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Afghanistan

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 2004 constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The right to vote may be stripped for certain criminal offenses. Violence from the Taliban and other antigovernment groups interfered with, but did not prevent, the most recent presidential election, held in 2019. In September, after the Taliban takeover, the Taliban’s so-called chief justice was quoted as saying that the country would follow the 1964 Constitution with modifications until it drafted a replacement document. There was no further clarification, leaving uncertain whether there would be future elections or other democratic processes. The Taliban announced on December 27 that it was disbanding the Independent Election Commission, the Electoral Complaints Commission, and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, stating they were “unnecessary for current conditions.”

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Elections were last held in 2019, and President Ghani’s second five-year term began in April 2020. President Ghani fled the country on August 15 as the Taliban approached Kabul. First Vice President Amrullah Saleh under President Ghani announced a government in exile in September. In September the Taliban’s spokesperson said future elections would be considered in the process of establishing a new constitution.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Under the pre-August 15 government, the constitution granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions. The law provided that any citizen 25 years old or older may establish a political party. The same law required parties to have at least 10,000 members nationwide to register with the Ministry of Justice, conduct official party business, and introduce candidates in elections. Only citizens 18 years old or older and who have the right to vote were permitted to join a political party. Certain members of the government, judiciary, military, and government-affiliated commissions were prohibited from political party membership during their tenure in office.

Before August 15, in large areas of the country, political parties could not operate due to insecurity. After August 15, the Taliban engaged with some political parties, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami. Senior leaders of other key parties left the country as the Taliban seized Kabul, including most notably the predominantly ethnic Tajik Jamiat Islami, the predominantly ethnic Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat, the predominantly Pashtun Islamic Dawah Organization, and the predominantly ethnic Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli. Taliban representatives reportedly maintained communication with those parties, but their ability to operate in the country was limited.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws under the pre-August 15 government prevented women or members of religious or ethnic minority groups from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained of unequal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament, but they did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence authorities purposely excluded specific societal groups from political participation.

The 2004 constitution specified a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the national assembly), the constitution mandated that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). The Independent Election Commission finalized 2018 parliamentary election results in May 2019, and 418 female candidates contested the 250 seats in the Wolesi Jirga in the 2018 parliamentary election. In Daikundi Province a woman won a seat in open competition against male candidates, making it the only province to have more female representation than mandated by the constitution. The constitution also mandated one-half of presidential appointees must be women. It also set aside 10 seats in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the nomadic Kuchi minority. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the president’s appointees were required to include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities, and one-half of the president’s nominees were required to be women. One seat in the Meshrano Jirga and one in the Wolesi Jirga were reserved for the appointment or election of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this was not mandated by the constitution.

In many regions traditional societal practices limited women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. The 2016 electoral law mandated that 25 percent of all provincial, district, and village council seats “shall be allocated to female candidates.” Neither district nor village councils were established by year’s end.

Women active in government and politics before August 15 continued to face threats and violence and were targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

In September the Taliban announced a “caretaker government,” dominated by ethnic Pashtun members with no women and only a few members of minority groups, none at the cabinet level. In late December the Taliban announced that a second member of the Hazara minority had been appointed to the government, this time as deputy minister for economic affairs.

On September 17, the Taliban closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and announced that the reconstituted “Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” would be housed in its building. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs was founded in 2001 with a mandate to “implement government’s social and political policy to secure legal rights of women in the country.” The ministry often struggled with a lack of influence and resources.

According to media reports, the Taliban repressed members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community and would not allow members of historically marginalized minority groups to participate in ministries and institutions (see section 6).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law under the pre-August 15 government provided criminal penalties for corruption by government officials. The pre-August 15 government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Reports indicated corruption was endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Local businessmen complained that government contracts were routinely steered to companies that paid a bribe or had family or other connections to a contracting official.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system during the pre-August 15 government, particularly regarding the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were reports officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting investigations, or dismissing charges outright.

Freedom House reported extensive corruption in the judiciary, with judges and lawyers often subject to threats and bribes from local leaders or armed groups.

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

Corruption: Under the pre-August 15 government, the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC) had jurisdiction over corruption crimes allegedly committed by high-ranking government officials. Between January 2020 and February 2021, a total of 10 military officials of the rank of general were tried by the ACJC Primary Court. The ACJC Primary Court conducted trials in 95 cases involving 384 defendants. The court convicted 302 defendants, acquitted 77, and returned cases of two defendants to the prosecutor for further investigation. Since August the ACJC ceased to operate.

In January, three parliamentarians were arrested for bribery. Per parliamentary rules, the members were released from detention. They were indicted in February and convicted in a trial during which the defendants were absent but represented by counsel. The court sentenced each to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of three million afghanis ($40,000). The Senate wrote to the Supreme Court committing not to arrest the defendants pending their appeal to the ACJC appellate court. The defendants neither surrendered nor were arrested.

Local news agencies reported in February that the pre-August 15 government Ministry of Interior had removed 321 personnel from their posts as a part of the ministry’s campaign against extortion on the country’s highways. Also in February the Attorney General’s Office stated three members of the Meshrano Jirga were sentenced to prison for corruption.

Violent attacks by insurgents against judges, prosecutors, and prison officials made members of the judicial sector increasingly fearful in carrying out their duties. Justice-sector professionals came under threat or attack for pursuing certain cases, particularly corruption or abuse-of-power cases against politically or economically powerful individuals.

According to various reports, many pre-August 15 government officials, including district or provincial governors, ambassadors, and deputy ministers, were suborned. Pre-August 15 government officials with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights abuses reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity. There were allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power by officers at the Ministry of Interior. Provincial police reportedly extorted civilians at checkpoints and received kickbacks from the drug trade. Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Senior Interior Ministry officials of the pre-August 15 government also refused to sign the execution of arrest warrants.

The Taliban announced anticorruption policies following their takeover, including creating commissions in Kabul and at the provincial level to identify corrupt or criminal officials and taking a hardline stance against bribery. The Taliban launched a commission through the “Ministry of Defense” to identify members who were flouting the movement’s directives. A ministry spokesman stated that 2,840 Taliban members were dismissed on charges of corruption and drug use. Reporting from multiple local businessmen revealed that cross-border trading had become much easier under Taliban stewardship with elimination of the “gifts” usually required for Customs officials.

On December 8, Taliban officials in Herat announced that 100 Taliban security personnel were arrested and dismissed on charges of misconduct and illegal activity. They also reported a revenue of 100 million afghanis ($1.3 million) collected over three months due to reduced corruption. Local Taliban leaders in Balkh began investigations into allegations of corruption involving disability benefits, and leaders in Nangarhar established special units to prevent the illegal occupation of land and deforestation.

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

As the conflict intensified in the lead-up to the Taliban takeover, the pre-August 15 government came under increasing criticism for being either incapable or unwilling to act upon reports of human rights abuses, especially regarding targeted killings by the Taliban of journalists and civic activists. Media also came under increasing pressure to restrict coverage of the government’s responsibility for civilian victims of the conflict.

Since their takeover in August, the Taliban has intervened in the operations of international and nongovernmental organizations. Staff from several organizations reported the Taliban asked that staff obtain a security clearance from them and pay a 30 percent tax on salaries received by employees.

On September 15, Taliban falsely claiming to be acting under the authority of the Ministry of Interior conducted a search of the country office premises of an international NGO dedicated to the promotion of rule of law in Kabul, seizing assets and stating an intent to return to conduct further searches.

International NGOs reported in August and September that the Taliban conducted house-to-house searches for pre-August 15 government officials and others who worked for international and human rights organizations.

The Taliban takeover and the ensuing turmoil created an immediately nonpermissive environment for many international and nongovernmental entities, including human rights organizations. Historic Taliban practices and post-August 15 actions created a climate of uncertainty and fear, which curtailed the work of journalists, civic activists, and human rights defenders, many of whom left the country due to retaliation. Investigations and reports by journalists and human rights organizations, however, continued to bring to light human rights abuses and atrocities, including allegations of summary executions of persons associated with the previous government, as well as extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists. Taliban authorities often denied that those abuses were taking place.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Under the 2004 constitution, the pre-August 15 government was required to support the AIHRC. The AIHRC highlighted human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds. Three Wolesi Jirga committees dealt with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotic, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addressed human rights concerns. The Taliban takeover effectively curtailed almost all AIHRC operations and the operation of the pre-August 15 government’s parliament.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Albania

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national parliamentary elections were held on April 25. An International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) was formed as a common endeavor of the OSCE Office for Democracy and Human Rights, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In its final report on the elections, the IEOM reported the elections were generally well organized and noted the Central Election Commission (CEC) “managed to adequately fulfill most of its obligations, including complex new ones related to electronic voter identification. Overall, the election administration at all levels enjoyed the trust of stakeholders.” The IEOM reported, “the ruling party derived significant advantage from its incumbency, including through its control of local administrations, and from misuse of administrative resources. This was amplified by positive coverage of state institutions in the media.” The mission also highlighted several deficiencies, including credible allegations of pervasive vote buying by political parties and the leaking of sensitive personal data. The report found that journalists remained vulnerable to pressure and corruption.

Local elections took place in 2019. The main opposition party and others boycotted the elections, alleging government collusion with organized crime to commit electoral fraud. The OSCE election observation mission reported that, because of the boycott, “voters did not have a meaningful choice between political options” and “there were credible allegations of citizens being pressured by both sides.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: Media outlets reported allegations of the use of public resources for partisan campaign purposes in the 2021 parliamentary elections, and there were reports of undue political influence on media. There were also reports of limited access to voting for persons with disabilities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials and prohibits individuals with criminal convictions from serving as mayors, parliamentarians, or in government or state positions, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was pervasive in all branches of government, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Through September, the Special Prosecution Office against Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) announced that it had opened investigations and brought charges against several public officials, including former ministers, mayors, sitting judges and prosecutors, former and sitting judges of the Constitutional Court’s Vetting Appeal’s Chamber, former judges of the Supreme Court, and officials in the executive branch. As of September, one judge, two prosecutors, one mayor, and the former procurement director at the Ministry of Interior were indicted on abuse of office or corruption charges.

The constitution requires judges and prosecutors to undergo vetting for unexplained wealth, ties to organized crime, and professional competence. The Independent Qualification Commission conducted vetting, and the Appeals Chamber reviewed contested decisions. The International Monitoring Operation, composed of international judicial experts, oversaw the process. As of November, 125 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 103 confirmed, while 48 others had resigned rather than undergo vetting. As of July, 173 judges and prosecutors were dismissed, 148 confirmed, while 89 others had resigned or retired.

Several government agencies investigated corruption cases, but limited resources, investigative leaks, real and perceived political pressure, and a haphazard reassignment system hampered investigations.

Corruption: Between January and June, the Prosecutor General’s Office managed a total of 41 cases, including 25 cases carried over from 2020, nine new cases, five dismissed cases, and two cases on which court proceedings had not started.

