated a staffing gap of 90 percent for prison security personnel, with only one guard for every 100 inmates, instead of one every 10 as recommended by international standards. The OVP reported 309 prisoner deaths and 1,709 serious injuries in 2014. Most deaths and injuries resulted from prisoner-on-prisoner violence, riots, fires, and generally unsanitary and unsafe conditions. On August 3, seven prisoners at Alayon prison in Maracay died and approximately 60 individuals, three of them police officers, were severely injured when subjects riding motorcycles threw five grenades into the facility. The media reported that after the incident an undetermined number of inmates escaped from the prison.

During the year numerous prison riots resulted in inmate deaths and injuries. On January 11, 50 inmates took 40 persons hostage, including prison guards and staff and visiting family members, in Coro Penitentiary while protesting against food shortages and inadequate health care. The riot lasted for 55 hours and led to 11 injuries, 10 of them prison guards. On August 10, gangs rioted at the San Felix police station jail, leaving two inmates dead and 11 injured. Gang-related violence and alleged extortion by guards and inmates was fueled by trafficking in arms and drugs. NGOs, human rights lawyers, and the press frequently claimed prison gang leaders, rather than government authorities, controlled the penitentiaries and were able to lead organized crime networks based outside the prison system.

On July 15, a new law came into effect limiting cellphone and internet availability inside prisons to prevent inmates from using the technology to engage in criminal activity. The law was not implemented, however; inmates threatened a “full-scale war” if the government limited their ability to communicate.

The NGO A Window to Liberty (UVL) reported that authorities asked family members to provide nonperishable foods to prisoners at police station jails and the Fenix, Rodeo I, Rodeo II, Rodeo III, Yare III, and National Institute of Feminine Orientation penitentiaries due to inadequate provisioning of food by the prison administration. Lack of potable and running water in the 26 de Julio penitentiary led to gastrointestinal and skin diseases for large portions of the inmate population and prison staff.

The government restricted information regarding deaths in prisons from tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, or lack of medical care. A study by the NGO Solidarity Action found prison rules regarding the classification of inmates resulted in the isolation of those with HIV/AIDS in “inadequate spaces without food and medical attention.” The OVP reported a generalized lack of medical care, drugs, equipment, and physicians for prisoners, and reportedly inmates often received the same pills regardless of their symptoms. The OVP reported that due to inadequate nutrition plans and lack of potable water, stomach illnesses were common among inmates. According to the OVP, pregnant women lacked adequate facilities for their medical attention.

Administration: The government’s recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate. Prison authorities did not maintain accurate counts of inmates. According to press reports, the most recent accurate daily counts at the General Penitentiary of Venezuela and the La Planta Penitentiary occurred in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The National Assembly released a report in May evaluating the use of funds by Minister Varela, noting that the Prisons Ministry had built only two new penitentiaries of 24 planned since 2012. In addition, the ministry’s 2015 annual report indicated that the budget for prisons, managed by the National Penitentiaries Fund (FONEP), had been reduced by 86 percent from 2013 to 2015.

The Ministry of Penitentiary Services did not respond to any of the requests it received from the OVP, UVL, other human rights organizations, inmates, or families regarding inmates or investigations of the harsh conditions that led to hunger strikes or violent uprisings.

Prisoners and detainees generally had access to visitors, but in some cases prison officials harassed or abused visitors. Prison officials imposed significant restrictions on visits to political prisoners. The family of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez denounced mistreatment by prison guards when attempting to visit him in the Ramo Verde Military Prison, including being subjected to strip searches on both entry and exit from the facility.

Independent Monitoring: Human rights observers continued to experience lengthy delays and restrictions in accessing prisons and detention centers. Requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit penitentiary centers and interview inmates in confidentiality have been rejected since 2013. More than 300 lay members from the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference of the Roman Catholic Church volunteered in 40 prisons. Although prohibited from formally entering prisons, Catholic laity visited prisoners on family visitation days.

Improvements: In February the Ministry of Penitentiary Services announced closure of the San Antonio Prison in Nueva Esparta after a series of videos were released on social media showing inmates firing weapons to commemorate the death of prison gang leader “El Conejo,” who was killed on January 24. Authorities moved 1,828 prisoners to other government penitentiaries. The ministry implemented educational programs for inmates, although reports from an NGO claimed enrollment was low.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits the arrest or detention of an individual without a judicial order and provides for the accused to remain free while being tried, but individual judges and prosecutors often disregarded these provisions. While NGOs such as Foro Penal, COFAVIC, the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS), Public Space, and PROVEA noted at least 2,000 open cases of arbitrary detentions, authorities rarely granted them formal platforms to present their petitions. Multiple individuals, including American citizens, were arbitrarily detained for extended periods without criminal charges.