From January to August, SPAK prosecuted 606 cases, of which 264 were newly registered (218 cases on corruption charges and 46 on organized crime), and 133 persons were charged (84 on corruption charges and 49 on organized crime). A total of 127 persons were convicted. The value of assets confiscated by court ruling was estimated at more than 70 million euros ($80.5 million). While prosecutors made significant progress in pursuing low- to mid-level public corruption cases, the prosecution rate for high-ranking officials remained low. The Supreme Court was reviewing cases against a former minister of interior (found guilty of abuse of office for facilitating international drug trafficking) and a vetting official (found guilty of forging documents). The appellate court was reviewing the case of a former prosecutor general found guilty by a trial court on charges of asset concealment. The case against a former minister of defense on corruption charges was also reopened.

The High Inspectorate for the Declaration of Assets and Conflict of Interest reported that through August, it had referred four new cases for prosecution, involving one member of parliament, one mayor, one general director of public administration, and one prosecutor. Charges included refusing to declare assets, hiding assets, or falsifying asset declarations; money laundering; and tax evasion.

Police corruption remained a problem. Through August the SIAC received 1,155 complaints which were within the jurisdiction of the service and entered them into the SIAC Case Management System. Most of the complaints alleged a failure to act, violation of standard operating procedures, abuse of office, arbitrary action, police bias, unfair fines, and passive corruption. SIAC referred to the prosecution 149 cases involving 215 officials. The Office of the Ombudsman also processed complaints against police officers, mainly concerning problems with arrests and detentions.

Police did not always enforce the law equitably. Personal associations, political or criminal connections, deficient infrastructure, lack of equipment, and inadequate supervision often influenced law enforcement. Authorities continued to address these problems by renovating police facilities, upgrading vehicles, and publicly highlighting anticorruption measures. The government established a system for vetting security officials and, as of November 2019, had completed vetting 32 high-level police and SIAC leaders.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is the main independent constitutional institution for promoting and enforcing human rights. It is authorized by law to monitor and report on prisons and detention centers and conduct administrative investigation of complaints from citizens. Although the Ombudsman’s Office lacked the power to enforce decisions, it acted as a monitor of alleged human rights abuses, and institutions made efforts to meet its recommendations.

The Assembly has committees on legal issues, public administration, and human rights that review the annual report of the Office of the Ombudsman. The committee was engaged and effective in legislative matters.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Algeria

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

On March 10, President Tebboune enacted a new electoral law. Typically, new laws must obtain parliamentary approval, but on February 18, Tebboune dissolved parliament’s lower house, thus necessitating the law’s promulgation via decree.

The new law outlines a significant procedural change to the way voters elect members of parliament. Under the previous system, electors voted for a political party’s candidate list rather than for individual candidates, and the candidates on the top of the list would obtain a seat in parliament. The government stated it made the change as part of its efforts to fight corruption. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the electoral law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral-monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution to limit the president to two five-year terms. The new 2020 constitution maintains term limits. The National Independent Authority for Elections (ANIE), established in 2019 to replace the High Independent Election Monitoring Body, is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes, monitoring elections, and investigating allegations of irregularities.

Recent Elections: In November 2020 the country held a constitutional referendum. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups. The referendum passed with 66.8 percent support and 23.7 percent turnout, according to the ANIE.

On June 12, the country held legislative elections. Official voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest in the country’s history for a parliamentary election. The vote was the first held under the new electoral law. The new parliament did not have an established opposition party presence, as traditional opposition parties chose to boycott. After the polls closed, Mohamed Charfi, head of the ANIE, announced an “average final turnout rate” of 30.2 percent based on the average turnout percentage in each of the country’s 58 wilayas (states) – not of the percentage of all eligible voters who cast their ballots.

On November 27, the country held local elections and municipal level elections for wilaya (state) and commune-level legislative bodies, plus mayors. The ANIE announced a final turnout rate of 36 percent for municipal elections and 34.9 percent for provincial elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

Opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Occasionally security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize. Since taking office in 2019, Tebboune’s government has blocked foreign funding and pressured media to limit government criticism. The government used COVID-19 restrictions to prevent political opposition meetings; however, the National Liberation Front and the Democratic National Rally continued to meet despite restrictions.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 72 registered political parties, one more than in 2020. Parties must hold a party congress to elect a party leader and confirm membership before the Ministry of Interior counts them as a registered party.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. By law political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates resources from party members’ domestic contributions, donations, and revenue from party activities, in addition to possible state funding, must be reported to the Ministry of Interior. President Tebboune publicly stated his administration was revising political funding laws and that the new constitution would change campaign finance and funding laws.

On April 22, the Ministry of the Interior initiated legal action against the opposition party Union for Change and Progress (UCP). Authorities alleged that the UCP and its president Zoubida Assoul, who was also a lawyer and political activist, lacked legal status. The UCP denied these accusations and said it followed the law on political parties. On May 2, the Interior Ministry requested that the Council of State temporarily suspend the UCP, pending a legal ruling on its outright dissolution.

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

The electoral law eliminated gender quotas in parliament, and women’s representation in parliament fell from 120 to 34. During the 2017 legislative election campaign, the regulatory election body that preceded the ANIE sent formal notices asking parties and individuals to display candidates’ photos on posters. The ANIE did not require female candidates to use their photos on the campaign posters and ballots for this year’s legislative election for cultural and religious reasons.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Authorities continued their anticorruption campaign against political, military, and security officials, as well as prominent business leaders from the Bouteflika era.

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Although President Tebboune’s administration has emphasized rooting out corruption, corruption remained a problem. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: On May 3, the Ministry of Justice released a progress report on the government’s efforts to recover funds embezzled during former president Bouteflika’s tenure. According to the report, the government successfully recovered 52 billion dinars ($390 million) in assets, 39 billion dinars ($293 million), $214 million, and two million euros ($2.2 million). The government also seized vehicles, plots of land, residences, and businesses. The report accounted for assets recovered in the country but not funds or assets located abroad, primarily in Europe.

On August 28, President Tebboune amended the process for pursuing corruption-related charges or investigating corruption-related offenses against local officials. The Ministry of Interior must first authorize security services to pursue legal proceedings in corruption cases. Lawyers claimed the president’s executive order violates the penal code stipulating the public prosecutor is the “sole authority to assess whether or not to initiate investigative or legal proceedings.”

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights matters, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior. Amnesty International has received authorization to open a bank account, although the organization awaits final documentation from the government to open the account.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was one of the most active independent human rights groups. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated budget restrictions and time constraints delayed the visit of several UN delegations in charge of human rights but asserted that the country responds to all UN requests stemming from special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

The government officially recorded 3,200 forced disappearances during the 1990s and noted families remained dissatisfied with the government’s official response surrounding the disappearances of their family members. The government reported the working group was tasked with addressing questions posed by the families of “the disappeared.” The Foreign Affairs Ministry asserted the working group took on the role of a UN investigative body, which was outside its mandate and ran contrary to the country’s constitution. The ministry added that it extended invitations to the working group in 2014 and again in 2015, but UN financial and scheduling constraints delayed their visit. The ministry claimed the United Nations would not be able to visit until at least 2023 due to continued financial and scheduling issues.

The country joined the Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009), and the UN Security Council Mali Panel of Experts on Sanctions (since 2016). The Foreign Ministry stated that even during the 1990s, the country did not record many extrajudicial executions, but the perception caused numerous human rights groups to request special rapporteurs.

On March 5, Rupert Colville, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), called on authorities to put an end to violence against peaceful demonstrators of the Hirak movement. Colville expressed OHCHR’s concern regarding the deteriorating human rights situation in the country and the continued and increasing crackdown on Hirak members, as “authorities are responding in the same repressive manner seen in 2019 and 2020.”

In May, OHCHR urged authorities to stop using violence to disperse peaceful Hirak demonstrations. OHCHR also urged authorities to stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly. OHCHR called on authorities to conduct “prompt, impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of human rights violations and to ensure that the victims obtain reparations.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Council (CNDH) has budget autonomy and the constitutional responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws the government proposes, and publish an annual report that is submitted to the president, the prime minister, and the two speakers of parliament. The CNDH releases the report to the public. The CNDH reported representation in 1,548 communes and five regional delegations located in Chlef, Biskra, Setif, Bechar, and Bejaia. The CNDH reported it had 123 local volunteers and 245 representatives.

The CNDH reported COVID-19 hampered its activities. Nevertheless, the CNDH noted that during the year it had conducted prison visits; ensured children were connected to their schools and facilitated distance learning; held sessions with the Danish Human Rights Institute, the Arab League, and Penal Reform International; interceded to guarantee that all citizens had equal access to health care; signed a convention with the Republic Ombudsman; and took steps to set up a database to track human rights-related statistics.

Between January 1 and September 30, the CNDH reported receiving 943 requests for assistance, examined 473 of them, and completed 46. The CNDH stated 424 remained under review. A CNDH representative reported the organization’s focus during the year was on health measures, especially for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and migrants.

Andorra

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered parliamentary elections held in 2019 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Citizens were ethnically and linguistically homogeneous but, as of the end of the year, represented only 48.7 percent of the country’s population. Most of the population consisted of immigrants, largely from Spain, Portugal, and France. The law requires 20 years of residency for naturalization. Because only citizens have the right to hold official positions, there were no members of minorities in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. Officials infrequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman’s main function is to defend and oversee the fulfillment and application of the rights and liberties included in the constitution and to ensure the public sector adheres to constitutional principles. The Ombudsman’s Office also covers all cases of discrimination in the private sector as well as in the protection of the rights of minors and persons with disabilities and protection against racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and intolerant attitudes. The Ombudsman’s Office is independent from other institutions and provides its functions free of charge to interested persons.

The ombudsman enjoyed the government’s cooperation, operated without government interference, had adequate resources, published an annual report to parliament with recommendations, and was considered effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

There were no confirmed reports during the year that Andorra was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.

Angola

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote, and the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence. The MPLA retained its 68 percent supermajority in the National Assembly in the 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court regarding aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count.

The central government appoints provincial governors. Local government elections, originally planned to take place in 2020, faced a series of delays from legislative processes, procedural debates, and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the year President Lourenco proposed a constitutional amendment providing for local government elections to be implemented across the nation. In September the National Assembly passed the law, but no date was set for the elections. Opposition parties and civil society criticized the government for failing to provide a prospective date for the municipal elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The Council of Ministers largely determines which legislative proposals are submitted to the National Assembly for approval. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and CASA-CE, to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups, including persons with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; and indigenous persons, in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 65, or 30 percent, were women, up from 27 percent for the last three years. Four of 18, or 22 percent, of provincial governors were women, which was double the number from both 2018 and 2019, and seven of 21, or 33 percent, of cabinet ministers were women, down from 38 percent in 2018 and 2019. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. The government dismissed and prosecuted cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other officials for corruption and financial crimes. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. The Attorney General’s Office continued corruption investigations and brought criminal charges against several officials. Nonetheless, official impunity and the uniform application of anticorruption legislation remained a serious problem.