In the weeks before a planned opposition rally on September 1, the government initiated a series of arbitrary detentions targeting opposition activists. On August 29, security forces arrested former student leader Yon Goicoechea for allegedly carrying explosives. Authorities held Goicoechea incommunicado for almost three days, and as of December 22, he remained in custody on politically motivated charges.

On September 3, independent journalist Braulio Jatar, a dual Venezuelan-Chilean citizen, was detained by Venezuelan authorities after reporting on an impromptu protest against President Maduro in Villa Rosa, Margarita Island. Jatar was charged with money laundering by a Venezuelan court, and as of December 22, he remained in the custody of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN).

On September 19, SEBIN agents arrested Marco Trejo, Cesar Cuellar, and James Mathison without a warrant for producing a short video denouncing military repression. The government alleged the individuals committed a military offense because the video featured actors in military uniforms and charged the three under the military’s code of conduct.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Bolivarian National Guard (GNB)–a branch of the military that reports to both the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace–is responsible for maintaining public order, guarding the exterior of key government installations and prisons, conducting counternarcotics operations, monitoring borders, and providing law enforcement in remote areas. The Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace controls the CICPC, which conducts most criminal investigations, and SEBIN, which collects intelligence within the country and is responsible for investigating cases of corruption, subversion, and arms trafficking while maintaining its own detention facilities separate from those of the Ministry of Penitentiary Services. Police include municipal, state, and national police forces. Mayors and governors oversee municipal and state police forces. The Bolivarian National Police (PNB) reports to the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace and had a reported 14,500 officers. According to its website, the PNB largely focused on policing Caracas’ Libertador municipality; patrolling Caracas-area highways, railways, and metro system; and protecting diplomatic missions; the PNB maintained a minimal presence in seven of the country’s 23 states.

Corruption, inadequate police training and equipment, and insufficient central government funding, particularly for police forces in states and municipalities governed by opposition officials, reduced the effectiveness of the security forces. There were continued reports of police abuse and involvement in crime, including illegal and arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and the excessive use of force.

Impunity remained a serious problem in the security forces. The Public Ministry is responsible for initiating judicial investigations of security force abuses. The Office of Fundamental Rights in the Public Ministry is responsible for investigating cases involving crimes committed by public officials, particularly security officials.

According to the Public Ministry’s annual report for 2015, the Office of Fundamental Rights cited 13,911 specific actions taken to “process claims” against police authorities for human rights abuses and charged 959 with violations. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman did not provide information regarding human rights violations committed by police and military personnel, nor did the Attorney General’s Office release data.

State and municipal governments also investigated their respective police forces. By law, national, state, and municipal police forces have a police corps disciplinary council, which takes action against security officials who commit abuses. The National Assembly also may investigate security force abuses.

During the year the government at both the local and national levels took few actions to sanction officers involved in abuses. According to the NGO Network of Support for Justice and Peace, the lack of sufficient prosecutors made it difficult to prosecute police and military officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses. In addition, NGOs reported the following problems contributed to an ineffective judicial system: long procedural delays, poor court administration and organization, lack of transparency in investigations, and impunity of government officials.

The National Experimental University for Security (UNES), tasked with professionalizing law enforcement training for the PNB and other state and municipal personnel, had centers in Caracas and five other cities. UNES requires human rights training as part of the curriculum for all new officers joining the PNB, state, and municipal police forces. Members of the PNB and state and municipal police also enrolled for continuing education and higher-learning opportunities as part of the Special Plan of Police Professionalization at UNES.

Societal violence remained high and continued to increase. The Public Ministry reported 19,453 homicides in 2015, a rate of 63.5 per 100,000 residents. The NGO Venezuelan Observatory of Violence estimated the rate to be higher, with 27,875 homicides, a rate of 90 per 100,000 residents. Criminal kidnappings for ransom were widespread in both urban centers and rural areas. Kidnappings included both “express kidnappings,” in which victims were held for several hours and then released, and traditional kidnappings. The Public Ministry reported 793 cases of kidnapping or extortion in 2015. NGOs and police noted many victims did not report kidnappings to police or other authorities due to fear of retribution or lack of confidence in the police and that the actual occurrence was likely far higher.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

While a warrant is required for an arrest, detention is permitted without an arrest warrant when an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime or to secure a suspect or witness during an investigation. Police often detained individuals without a warrant. The law mandates that detainees be brought before a prosecutor within 12 hours and before a judge within 48 hours to determine the legality of the detention; the law also requires detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them. Authorities routinely ignored these requirements.