Corruption: In April authorities sentenced the minister of social communications under former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Manuel Rabelais, to 14 years and six months in prison for embezzlement and money laundering committed in a foreign exchange scheme between 2016 and 2017.

In late May President Lourenco dismissed his minister of state and seven other high-level military officials following the arrest of a military major attempting to leave the country with two suitcases full of money. In June 2020 other provincial government and military officials in Cuando Cubango were also detained as part of the same investigation.

In July Attorney General Helder Pitta Gros announced in a press conference that the government had been able to freeze more than 550 billion kwanza (one billion dollars) that had been stolen and deposited in foreign banks. He noted that the funds would be repatriated following legal proceedings.

Carlos Manuel de Sao Vicente, former head of the insurance company AAA Seguros, remained in custody after a September 2020 arrest for alleged money laundering.

On September 21, the former chairman of the board of directors of the Luanda Collective and Urban Transport Company, Abel Antonio Cosme, was extradited by Portugal to the country. Although he was released from custody on September 29 after paying more than nine million kwanza ($16,500) in bail, his extradition was the first of its type to the country for corruption charges.

Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some groups investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities, particularly in provinces outside of Luanda. Civil society organizations faced fewer difficulties in contacting detainees than in previous years, and prison authorities permitted civil society work in the prisons, but COVID-19 preventive measures forced limited access by some civil society groups.

The law requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive.

The government allowed local NGOs to carry out human rights-related work, but many NGOs reported they were forced to limit the scope of their work because they faced problems registering, were subjected to subtle forms of intimidation, and risked more serious forms of harassment and closure.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-funded Interministerial Commission for the Writing of Human Rights Reports included representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe the commission was independent or effective.

The 10th Commission on Human Rights of the National Assembly is charged with investigating citizen complaints of alleged human rights violations and makes recommendations to the National Assembly.

An Office of the Ombudsman, with a national jurisdiction, existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office had representative offices open in the provinces of Cabinda, Kwanza-Sul, Cunene, Huambo, and Luanda. It had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers but helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports. These reports are presented annually to the National Assembly. The ombudsman is elected by the National Assembly.

During the year the government began the implementation and training of local human rights committees at the provincial, municipal, and communal levels. These committees were composed of government representatives, civil society members, journalists, religious representatives, and traditional authorities. The committees are tasked with gathering information and reporting monthly on human rights issues within their area.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the 2018 elections, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party won 15 of 17 seats in the House of Representatives and Gaston Browne was subsequently named prime minister. The Caribbean Community Observation Mission and a Commonwealth Observer Group monitored the election. In their initial report, monitors noted the electoral boundaries had seen only minor adjustments since 1984, leading to large disparities in voter populations in different electoral districts. The monitors stated that despite problems with the electoral process, the results “reflected the will of the people.”

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but full implementation of the law was hindered during the pandemic. Media reported several allegations of corruption against officials during the year. Media and private citizens reported government corruption was widespread and endorsed at the highest levels of government

Corruption: The government pursued corruption cases related to former high-ranking political officials. The Citizenship by Investment Program was a critical source of government revenue. Although the government publishes semiannual public reports on some of the program’s activities, its lack of full transparency led to concerns by civil society and opposition political leaders about oversight and corruption.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: An independent ombudsman appointed by Parliament handles public complaints against police, government officials, and government offices. The ombudsman takes complaints, conducts investigations, and then makes recommendations to the relevant authorities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Child pornography is illegal and subject to large fines and up to 20 years in prison. The minimum age for consensual sex is 16.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Turkish Cypriots choose a leader and a representative body at least every five years. In 2018 Turkish Cypriots held “parliamentary elections” that observers considered free and fair. In October 2020 Turkish Cypriots elected Ersin Tatar as “president” in “elections” that were widely seen as influenced by pro-Tatar interference from Turkey.

Civil society leaders alleged the level of Turkish interference on behalf of Tatar’s candidacy was uncharacteristically high and led to the resignation of several Turkish Cypriot members from the bicommunal Technical Committee on Gender Equality.

According to reports by Turkish Cypriot journalists and statements by candidates during the year, Turkey’s interference in the “TRNC presidential” elections in October 2020 was significant. According to an investigative report by Turkish Cypriot journalist Esra Aygin published in June, the Turkish “embassy” in the “TRNC” and Turkish National Intelligence (MIT) pressured, threatened, and blackmailed former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and his supporters, other candidates, and journalists during the election campaign. Aygin also reported receiving threats.

Aygin’s report, based on the work of a team of civil society representatives, lawyers, and researchers, showed “blatant interference by Ankara” in favor of Tatar. According to Aygin several journalists reported being pressured by Turkish officials who claimed they were in northern Cyprus to ensure Tatar’s election. In an interview with local media in July, former Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci alleged there was direct pressure, threats, and blackmailing from MIT and Turkey.

Political Parties and Political Participation: While membership in the dominant party did not confer formal advantages, there were widespread allegations of political cronyism and nepotism.

On June 23, a consortium of Turkish Cypriot organizations spoke out against the “government” in the north concerning its acceleration of “TRNC citizenship” applications. This Country is Ours Platform criticized a decision to reorganize the “Ministry of Interior” in order to approve new passport applications more quickly.

In August opposition Republican Turkish Party “member of parliament” Asim Akansoy said the “Ministry of Interior” was rapidly granting citizenships and asked, “Is it true that 200 people are given citizenship with the approval of the Ministry, per day?” Akansoy criticized the “government” for remaining silent regarding the matter and implied the “government” sought to increase the pro-Turkey voting base by offering “citizenship” to newly arrived immigrants from Turkey.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No “laws” limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. remained underrepresented in senior political positions. Nine of the 50 “members of parliament” were women.

Turkish Cypriot authorities did not permit Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north to participate in elections they administered. Greek Cypriots and Maronites residing in the north were eligible to vote in elections in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area but had to travel there to do so. Greek Cypriot and Maronite communities living in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities directly elected municipal officials, but Turkish Cypriot authorities did not recognize them. There was no minority representation in the 50-seat “parliament” or in the “cabinet.”

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The “law” provides criminal penalties for corruption by “officials.” Authorities, however, did not implement the “law” effectively, and “officials” sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of “government” corruption during the year. Observers generally perceived corruption, cronyism, and lack of transparency to be serious problems in the legislative and executive branches.

Corruption: In July a civil servant working as a cashier at the “tax department” was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for embezzling one million Turkish lira ($108,700 as of mid-October) in driver’s license fees from 2016 to 2020. The “court” ordered a freeze on the cashier’s assets.

In September, six individuals, including a north Nicosia Police Station officer and an information technology (IT) specialist, were arrested for bribery and forging digital vaccine certificates. According to press reports, an unvaccinated police officer from Nicosia paid 650 Turkish lira ($70 as of mid-October) to the IT specialist to create a fake electronic vaccination certificate. The allegations arose after the IT specialist offered to create another fake vaccination certificate for another officer at the Kyrenia police station. Five of the suspects were released pending charges. The investigation continued at year’s end.

In 2019 local press outlets reported that former National Unity Party leader and then “prime minister” Huseyin Ozgurgun inaccurately declared his assets, according to an “attorney general” investigation. Ozgurgun was charged with failing to accurately declare wealth and for abusing public office for private gain. The “parliament” subsequently voted to remove Ozgurgun’s immunity. No trial has yet been held, as Ozgurgun has been living in Turkey since 2019. The “attorney general’s office” reported three lawsuits were pending against Ozgurgun at the Nicosia District Court at year’s end.

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

A limited number of domestic human rights organizations operated in the area administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Authorities were rarely cooperative or responsive to their views and requests. NGOs promoted awareness of domestic violence; women’s rights; rights of asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants; trafficking in persons; police abuse; and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons. These NGOs had little effect on changes to “legislation” to improve the protection of human rights. Local NGOs liaised with the United Nations, UNHCR, foreign diplomatic missions, representatives of the European Union, and international NGOs on human rights matters.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an “ombudsman,” whose portfolio includes human rights issues. The “ombudsman” investigates and reports on institutions that exercise administrative and executive powers and ensures that “legislation” and “court” decisions are properly implemented. The “ombudsman” can initiate investigations in response to media reports, complaints from individuals and organizations, or on its own initiative. The “ombudsman” was not always effective due to the lack of an enforcement mechanism.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Argentina

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Alberto Fernandez was elected president in 2019 in elections generally considered free and fair. On November 14, the country held midterm municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Voters elected one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces. Local and international observers considered the elections generally free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires an electoral list of candidates for national legislative office to contain equal percentages of male and female candidates. The law also states that in the case of the resignation, temporary absence, or death of an elected official, the replacement must be the same gender. The city of Buenos Aires and the provinces of Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santiago del Estero, Rio Negro, Catamarca, Santa Cruz, Mendoza, Chaco, Misiones, Formosa, Salta, Chubut, Neuquen, and Santa Fe have gender parity laws pertaining to candidates for provincial and municipal bodies. Enforcement of these laws was weak and limited, however, and results were uneven among the provinces.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Weak institutions and an often ineffective and politicized judicial system undermined systematic attempts to curb corruption.

Corruption: Several corruption-related investigations against sitting and former high-ranking political figures, including Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and former president Mauricio Macri, were underway as of September. In 2019 a federal judge sent to trial the corruption scandal known as “the notebooks case.” Fernandez de Kirchner and 52 other defendants were accused of receiving kickbacks, paying kickbacks, or both on public works contracts between 2008 and 2015 when Fernandez de Kirchner was president. Prosecutors estimated the total value of the bribery scheme at $160 million. Fernandez de Kirchner and her children faced four other financial corruption cases as of November. According to local media, court officials expected pandemic-related delays would continue to delay trials in some of these cases.

In May an appeals court rejected an extraordinary appeal from former planning minister Julio de Vido, upholding a 2018 sentence of five years and eight months for fraud, misuse of funds, and lack of oversight related to a 2012 train accident that killed 52 persons. De Vido also faced charges in the “notebooks” case and others related to his management of public works projects.

Corruption and official complicity occurred in some security forces. The most frequent abuses included extortion of, and protection for, those involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the promotion of prostitution. Allegations of corruption in provincial and federal courts were also frequent.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has a human rights secretariat within the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. Its main objective is to coordinate within the ministry and collaborate with other ministries and the judiciary to promote policies, plans, and programs for the protection of human rights. It published leaflets and books on a range of human rights topics.