Although there is a functioning system of bail, it is not available for certain crimes. Bail also may be denied if a person is apprehended in the act of committing a crime or if a judge determines there is a danger the accused may flee or impede the investigation. The law allows detainees access to counsel and family members, but that requirement was often not met, particularly for political prisoners. The constitution also provides any detained individual the right to immediate communication with family members and lawyers who, in turn, have the right to know a detainee’s whereabouts. A person accused of a crime may not be detained for longer than the possible minimum sentence for that crime or for longer than two years, whichever is shorter, except in certain circumstances, such as when the defendant is responsible for the delay in the proceedings.

Arbitrary Arrest: Foro Penal reported 5,853 cases of arbitrary detention between February 2014 and June 2016. Persons so detained claimed security personnel subjected them to inhuman and degrading treatment and in some cases torture.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was a serious problem. According to the OVP, approximately 79 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. According to the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ), only 17 percent of trials concluded or reached sentencing. The NGO Citizen Observatory of the Penal Justice System attributed trial delays to the shortage of prosecutors and penal judges (4.7 penal judges per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010). The Public Ministry’s 2015 annual report stated it had 346 prosecutors specializing in common crimes who processed more than 556,613 cases during the year.

Cases were often deferred or suspended when pertinent parties, such as the prosecutor, public defender, or judge, were absent. An automated scheduling calendar in use since 2013, which selected dates based on the availability of all pertinent parties and prohibited judges from scheduling more than 10 hearings per day, did not reduce the backlog. In some instances judges scheduled hearings six months from the start of the case.

According to the Public Ministry’s 2015 annual report, the ministry pressed charges in 9.7 percent of the 556,000 cases involving common crimes. The ministry reported the closure of the remainder of the complaints but did not indicate final outcomes. Prisoners reported to NGOs that a lack of transportation and disorganization in the prison system reduced their access to the courts and contributed to trial delays.

On April 11, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional an amnesty law the National Assembly passed in March, which would have provided a framework to release political prisoners.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Individuals under detention may legally challenge grounds for their detention, but the processes were often delayed or tabled, and hearings were postponed, stretching trials for years. On many occasions the right to be judged in liberty for some offenders was not granted, and detainees were not allowed to consult with an attorney or to have access to their case records in order to challenge the detention. There are credible accounts that some detainees were placed on probation or under house arrest indefinitely and thus prevented from challenging their status by the threat of being sent back to detention.

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was significant evidence the judiciary lacked independence. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. According to reports from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), between 66 and 80 percent of all judges had provisional appointments, and the TSJ Judicial Committee could remove them from office at will. Provisional and temporary judges, who legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges, allegedly were subject to political influence from the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace and the attorney general to make progovernment determinations. The ICJ reported a lack of transparency and stability in the assignments of district attorneys to cases and the lack of technical criteria to assign district attorneys to criminal investigations. These deficiencies hindered the possibility of bringing offenders to justice and resulted in a 90-percent rate of impunity for common crimes and a higher percentage of impunity for human rights violation cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them, and the requirement was generally respected, although in high-profile cases the charges were often dubious, according to international human rights organizations. The law provides for open, public, and fair trials with oral proceedings for all individuals. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. Public defenders are provided for indigent defendants, but there continued to be a shortage of such attorneys. Defendants are not provided free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. According to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, there were approximately 1,500 public defenders. COFAVIC and Foro Penal noted that the government pressured defendants in trials related to the 2014 student protests into utilizing public defenders instead of private defense attorneys with the promise of receiving more-favorable sentences. Additionally, several NGOs provided pro bono counsel to defendants.

While defendants and their attorneys have the right to access government-held evidence, access often was not allowed; in some instances, particularly in politically motivated cases, the court or prosecution did not allow defendants or their attorneys to access such information. Defendants may request no fewer than 30 days and no more than 45 days to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and plaintiffs have the right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Trial delays were common. Trials “in absentia” are permitted in certain circumstances, although opponents of them claimed the constitution prohibits such trials. The law also states a trial may proceed in the absence of the defense attorney, with a public defender that the court designates. The law gives judges the discretion to hold trials behind closed doors if a public trial could “disturb the normal development of the trial.”