NGOs argued that the government’s failure to fill the post of national ombudsman, vacant since 2009, undermined the office’s mandate to protect human rights.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Crimes against Humanity investigated and documented human rights violations that occurred under the 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Armenia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On June 20, the country held snap parliamentary elections in which fundamental rights and freedoms were generally respected and contestants were able to campaign freely. Elections were preceded by a short and heated campaign marked by harsh and inflammatory language. The elections occurred amid heightened tensions and polarization following the fall 2020 intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the controversial November 2020 cease-fire statement. In the June elections, Nikol Pashinyan’s Civic Contract party won approximately 54 percent of the vote and the majority of seats in the National Assembly, falling one seat short of a two-thirds constitutional majority.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission reported, “Fundamental rights and freedoms were generally respected, and contestants were able to campaign freely.” The October 27 final report noted that amendments to the electoral code made in April and May “had been publicly debated… and were supported by most political parties and civil society groups, and public outreach on the proposed electoral reforms was largely perceived as inclusive. However, the late adoption by parliament and subsequent entering into force of the amendments left limited time for the implementation of regulations and raising voters’ awareness of the new procedures.” ODIHR reported that while its observers assessed the territorial election commissions as generally professional and transparent in their conduct, the commissions did not publish their decisions online, nor did they uniformly post them for public display, contrary to legal requirements. ODIHR also noted that central and territorial election commission members expressed concern that many of the party-nominated precinct election commission members, especially those serving as chairpersons and secretaries, “lacked the sufficient education and experience to effectively perform their tasks.”

The final ODIHR report also noted that “high levels of harsh, intolerant, inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric in the period leading up to election day tainted the debate.” Other shortcomings identified by ODIHR included incidents of pressure by political actors and employers on private-sector and public employees to attend campaign events, a number of allegations of vote buying, blurring of the line between the ruling party and state, allegations of the misuse of administrative resources, continued shortcomings regarding campaign finance, notably the absence of organizational expenses in the legal definition of campaign expenditures, and the narrow legal standing for submitting electoral complaints.

There were allegations of electoral bribes during the campaign, and law enforcement bodies launched 67 criminal cases in this regard. As of October 15, 35 persons were facing criminal charges related to electoral bribes.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law does not restrict the registration or activity of political parties.

In its final report, the ODIHR observation mission stated, “Allegations of misuse of administrative resources also persisted throughout the campaign and were not sufficiently or uniformly addressed.” ODIHR observers received such reports from four of the country’s 10 regions and Yerevan. Other observers noted complaints that “administrative resources” were reportedly employed by both progovernment and opposition forces.

There were incidents of violence involving political figures. For example after the June 20 snap elections, Lori governor Aram Khachatryan publicly urged mayors who had supported the opposition to resign, claiming Civil Contract’s victory amounted to a vote of no confidence in opposition-linked community heads. Mayor of the Lori region’s Odzun village Arsen Titanyan, who had supported the opposition, accused Khachatryan of assaulting him in connection with Khachatryan’s calls for him to resign. Khachatryan denied the claims. A local civil society observer noted that the conflict between the governor and mayor also involved reports of vote buying in Odzun. A criminal case was launched into the alleged assault, but on September 22, media reported that the SIS had dropped the case.

Violence also occurred between members of the National Assembly. For example on August 24, a scuffle between parliamentarians broke out after Speaker Alen Simonyan ordered the removal of opposition parliamentarian Anna Mkrtchyan for calling the prime minister a “capitulator,” in reference to the 2020 cease-fire arrangement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Another fight broke out in parliament on August 25, after Armenia faction head and former defense minister Seyran Ohanyan threw a water bottle at Civil Contract member Hayk Sargsyan. The latter had called former defense ministers who had allowed for exemptions to army service via telephone calls “traitors.” This scuffle was soon followed by a larger brawl, initiated when Civil Contract members of parliament hit several Armenia faction members of parliament. A human rights activist asserted that security officers intentionally delayed responding to the incident.

During the campaign and following the June parliamentary elections, Pashinyan claimed his party would employ a “steel mandate,” strictly prosecuting those who violated the law. The opposition and some independent human rights observers asserted such prosecution largely targeted the prime minister’s opponents. After the parliamentary elections, four opposition-linked former or current mayors in Syunik Province were arrested for various alleged crimes related to abuse of power, fraud, or bribes. As the mayors had openly opposed Pashinyan, their arrests raised questions related to potential selective application of the law and political motivations, as well as questions related to the necessity of pretrial detentions. Former mayors of Meghri and Sisian, Mkhitar Zakaryan and Artur Sargsyan, were elected to parliament but were not released from custody in a move that opposition figures asserted was not in keeping with their parliamentary immunity. They were released after the Constitutional Court ruled on December 7 that any citizen automatically gains immunity after being elected to the National Assembly and cannot be arrested or detained without the National Assembly’s consent. Kajaran mayor Manvel Paramazyan, who also was arrested in the wake of the June parliamentary elections, was released on bail, while the re-elected mayor of Goris, Arush Arushanyan, remained in custody as of year’s end.

Reports of political pressure on local officials continued through year’s end. For example in December, several Civil Contract members of the Yerevan City Council reportedly were pressured to vote in support of a no-confidence measure to oust Yerevan mayor Hayk Marutyan under threat of losing their government jobs or mandates. A former ally of Prime Minister Pashinyan, Marutyan was voted out on December 22.

There were reports of pressure on opposition candidates prior to and after the municipal elections from October to December in a number of localities, including Goris, Jermuk, Meghri, Tatev, Talin, Tegh, Vanadzor, and Vardenis. For example on December 15, former mayor of Vanadzor and opposition candidate for mayor Mamikon Aslanyan was arrested on charges of abuse of power and fraud stemming from a criminal case launched in September. The arrest came immediately after Vanadzor municipal elections, in which Aslanyan’s bloc received a plurality of votes and was in the process of discussions to form a city council government. Many commentators believed that, due to the timing, the arrest was politically motivated and constituted selective application of the law against the ruling party’s political opponent, even if the case had merits. They also questioned the necessity of pretrial detention in this case. For example, prominent human rights defender Artur Sakunts, head of HCAV, characterized the move as part of “a new KGB-like style, when a dossier [of disparaging information] is being developed on an individual and used [against him] only when necessary for political reasons.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Under the amendments to the electoral code approved during the year, women and men must each account for at least 30 percent of candidates in the National Assembly elections, an increase from the previous quota of 25 percent. ODIHR election observers reported that in the June 20 elections, all lists fully complied with the gender requirement, with women accounting for 37 percent of the 2,623 candidates for office. The patriarchal nature of society, however, inhibited large-scale participation by women in political and economic life and in decision-making positions in the public sector. Women held one of 15 cabinet positions, 10 percent of the seats in local legislatures, and approximately 37 percent of seats in the National Assembly – an increase from the approximately 23 percent of the seats they held in the previous National Assembly session. Whereas there was one female deputy speaker and one female faction head in the previous session, there were none in the National Assembly elected in June. There was one female governor in the country’s 10 regions.

Parties rarely featured women candidates in their campaigns (although one female head of a political party ran in the elections); women only occasionally campaigned on their own and rarely appeared as speakers in rallies. Female parliamentarians and other female officials often faced gender-related insults. In its report on the June elections, the ODIHR election mission stated, “Women were notably sidelined in campaign events, rarely participating as speakers.” The report noted that only 24 of 153 observed speakers during rallies were women and that 51 of 73 observed campaign events had no female speakers. There was an observable absence of messages targeting women and national minority groups during the campaigns.

The law provides an additional National Assembly seat for each of the country’s four largest ethnic minorities, the Yezidi, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Russian communities. Four members of parliament represented these constituencies and are chosen by the major political parties and not directly elected.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. Following the 2018 “Velvet Revolution,” the government opened investigations that revealed systemic corruption encompassing most areas of public and private life. The government launched numerous criminal cases against alleged corruption by former high-ranking government officials and their relatives, parliamentarians, the former presidents, and in a few instances, members of the judiciary and their relatives, with cases ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. Many of the cases continued, and additional cases were reported regularly. The government also initiated corruption-related cases against several current government officials and members of the judiciary.

In addition to integrity checks of nominees, the Corruption Prevention Commission exercised its powers to review sitting judges’ asset declarations and to communicate to law enforcement information that may indicate a crime. As a result, three disciplinary, three administrative, and one criminal case had been initiated.

Authorities took measures to strengthen the institutional framework to fight corruption, including establishing the Anticorruption Committee, which served as the primary law enforcement body dealing with corruption. The committee began operations in October and initiated several cases, such as charging former chief of police Vladimir Gasparyan with legalizing criminally obtained property worth more than two billion drams ($4.1 million) and other criminal acts.

Corruption: The country had a legacy of systemic corruption in many areas, including construction, mining, public administration, parliament, the judiciary, procurement practices, and provision of state assistance. There were allegations of embezzlement of state funds and involvement of government officials in questionable business activities.

On September 7, the SIS arrested Aghvan Hovsepyan, the former prosecutor general and former head of the Investigative Committee. According to the SIS, Hovsepyan illegally engaged in entrepreneurial activities while holding public office, engaged in laundering of approximately 1.3 billion drams ($2.6 million), received a bribe in the amount of 190 million drams ($2.1 million), and seized property through fraud valued at 800 million drams ($1.6 million). At year’s end an investigation remained underway and Hovsepyan remained in pretrial detention.

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

Most domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, freely investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. The government’s prosecution of a Yezidi human rights defender, however, was a significant exception (see section 2.a.). While some government officials cooperated with and were responsive to their views, civil society organizations said that meetings with government officials (both online and in person) were few and the government ignored or did not seek NGO expert views in several important areas, such as freedom of speech and of the press. In other areas, such as reforms to foster an impartial, independent judiciary, the government collected civil society reports and recommendations, but it was unclear to what extent the recommendations were considered. The government did not act to protect civil society organizations from disinformation or threats, including threats to harm individual activists.

During the period preceding the June 20 parliamentary elections, politicians made statements threatening to restrict human rights NGO activities. For example former president Robert Kocharyan, who led the list of the Armenia Alliance, which became the largest opposition group in the National Assembly after the elections, stated that “the activities of ‘Soros offices’ [would] either be banned or severely restricted” if the Armenia Alliance controlled government. Individual human rights activists interpreted such statements by candidates as threats against their persons. In a trend that continued to grow through the year, human rights and other civil society organizations as well as individual human rights advocates engaged in election observation continued to be vilified and threatened, including receiving death threats. The government reportedly did not act to protect them from such threats. Some journalists who promoted democratic reforms also received threats.

The investigation into the November 2020 attacks on the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Open Society Foundation-Armenia continued as of year’s end; the investigation into the November 2020 attack on the HCAV office was dropped after it was determined that damages did not cross a minimum legal threshold. Law enforcement authorities declined to combine the HCAV and Open Society Foundation cases, as HCAV had requested, which would have allowed the case to cross the threshold.

NGO members also continued to report increasing threats to their persons. One human rights activist reported that a photograph of her in the crosshairs of a target was posted in the apartment building where she lived. Intimidation also came from online trolls, media outlets, malign news outlets, and nationalist groups, many of which were affiliated with the former government and, some local experts alleged, Russian actors. Especially targeted were those promoting human rights, women’s and children’s rights, and deeper law enforcement and judicial reforms, particularly the Open Society Foundation.

After human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan gave an interview in which he described the challenges facing the Yezidi community in the country, authorities indicted him on July 29 for allegedly “inciting hatred.” International human rights organizations called Sultanyan’s remarks clear examples of legitimate protected speech and termed the prosecution malicious and a threat to democracy, concerns shared by the ombudsperson. They also noted procedural problems in the case, in particular that investigators refused to provide Sultanyan with information concerning the investigation or the grounds for opening it. One individual, interviewed as a witness in the case, reported that an investigator told him, “Western NGOs must be shut down.”

In a trend that began in 2020, increasing numbers of academics and other opinion leaders, including those advocating human rights, became reluctant to express their opinions in public, particularly online, due to hate campaigns. As a result constructive discourse around human rights and other important matters generally decreased. The government did not employ legislation adopted in 2020 that criminalizes public calls for violence to prosecute calls to harm civil society actors.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Human Rights Defender (the ombudsperson) has a mandate to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms from abuse at all levels of government. The office operated with independence and served as an effective advocate on individual cases. The office declined, however, to take on some cases related to LGBTQI+ persons.

In 2019 the government approved the Judicial and Legal Reform Strategy for 2019-2023 and action plan for its implementation that envisage the creation of a fact-finding commission to examine human rights problems. Although legislation to establish the commission was drafted, parliament had not yet adopted it. Human rights groups accused the ruling party of lacking the political will to establish the commission.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Australia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May 2019. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government. The coalition won 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives; the opposition Labor Party won 68 seats and others won six seats.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: All states and territories have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every state and territory appoints an ombudsman who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. The government also appoints one commonwealth (federal) ombudsman as laws differ between states, and one process or policy cannot always be used across jurisdictions.

The law requires persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of, foreign principals to register with the government.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Commission, an independent organization established by parliament, investigates complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under the federal laws that implement the country’s human rights treaty obligations. The commission reports to parliament through the attorney general. Media and NGOs deemed its reports accurate and reported them widely. Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and federal law requires that a statement of compatibility with international human rights obligations accompany each new bill.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Austria

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held parliamentary elections in 2019 and presidential elections in 2016. There were no reports of serious abuse or irregularities in either election, and credible observers considered both to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women’s participation in government at the national level increased because of the 2019 federal elections. There were 74 women in the 183-member lower house of compared with 63 during the 2017-19 legislative term. The coalition government had eight women in its 17-member body. The previous government had six female ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Anticorruption laws and regulations extend to civil servants, public officials, governors, members of parliament, and employees or representatives of state-owned companies. The law also criminalizes corrupt practices by citizens outside the country. The penalty for bribery is up to 10 years in prison.

There were reports of government corruption during the year. The Ministry of Justice’s 2020 annual report disclosed that it had investigated 2,031 allegations of corruption in 2020, of which 1,594 were closed without prosecution, 249 resulted in convictions, and 93 resulted in acquittals. The convictions represent a 15 percent increase from 2019.

Corruption: On November 18, parliament voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of former chancellor Sebastian Kurz, at his request, so that an investigation against him by anticorruption prosecutors could continue. Kurz resigned as chancellor in October but at that time continued to serve as the People’s Party chairman and started serving as the party’s parliamentary floor leader. Kurz resigned in the wake of corruption investigations against him in connection with alleged abuse of office and alleged misuse of public funds for manipulated polling and favorable press coverage beginning in 2016. Kurz withdrew from politics completely in December and resigned as chairman of the People’s Party and as the party’s parliamentary floor leader.

On August 27, a Vienna court sentenced the former vice chancellor and former leader of the Freedom Party, Hans-Christian Strache, to a 15-month suspended prison term for trying to initiate legislation to benefit the owner of a private hospital who donated $14,000 to Strache’s party. Strache appealed the verdict.

During the year, prosecutors also continued investigations regarding both party-affiliated personnel appointments in the partly state-owned Casinos Austria company and the government holding company OeBAG. The investigations included a search of the finance minister’s house based on allegations he may have been involved in discussions about a political party donation by gambling company Novomatic in exchange for the government’s assistance regarding a tax matter in Italy. In June prosecutors initiated investigations against Kurz on perjury charges in connection with his June 2020 testimony before a parliamentary investigative committee regarding his possible involvement in the appointment of the CEO of the government holding company. The finance minister resigned all party positions and withdrew from politics in December.

Prosecutors also continued investigating allegations the former vice chancellor and former Freedom Party leader submitted private expenses of more than 500,000 euros ($575,000) for reimbursement to the party (the Freedom Party and other leading political parties receive some government funding).

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: A human rights ombudsman’s office consisting of three independent commissioners examines complaints against the government. The ombudsman’s office is completely independent and has its own budget; parliament appoints its members. The ombudsman’s office effectively monitored government activities. A parliamentary human rights committee also provides oversight of the government’s actions with respect to human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Azerbaijan

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, the government continued to restrict this ability by obstructing the electoral process. While the law provides for an independent legislative branch, the National Assembly exercised little initiative independent of the executive branch.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 the president dissolved the National Assembly in response to an appeal to do so by the National Assembly; the president announced early elections for the body to be held in February 2020.

Some opposition parties boycotted the election, citing the restrictive environment, while other opposition parties and groups took part. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission, the restrictive legislation and political environment prevented genuine competition in the February 2020 elections. ODIHR concluded that voters were not provided with a meaningful choice due to a lack of real political competition and discussion. Although many candidates utilized social media to reach out to voters, use of social media generally did not compensate for the absence of campaign coverage in traditional media. ODIHR observed several instances of pressure on voters, candidates, and candidates’ representatives. International and local observers reported significant procedural violations during the counting and tabulation of votes, including ballot-box stuffing and carousel voting. ODIHR concluded the flaws “raised concerns whether the results were established honestly.” Domestic nonpartisan election observers concluded the election results did not reflect the will of the people.

Similarly, in 2018 the president issued a decree advancing the presidential election from October 2018 to April 2018. Opposition parties boycotted the election, blaming a noncompetitive environment and citing insufficient time to prepare. According to the ODIHR mission that observed the election, the presidential election took place in a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtailed fundamental rights and freedoms that are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections. The mission concluded that, in the absence of pluralism, including in media, the election lacked genuine competition. International and local observers reported widespread disregard for mandatory procedures, lack of transparency, and numerous serious irregularities, such as ballot-box stuffing and carousel voting, on election day.

Following a 2016 referendum, constitutional amendments extended the presidential term from five to seven years and permitted the president to call early elections if twice in one year legislators passed no-confidence measures in the government or rejected presidential nominees to key government posts. The amendments also authorized the president to appoint one or more vice presidents, designating the senior vice president as first in the line of presidential succession. In 2017 the president appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as first vice president. While observers from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly reported the 2016 referendum was well executed, independent election observers identified numerous instances of ballot-box stuffing, carousel voting – a method of vote rigging usually involving voters casting ballots multiple times – and other irregularities, many of which were captured on video. Observers reported significantly lower turnout than was officially reported by the Central Election Commission.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling New Azerbaijan Party continued to dominate the political system. Domestic observers reported members of the ruling party received advantages, such as priority for public positions. During the year a Presidential Administration official continued direct communication with some of the country’s 58 registered political parties and groups. The official held meetings with political figures, including representatives of selected opposition parties, throughout the year. Despite the dialogue, however, restrictions on political participation continued.

Opposition members were generally more likely than other citizens to experience official harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of opposition political parties continued to be arrested and sentenced to administrative detention after making social media posts critical of the government or participating in peaceful rallies (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). According to domestic NGOs, eight opposition party members were considered to be political detainees or prisoners, including Azerbaijan Popular Front Party-members Agil Maharramov, Saleh Rustamli, Pasha Umudov, Alizamin Salayev, Niyamaddin Ahmedov, and Agil Humbatov.

In the continuation of a particularly high-profile, politically motivated case, on July 15, the Baku Court of Appeals sentenced Tofig Yagublu, a member of the Coordination Center of National Council of Democratic Forces and the Musavat Party, to a suspended sentence of two years and six months. Yagublu had been arrested for alleged “hooliganism” in connection with a car accident in March 2020. Human rights defenders considered the arrest a staged provocation against Yagublu. In September 2020 the Nizami District Court convicted Yagublu and sentenced him to four years and three months in prison. Later that month the Baku Court of Appeals released Yagublu to house arrest after he went on a 17-day hunger strike. Yagublu participated in a peaceful protest on December 1, 2021, and was detained; Yagublu distributed photographs following his release from detention that indicated he was severely beaten in custody (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). When officials released him, they reportedly deposited him in the desert outside of Baku.

Opposition parties continued to have difficulty renting office space, reportedly because property owners feared official retaliation. Regional opposition party members often had to conceal the purpose of their gatherings and met in teahouses and other remote locations. Opposition parties also faced formal and informal financing obstacles. For example, authorities limited financial resources of opposition parties by punishing those who provided material support, firing members of opposition parties, and employing economic pressure on their family members.

Restrictions on local civil society organizations limited their ability to monitor elections. Such restrictions included legal provisions severely constraining NGO activities and their ability to obtain registration that was required for legal status. For example, two nonpartisan election-monitoring organizations (the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center and the Institute for Democratic Initiatives) remained unregistered. The center reported that independent election observers were subjected to physical and psychological pressure during the February 2020 National Assembly elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva also held the appointed position of first vice president. The head of the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs (SCFWCA), a cabinet-level position, was a woman. A total of 17.6 percent of members of the National Assembly, including the speaker of the National Assembly, were women.

Female activists often faced additional pressure and harassment. There were confirmed incidents involving invasion of their privacy. For example, on March 9, activist Narmin Shahmarzade’s Facebook profile was hacked (see section 1.f.). Her private messages, including some of which were faked or altered, and photographs were shared on social media and the Telegram messenger app.

Family members of opposition politicians also were subject to harassment. On March 28 and April 3, intimate videos of Gunel Hasanli, daughter of opposition party leader Jamil Hasanli, were shared on a Telegram messenger app. Human rights defenders considered it an act of retaliation against Jamil Hasanli because of his political activities (see section 1.f. for details).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the government made some progress in combating low-level corruption in the provision of government services, there were continued reports of corruption by government officials, including those at the highest levels.

Transparency International and other observers described corruption as widespread. There were reports of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. For example, in six reports on visits made to the country between 2004 and 2017, the CPT noted that corruption in the country’s entire law enforcement system remained “systemic and endemic.” In a report on its most recent visit to the country in 2017, for example, the CPT cited the practice of law enforcement officials demanding payments in exchange for dropping or reducing charges or for releasing individuals from unrecorded custody. These problems persisted throughout the year. Media reported that on April 26, the head of the Shamkir Executive Committee Alimpasha Mammadov was detained on corruption-related charges.