At the September 28 hearing of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, witnesses refused to appear for the prosecution. The legal situation of Afiuni, accused of corruption and abuse of authority for her 2009 decision to conditionally release on limits, remained unresolved. Afiuni continued to be subject to protective measures in place since her release to house arrest in 2011 that mandate she may not leave the country, talk to the media, or use social media, although the law states that such measures may not last more than two years.

The law mandates municipal courts to handle “less serious” crimes, i.e., those carrying maximum penalties of imprisonment for less than eight years. Municipal courts may levy penalties that include three to eight months of community service. Besides diverting some “less serious” crimes to the municipal courts, this diversion also permits individuals accused of “lesser crimes” to ask the courts to suspend their trials conditionally in exchange for their admission of responsibility, commitment to provide restitution “in a material or symbolic form,” community service, and any other condition imposed by the court.

The law provides that trials for military personnel charged with human rights abuses after 1999 be held in civilian rather than military courts. In addition, under the Organic Code of Military Justice, an individual may be tried in the military justice system for “insulting, offending, or disparaging the national armed forces or any related entities.” NGOs expressed concern with the government’s practice of trying civilians under the military justice system for protests and other actions not under military jurisdiction.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute individuals critical of government policies or actions. The NGO Foro Penal reported that more than 100 political prisoners remained incarcerated as of November. An additional 1,998 individuals were subject to either restricted movement or precautionary measures. In late August security forces detained numerous political activists in the days preceding antiregime demonstration on September 1.

In some cases political prisoners were held in SEBIN installations or the Ramo Verde military prison without an explanation of why they were not being held in traditional facilities. Authorities have denied the ICRC access to these prisoners since 2013.

On June 19, National Guardsmen arrested opposition party (Voluntad Popular) activists Gabriel San Miguel and others at a highway checkpoint in Cojedes State. The men were carrying pro-opposition pamphlets and approximately $3,000 worth of local currency and were traveling to help collect signatures as part of the recall referendum petition drive. SEBIN held the two men in solitary confinement and reportedly interrogated them without legal counsel present. Cojedes Governor Erika Farias accused them of carrying money “to pay mercenaries of destabilization” and blamed them for lootings at local supermarkets. On June 22, authorities charged them with “inciting violence” and money laundering, which could carry a prison sentence of more than 15 years. Authorities released San Miguel, a Spanish-Venezuelan dual national, on September 9 and dropped all charges; the other person, a U.S.-Venezuelan dual national, was released October 18.

Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, arrested in February 2015, remained under house arrest while awaiting trial for alleged participation in a conspiracy to topple the government.

On August 12, a Caracas appeals court upheld the September 2015 conviction of Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) party leader and former Caracas Chacao municipality mayor Leopoldo Lopez on four counts of public incitement, damage to property, fire damage, and association for conspiracy, in a trial that began in 2014. Lopez continued serving a maximum sentence of 13 years and nine months in prison in Ramo Verde Military Prison, where he was held in solitary confinement. The court also denied the appeals of codefendants Christian Holdack and Marco Coello. During the appeal proceedings, as during the previous trial, court officials refused defense lawyers’ requests to allow the media to cover the proceedings and denied admission to international observers.

On August 27, SEBIN agents transferred former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos from house arrest back to prison, alleging that he had been planning to engage in “destabilizing acts” during a September 1 political demonstration. Authorities had remanded Ceballos to house arrest in August 2015. He continued to await trial on charges of civil rebellion dating to 2014 protests, charges that carry a maximum sentence of 25 years.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While there are separate civil courts that permit citizens to bring lawsuits seeking damages, there are no procedures for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations.

The constitution provides for the inviolability of the home and personal privacy, but the government generally did not respect these prohibitions. In some cases government authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights by searching homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, seizing property without due process, or interfering in personal communications.

Beginning in August 2015, President Maduro declared 60-day “states of exception” in 23 municipalities bordering Colombia in Zulia, Tachira, Apure, and Amazonas states, thereby suspending the constitutional requirement for authorities to obtain a court order prior to entering a private residence or violating the secrecy of a person’s private communications, among other constitutional rights. These states of exception continued throughout the year.