Similar to previous years, authorities continued to punish individuals for exposing government corruption. For example, during the year police detained two civil society activists who were then turned over to the Main Department to Combat Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The two activists were preparing a media story about government corruption. Main Department to Combat Organized Crime officials reportedly tortured one of these individuals.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that it investigated 600 criminal cases against 405 officials and sent 274 criminal cases to the courts during the year. While no senior officials were prosecuted, several high-ranking officials were arrested and charged. Several such cases remained under investigation at year’s end, including charges of corruption against the minister of culture and other high-ranking ministry officials, multiple ambassadors, several department heads at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and several heads and deputy heads of regional executive committees (governors). Although those accused were charged with corruption, the arrests were not accompanied by systemic reforms, such as requiring all officials to comply with the asset declaration law or ending punitive measures against persons who exposed corruption. Many observers considered the arrests to have political or economic motives that were unrelated to combating corruption.

On June 29, the OCCRP published an article regarding Izzatkhanim Javadova and Suleyman Javadov, who had family ties to the ruling elite and who allegedly received $19.6 million from questionable sources. According to the United Kingdom’s (UK) National Crime Agency, the family used a network of 20 companies based mostly in offshore locations to transfer the funds into their UK accounts. UK investigators identified six of the companies as being part of the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” which allowed the country’s ruling elite to embezzle funds, avoid taxes, launder money, pay bribes to European parliamentarians, purchase properties, and fund luxurious lifestyles. On July 7, the OCCRP published information that the Javadovs had agreed to hand over $5.5 million to UK authorities and settle an inquiry into the origin of their financial wealth.

On October 7, the OCCRP published an investigation revealing the wife, daughter, and son-in-law of former speaker of the Milli Majlis (parliament) Oktay Asadov (2005-20) acquired luxurious properties in London, Dubai, and Moscow. In total, the Asadovs reportedly acquired assets valued at almost $10 million.

There were credible reports that paying bribes could obtain a waiver of the military service obligation, which is universal for men between ages 18 and 35. Citizens also reported military personnel could buy assignments to easier military duties for a smaller bribe.

The government continued efforts to reduce low-level corruption and improve government services by expanding the capabilities and number of service centers of the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations, which functioned as one-stop locations for government services, such as obtaining birth certificates and marriage licenses, from nine ministries.

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

While the government provided access to certain areas of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone under Azerbaijani control, it restricted access to other areas, limiting reporting from local and international journalists, as well as international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Leading human rights NGOs faced a hostile environment for investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. For example, in May human rights defender and former political prisoner Rufat Safarov was threatened with death. Police summoned the person who threatened Safarov, but no further action was reported. In February 2020 Safarov reported he himself had been detained and threatened by police with tougher measures if he did not stop criticizing authorities.

As of December 31, human rights defender Oktay Gulaliyev remained in a coma after having been struck by a car in 2019 while crossing a Baku intersection, causing head trauma that resulted in a cerebral hemorrhage and coma. Doctors did not perform surgery on him until the following day. Some activists and Gulaliyev’s sons stated the collision was an attack on Gulaliyev for his announced 2019 campaign against torture and his advocacy for those accused of wrongdoing by the government in connection with the 2018 unrest in Ganja, and that doctors had purposely withheld timely medical treatment after the accident. The sons and the activists also noted that authorities had warned Gulaliyev not to report on repression and torture. Other activists stated there was no evidence the collision was intentional and that Gulaliyev received standard care from a deeply flawed health-care system. On January 25, the Nasimi District Court sentenced the driver who hit Gulaliyev to two years and three months in prison. Gulaliyev’s family did not protest the sentence but called for an investigation of the doctors responsible for alleged delays in providing medical treatment after the accident.

The government continued to impose severe restrictions on the operations of domestic and international human rights groups. Application of restrictive laws to constrain NGO activities and other pressure continued at the same high level as recent years. Activists also reported that authorities refused to register their organizations or grants and continued investigations into their organizations’ activities. Some human rights defenders were unable to carry out their professional responsibilities due to various government obstacles, such as the frozen bank accounts of Intigam Aliyev and Asabali Mustafayev. In March 2020 human rights defender and journalist Elchin Mammad was detained based on allegations of theft and illegal possession of a weapon. In October 2020 he was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. On February 19, the Sumgayit Court of Appeal rejected Mammad’s appeals, and on July 7, the Supreme Court also rejected his appeals. Human rights defenders viewed the verdicts as politically motivated.

While the government communicated with some international human rights NGOs and responded to their inquiries, on numerous occasions it criticized and intimidated other human rights NGOs and activists. The Ministry of Justice continued to deny registration or placed burdensome administrative restrictions on human rights NGOs on arbitrary grounds.

Government officials and state-dominated media outlets engaged in rhetorical attacks on human rights activists and political opposition leaders (see section 3, Freedom to Participate in the Political Process), accusing them of attempting to destabilize the country and working on behalf of foreign interests.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government objected to statements from international bodies and criticized what authorities termed interference in the country’s internal affairs. Although government officials and members of the National Assembly had previously criticized the OSCE/ODIHR assessment of the 2018 presidential election, government officials referred to the ODIHR assessment of the 2020 National Assembly elections as “balanced.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: Citizens may appeal violations committed by the state or by individuals to the ombudsperson for human rights for Azerbaijan or the ombudsperson for human rights of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The ombudsperson may refuse to accept cases of abuse that are more than one year old, anonymous, or already being handled by the judiciary. Human rights NGOs criticized the Ombudsperson’s Office as lacking independence and effectiveness in cases considered politically motivated.

Human rights offices in the National Assembly and Ministry of Justice also heard complaints, conducted investigations, and made recommendations to relevant government bodies, but they were similarly accused of ignoring violations in politically sensitive cases.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Bahamas, The

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

The government’s sudden announcement of a snap election in September immediately closed the voter registry, effectively excluding any citizen who had not yet registered to vote.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On September 16, Prime Minister Philip Davis took office after his Progressive Liberal Party defeated the incumbent Free National Movement in a snap general election in September. The Progressive Liberal Party won 32 of the 39 parliamentary seats, with 56 percent of the popular vote. The incumbent Free National Movement won the remaining seven seats. Election observers from the Organization of American States, Caribbean Community, and Commonwealth Secretariat found the election to be generally free and fair. Critics argued, however, that the abrupt announcement of the early election, which immediately suspended the voter registration process, disenfranchised those who had not yet registered, particularly youth and first-time voters. Furthermore, critics complained that holding the election during the COVID-19 pandemic led to historically low voter turnout (65 percent of registered voters, compared with more than 80 percent in other recent elections).

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. While a record seven women were elected to Parliament, fewer than 20 percent of the candidates presented by the two major parties were women. Leadership from both parties noted difficulties in recruiting female candidates. Other observers cited obstacles such as patriarchal traditions, expectations of personal attacks, and inflexible attitudes regarding gender roles.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There was limited enforcement of conflicts of interest related to government contracts. There were reports of government corruption during the year where officials sometimes engaged in cronyism and accepted small-scale “bribes of convenience” with impunity.

Corruption: The campaign finance system was largely unregulated, with few safeguards against quid pro quo donations, creating a vulnerability to corruption and foreign influence. The procurement process was susceptible to corruption since it contained no requirement to engage in open public tenders. In February the government passed the Public Procurement Bill (2020) to improve transparency and accountability in the public procurement process.

Corruption in the BDCS and the Carmichael Road Detention Centre was a long-standing problem, with allegations by both detainees and officials. There were widespread, credible reports that immigration officials solicited bribes to prevent detention or grant release. Human rights organizations and media reporting alleged that officials demanded payment in exchange for telephone calls and sanitary napkins.

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

Human rights organizations generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views. The government had yet to establish an ombudsman, although legislation was pending. The Ministry of Social Services had a council to investigate abuses directed at women, children, and persons with disabilities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Bahrain

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens have limited ability to choose their government and do not have the ability to choose their political system. The constitution provides for an elected Council of Representatives, the lower house of parliament. The constitution permits the king to dissolve the Council of Representatives after consulting the chairpersons of the upper and lower houses of parliament and head of the Constitutional Court. The king may not dissolve the Council of Representatives for the same reasons more than once. The king has the power to amend the constitution and to propose, ratify, and promulgate laws.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government did not permit international election monitors for the 2018 parliamentary elections. Domestic monitors generally concluded that authorities administered the elections without significant irregularities. Some observers expressed broader concerns regarding limitations on freedom of expression and association, as well as continued concerns over voting district boundaries. According to Human Rights Watch, a number of measures created a political environment that was not conducive to free elections, including the dissolution of the country’s principal opposition political groups and laws restricting their former members from running for office; the absence of an independent press; and the criminalization of online criticism.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government did not allow the formation of political parties, but some existing “political societies” developed political platforms, held internal elections, and hosted political gatherings. In 2016 and 2017 the government dissolved the two most prominent opposition political societies, al-Wifaq and Wa’ad, through legal actions.

To apply for registration, a political society must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, a list of all members and copies of their residency cards, and a financial statement identifying the society’s sources of funding and bank information. The society’s principles, goals, and programs must not run counter to sharia or national interest, as interpreted by the judiciary, nor may the society base itself on sectarian, geographic, or class identity.

The government authorized registered political societies to nominate candidates for office and to participate in other political activities. The law bans practicing clerics from membership in political societies (including in leadership positions) and involvement in political activities, even on a voluntary basis.

Political societies are required to coordinate their contacts with foreign diplomatic or consular missions, foreign governmental organizations, or representatives of foreign governments with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which may send a representative to the meeting. Although this requirement was enforced in the past, there were no reports of the government enforcing the order during the year.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process. In the 2018 elections, six women won seats in the 40-member Council of Representatives, doubling the number of women, and the body elected its first female speaker in that year. The royal court appointed nine women that same year to the Shura Council, the appointed 40-member upper house, and the prime minister appointed a woman to the 26-seat cabinet. Approximately 9 percent of judges were women, including the deputy chief of the Court of Cassation. Two women in the police force held the rank of brigadier general and general director.

Shia and Sunni citizens have equal rights before the law, but Sunnis dominated political life, although the majority of citizens were Shia. In 2018 11 Shia candidates were elected to the Council of Representatives. The appointed Shura Council included 19 Shia members, one Jewish member, and one Christian member. Four of the 22 appointed cabinet ministers were Shia citizens, including one of four deputy prime ministers.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The law subjects government employees at all levels to prosecution if they use their positions to engage in embezzlement or bribery, either directly or indirectly. Penalties range up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

The National Audit Office, an arm of the prime minister’s office, is responsible for combating government corruption. The Government Executive Committee, chaired by the prime minister, reviews any offenses cited in the office’s annual report, released in October.

The Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Anticorruption and Economic and Electronic Security held workshops for various ministries throughout the year.

There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. According to the Ministry of Interior, the General Directorate of Anti-Corruption and Economic and Electronic Security investigated 96 embezzlement, bribery, and abuse of power cases, in addition to three offenses stemming from the National Audit Office report to the cabinet.

On November 23, the High Criminal Court referred two government employees, suspected of embezzlement charges related to renovating mosques, to a court specialized in trying cases linked to financial corruption. Separately, two Ministry of Interior employees appeared before the High Criminal Court on December 9 on corruption charges.

Significant areas of government activity, including the security services, the Bahrain Defense Force, and other off-budget government expenditures, lacked transparency, and the privatization of public land for profit remained a concern among opposition groups.

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

Government officials sometimes met with local human rights NGOs but generally were not responsive to the views of NGOs they believed were politicized and unfairly critical of the government.

Domestic human rights groups were restricted by the government, with some activists imprisoned, exiled, or coerced into silence, according to international human rights organizations. Domestic human rights groups included: the Bahrain Human Rights Society, a licensed human rights organization in the country; the Bahrain Center for Human Rights which, although dissolved by the government in 2004, continued to operate and maintain an online presence; and the unlicensed Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. The unlicensed umbrella human rights organization, Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, issued numerous reports and had strong ties to international human rights NGOs.

The government imposed restrictions on domestic human rights groups, and they faced significant difficulties operating freely and interacting with international human rights organizations. Although there were no reports of the government depriving local NGO leaders of due process, local leaders and activists did report other types of harassment, including police surveillance, delayed processing of civil documents, “inappropriate questioning” of their children during interviews for government scholarships, and restricting their ability to travel internationally. Activists reported forgoing travel, in particular to international human rights events, fearing a reimposition of international travel bans.

Individuals affiliated with international human rights and labor organizations, or who were critical of the government, reported authorities indefinitely delayed or refused their visa applications, or at times refused entry to the country for individuals who possessed a valid visa or qualified for the country’s visa-free entry program.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office within the Ministry of Interior, the SIU within the PPO, and the PDRC worked with each other throughout the year. The Ombudsman’s Office maintained a hotline for citizens to report police abuse via telephone, email, WhatsApp, or in person. The National Intelligence Agency Office of the Inspector General, created as a result of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, worked with the Ombudsman’s Office. While both offices were responsible for addressing allegations of mistreatment and abuses by the security forces, there was little public information available regarding the activities of the agency’s parent Office of the Inspector General.

The PDRC monitored prisons, detention centers, and other places where persons may be detained, such as hospital and psychiatric facilities. The PDRC was empowered to conduct inspections of facilities, interview inmates or detainees, and refer cases to the Ombudsman’s Office or SIU. The Ombudsman also concurrently served as the PDRC chair. The NIHR conducted human rights workshops, seminars, and training sessions, as well as prison visits, and referred complaints to the PPO. It also operated a hotline for citizens and residents to file human rights-related complaints and offered a walk-in option for filing complaints.

On February 22, NIHR launched an online introductory meeting regarding its human rights training program, Foras (opportunities). The training was open to citizen students in local universities and abroad.

Many human rights groups asserted that investigations into police abuse were slow and ineffective, and they questioned the independence and credibility of investigations by government-sponsored organizations.

Local and international observers and human rights organizations continued to express concern the government had not fully implemented recommendations from the 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, including dropping charges against individuals engaged in nonviolent political expression, criminally charging security officers accused of abuse or torture, integrating Shia citizens into security forces, and creating an environment conducive to national reconciliation.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Bangladesh

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League (AL) party won a third consecutive five-year term in a December 2018 parliamentary election that observers considered neither free nor fair and that was marred by irregularities including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. With more than 80 percent of the vote, the AL and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 directly elected seats, while the main opposition BNP and its allies won only seven seats. Parliament conferred the official status of opposition on the Jatiya Party, a component of the AL-led governing coalition, which seated 22 members in parliament. During the campaign leading to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, or campaign freely.

During the 2018 national elections, the government did not grant credentials or issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to most international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections. Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the Election Commission to observe the domestic election.

Low voter turnout, intimidation, irregularities, and low-scale violence targeting opposition-nominated candidates during campaigns and voting marked several local government elections during the year. On February 28, the main opposition BNP announced it would boycott municipal elections countrywide on the grounds the Election Commission had “destroyed” the electoral system. The BNP also refrained from nominating candidates for parliamentary by-elections held during the year. The elections drew few voters, and in some constituencies the ruling AL candidates were “uncontested winners.”

In subdistrict (Upazila) elections from June through December, media reported intraparty violence between AL-affiliated candidates and their supporters left more than 50 individuals dead. Human rights organization ASK stated 157 persons died and 10,833 were injured in a total of 932 political clashes during the year. One candidate publicly boasted government officials and security services supported him, and he threatened ballots would not be secret. Media reported the Election Commission took virtually no action to address violations of the electoral code of conduct by ruling party leaders. AL officials downplayed the violence as the byproduct of “overly enthusiastic” candidates.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

There were numerous reports of DSA arrests and charges for citizens who reported corruption (see section 2.a.).

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), set up in 2004 to serve as an independent monitoring mechanism, focuses on investigating cases of corruption, including but not limited to bribery, embezzlement, extortion, abuse of discretion, and improper political contributions. The ACC must obtain permission from the government to investigate or file any charge against government politicians or bureaucrats. Local human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of the ACC, which they claimed was evidenced by the acquittal of most cases brought against ruling party officials and bureaucrats, while legal processes, investigations, and filing of cases against leaders of the BNP continued.

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. In January the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announced its intent to provide public housing for 885,622 homeless and landless families, as part of an initiative to eradicate homelessness in honor of the birth centenary of the country’s founding father Sheikh Mujibar Rahman. In July media reported 36 subdistricts raised allegations of corruption and construction irregularities connected to the housing projects. In response to these reports, the PMO appointed five officials to inspect the allegations, announced “zero tolerance” for any irregularities, and launched technical committees to advise on the administration of the project. Media reported the secretary to the PMO accepted responsibility for the “administration’s failure to deliver on the promise of a flawless project.”

On February 1, al-Jazeera’s Investigative Unit released the documentary, “All the Prime Minister’s Men,” a two-year investigation alleging corruption against political and military figures, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former chief of army staff general Aziz Ahmed (see section 2.a.). The documentary focused on activities of Ahmed’s family and alleged corruption, including bribery and collusion with security forces such as the RAB unit. The documentary also alleged the government’s military intelligence service bought spyware from Israel, a country not recognized by Bangladesh, to monitor the prime minister’s political opponents. In response to the investigation, in February the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the findings of the document as a “smear campaign” orchestrated by opponents of the ruling government based abroad.

Media reported numerous accounts of local authorities embezzling government food and cash assistance during the pandemic and the related government-imposed lockdowns. In response to these reports, in April 2020 the prime minister assigned 64 mid-level officials from the central government to monitor and report on relief operations. Media reported the relief distribution efforts were administered by civil servants under the executive branch. In June some politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties objected to the centrally administered relief distribution efforts, alleging bureaucrats under the ruling party were corrupt and taking over the country. Opposition lawmakers criticized the Health Ministry for its alleged failure to curb corruption and provide health care during the pandemic.

On June 6, an MP of the ruling party alleged corruption and money laundering continued despite the government’s vow to curb the practice. Another senior MP of the ruling party criticized the government’s budget proposals to impose taxes on the incomes of private universities and medical colleges.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, and they investigated and published their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their reports.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced self-censorship. Observers commented on the government’s strategy to reduce the effectiveness and inhibit operations of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar, which in turn continued to report harassment, intimidation, and surveillance by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. On February 14, the Supreme Court rejected the petition for dismissing the case against Odhikar’s secretary and director and ordered the case to proceed at the Cyber Crimes Tribunal. Odhikar’s NGO renewal registration remained pending at year’s end since 2014. On October 5, the case against Odhikar’s secretary Adilur Rahman Khan and director Nasiruddin Elan went to trial regarding alleged violations in 2013 of the Information and Communications Technology Act.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as security force abuses, religious matters, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTQI+ communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced formal and informal governmental restrictions (see sections 2.b. and 7.a.). Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals.

The law restricted foreign funding of NGOs and included what rights groups reported were punitive provisions for NGOs making “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not respond to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country. The Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in the country reported 158 other pending requests for UN special rapporteurs to visit the country since 2016, including the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions; the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

On February 4, the United Nations Secretary General’s Spokesperson called for a full investigation by relevant authorities into allegations of corruption and illegality involving the army. The United Nations raised concerns regarding allegations the military purchased surveillance equipment from Israel. Bangladeshi military commanders claimed the equipment was bought for one of the Army units to be sent on UN peacekeeping missions, but a UN spokesperson responded surveillance equipment was not deployed with contingents in UN peacekeeping operations. Human rights groups alleged the country used surveillance equipment to target political opponents and dissidents (see section 2.a.).

On February 6, seven international human rights groups called on the United Nations to review its use of Bangladeshi peacekeeping troops around the world. Bangladesh is the largest overall contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping missions, with more than 6,800 personnel deployed in peacekeeping operations around the world.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. The NHRC’s primary activities are to investigate human rights abuses, address discrimination in law, educate the public on human rights, and advise the government on key human rights matters. Some human rights organizations questioned the independence and effectiveness of the NHRC, alleging the government used state institutions including the NHRC to implement its political agenda.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Barbados

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent general election occurred in 2018, when the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) won all 30 seats in Parliament’s House of Assembly, and the governor general appointed BLP leader Mia Mottley as prime minister, with the support of the BLP members of the House of Assembly.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The president, prime minister, and six cabinet ministers were women. The leader of the opposition political party was a woman.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. In October the government passed the Prevention of Corruption Act, which provides for the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of acts of corruption, and applies to persons in both the public and private sectors. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: There were no formal investigations of government corruption during the year.

A former government minister in a previous administration was convicted by a U.S. court in January 2020 of money laundering and was sentenced in April to two years in prison for his role in a scheme to launder bribe payments from a Barbadian insurance company through bank accounts in New York.

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

A variety of human rights groups generally operated without government restriction and were able to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ombudsman’s Office hears complaints against government ministries, departments, and other authorities for alleged injuries or injustices resulting from administrative conduct. The president appoints the ombudsman on the recommendation of the prime minister and in consultation with the opposition. Parliament must approve the appointment. The ombudsman submits annual reports to Parliament that contain recommendations on changes to laws and descriptions of actions taken by the Ombudsman’s Office.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Belarus

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government consistently denied citizens this ability by failing to conduct elections according to international standards and detaining, imprisoning, exiling, or threatening those individuals who sought free and fair elections.

After his election in 1994 to a four-year term as the country’s first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka steadily consolidated power in the executive branch to dominate all branches of government, effectively ending any separation of powers among the branches. Flawed referendums in 1996 and 2004 amended the constitution to broaden his powers, extend his term in office, and remove presidential term limits. Subsequent elections, including the National Assembly elections held in 2019 and the August 2020 presidential election, denied citizens the right to exercise their will in an honest and transparent process, including fair access to media and to resources.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to independent local observation groups, the August 2020 presidential election was marred by numerous abuses, the use of administrative resources in favor of the incumbent, the absence of impartial election commissions, unequal access to media, coercion of voters to participate in early voting, nontransparent vote tabulation, and restrictions on independent observers. Irregularities identified by NGOs and independent observers raised significant doubts regarding authorities’ claims that Lukashenka received 80 percent of votes during the presidential election.

Government pressure against potential opposition presidential candidates began three months prior to the 2020 presidential election and continued through 2021 against those candidates who had run for president, as well as those who had expressed interest but were barred. This pressure included exile and prison sentences for prominent former candidates. Prior to the presidential election, authorities restricted the ability of challengers to register as candidates, restricted candidates from campaigning, pressured and detained presidential campaign teams, pressured citizens who showed support for opposition candidates, and detained members of the press to limit opposition coverage.

The OSCE rapporteur’s Report under the Moscow Mechanism on Alleged Human Rights Violations related to the 2020 presidential election, released in November 2020, detailed a wide range of allegations of electoral irregularities concerning: “1) non-timely invitation of international observers, 2) shortcomings in the appointments of election management bodies on all levels, 3) restrictions of the right to stand (for office), 4) limitations in election dispute resolution, 5) overall disregard for freedom of assembly, 6) unequal playing field for candidates, including non-transparency in campaign financing, 7) non-transparent early voting process, 8) overcrowding of polling stations, 9) missing checks and balances, lack of possibility for verifying the electoral results, and 10) inaccessibility of all steps of the electoral process for observation inhibiting the effective assessment of the elections.” The report stated that “in view of the evident shortcomings of the presidential elections which did not meet the basic requirements established on the basis of previous election monitoring and the observations by citizen, the presidential election have to be evaluated as falling short of fulfilling the country’s international commitments regarding elections. Allegations that the presidential elections were not transparent, free or fair were found confirmed.”

International observers assessed that the 2019 National Assembly elections also failed to meet international standards. According to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe election observation mission intermediate report, while the National Assembly elections proceeded calmly with a high number of candidates and observers, they did not meet important international standards for democratic elections, and there was an overall disregard for fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression.

The observation mission report on the National Assembly elections found that a high number of candidates stood for election, but an overly restrictive registration process inhibited the participation of opposition candidates. A limited amount of campaigning took place within a restrictive environment that, overall, did not provide for a meaningful or competitive political contest. Media coverage of the campaign did not enable voters to receive sufficient information about contestants. The election administration was dominated by the executive authority, limiting its impartiality and independence, and the integrity of the election process was not adequately safeguarded. Significant procedural shortcomings during the counting of votes raised concerns regarding whether results were counted and reported honestly, and an overall lack of transparency reduced the opportunity for meaningful observation.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Authorities routinely impeded the activities of opposition political parties and activists. Some opposition parties lacked legal status because authorities refused to register them, and the government routinely interfered with the right to organize, run for election, seek votes, and publicize views. As of November 17, the government allowed approximately six largely inactive but officially registered pro-Lukashenka political parties to operate. During the year the government used its monopoly on broadcast media to disparage the opposition and promote Lukashenka and pro-Lukashenka parties and to restrict the ability of opposition candidates to publicize their views. There were reports of government resources being used to benefit the incumbent ahead of the 2020 election, such as government officials campaigning for Lukashenka during working hours.

During the year authorities fined and arrested opposition political parties’ leaders and political activists for violating the law on mass events and participating in unauthorized demonstrations (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.). The law allows authorities to suspend parties for six months after one warning and close them after two. The law also prohibits political parties from receiving support from abroad and requires all political groups and coalitions to register with the Ministry of Justice. Members of parties that continued to operate when authorities refused to register them, such as the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, continued to be subjected to harassment and arbitrary checks.

In August three political parties – the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), Belarusian Green Party, and Belarusian Left Party “Fair World” – were blocked from holding a conference on August 25 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of State Sovereignty, which commemorates the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. Multiple government agencies and hotels refused to rent space to hold the event.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups – including the ethnic Polish minority, persons with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals – in the political process, but the government’s patriarchal attitude disfavored women’s efforts to achieve positions of authority. As of September, of the country’s 30-member Council of Ministers, one minister was a woman. Women increasingly joined the opposition as leaders, served as vocal members of the opposition, led regular “women’s marches,” and participated in protests more broadly compared with previous elections, although historically marginalized women, including rural and older women, remained the most politically disengaged groups (see section 6, Women).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government appeared to prosecute regularly officials alleged to be corrupt. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem in the country. In 2019 the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) declared the country noncompliant with its anticorruption standards. The government did not publish evaluation or compliance reports, which according to GRECO’s executive secretary, “casted a dark shadow over the country’s commitment to preventing and combating corruption and to overall cooperation with GRECO.” In 2019 GRECO’s executive secretary repeated its concerns regarding the country’s “continuous noncompliance.”

Corruption: According to official sources, most corruption cases involved soliciting and accepting bribes, fraud, and abuse of power, although anecdotal evidence indicated such corruption usually did not occur as part of day-to-day interaction between citizens and minor state officials.

There were reports that individuals connected to Lukashenka received preferential treatment from his regime in the form of monopolies, tax breaks, favorable contracts, and other mechanisms, often codified by presidential decrees signed by Lukashenka himself. In exchange, they reportedly provided funds to Lukashenka and his inner circle, financed Lukashenka’s personal projects, and supported the regime publicly.

The absence of independent judicial and law enforcement systems, the lack of separation of powers, and a virtually eradicated independent press largely barred from interaction with a nontransparent state bureaucracy made it virtually impossible to gauge the scale of corruption or combat it effectively.

The most corrupt sectors were state administration and procurement, the industrial sector, the construction industry, health care, and education.

On October 4, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that authorities detained the general managers of state-run meat-processing factories in Pinsk and Slutsk and directors of unspecified “commercial entities” allegedly associated with the factories. The former reportedly accepted bribes for unconditionally expediting shipments of high-demand meat products via commercial intermediaries to Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent State countries. According to the ministry, individual bribes were as high as $10,000, and the suspects were being held in pretrial detention.

On December 30, a Minsk district court convicted five former general managers of state-run sugar refineries, including the head of the Belarusian Sugar Company, on charges of giving and accepting multiple bribes up to $150,000 each and sentenced all to up to 13 years in prison. The court also ordered defendants to compensate more than 11 million rubles ($4.4 million) in damages. When they were reportedly detained and charged with accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes in January 2020, Lukashenka accused them of “pocketing kickbacks and corruption” for allegedly selling sugar at low prices through intermediaries that exported it to Russia and illegally reimported it at higher prices. Additionally, state media reported in January 2020 that police also detained the former deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Main Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime and Corruption, Uladzimir Tsikhinya, who allegedly facilitated defendants’ illegal activities and forewarned them of possible checks and inspections at refineries. When court hearings of the criminal case commenced on July 27, Tsikhinya did not attend any either as a witness or a defendant, and there were no reports regarding his status in the case. In general, corruption prosecutions remained selective and nontransparent.

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

Until July there were a number of active domestic human rights NGOs, although authorities were often hostile to their efforts, restricted their activities, selectively cooperated with them, and were not responsive to their views.

On July 14, authorities launched a countrywide crackdown on media and civil society organizations and activists, which included arrests of human rights defenders and legal proceedings to liquidate NGOs on various politically motivated charges that largely sought to prevent activists and NGOs from exercising their fundamental freedoms, including expressing criticism of the government, recording authorities’ human rights abuses, and assisting victims of said abuses. As of October, 275 NGOs had been liquidated. The last major independent media outlet was closed in August, and the last national human rights organization was closed in October. A number of human rights defenders chose to flee the country to avoid immediate arrest. In a November 19 interview with BBC, Lukashenka stated authorities would “massacre” all NGOs that had received funding from the West.

On January 21, the government opened a criminal investigation into activities of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, claiming the organization financed protest activities by reimbursing fines and defense lawyers’ costs for individuals with disabilities. Authorities claimed these activities purportedly constituted fraud and searched the NGO’s offices and the private residence of the organization’s accountant, Tatsiana Kryshtal, during which they confiscated computer equipment and cell phones. On February 2, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee detained the NGO’s leader, Siarhei Drazdouski, and his deputy, Aleh Hrableuski. Both were interrogated for more than seven hours without access to defense lawyers. Officers forced Hrableuski to undress and Drazdouski to sit still for hours in his wheelchair. As of July 31, Drazdouski was under house arrest and Hrableuski remained in pretrial detention. Authorities forcibly closed the NGO on August 3, and the investigation into Drazdouski and Hrableuski’s cases reportedly continued as of October (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities).

Because authorities deregistered most independent civil society organizations in the country, some NGOs, including Vyasna and Legal Assistance to the Population, were forced to continue their operations from outside the country.

Authorities harassed both registered and unregistered human rights organizations prior to the sector-wide deregistration of human right groups in July. They subjected them to inspections and threats of deregistration and reportedly monitored their correspondence and telephone conversations. During the year human rights activists were arrested as part of the regime’s crackdown on independent civil society organizations and activists. Human rights groups and activists who continued their work after deregistration faced harassment and threats of arrest for their activities.

On January 18, police detained Homyel-based Vyasna human rights advocate Leanid Sudalenka and volunteer Marya Tarasenka. On January 21, police detained Tatsiana Lasitsa, another Vyasna volunteer from Homyel, and authorities charged the three human rights defenders with participating in group activities grossly violating public order in connection with their efforts to assist victims of the regime’s human rights abuses after the 2020 election. After Tarasenka was charged, she was released on January 21 and fled the country. On November 3, a Homyel court sentenced Sudalenka to three years in prison and Lasitsa to two years and six months in prison.

On February 16, police searched offices and private residences of Vyasna advocates and Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) members in the framework of a criminal case on charges of participating in activities grossly violating public order. On July 14, authorities detained Vyasna leader Ales Byalyatski, deputy chair Valyantsin Stephanovich, and leading advocate Uladzimir Labkovich. At least seven other Vyasna members were also detained but released a few days later pending criminal charges. As of November seven Vyasna members remained in detention.

On February 12, authorities charged Vyasna human rights activist and volunteer coordinator Marfa Rabkova with participating in a criminal group and inciting social hatred. In September 2020 Rabkova was detained and later charged with criminal activity for the “training or other preparation of persons to participate in riots or funding such activities.” Vyasna asserted that Rabkova’s detention and charges were a politically motivated response to her efforts to train short-term election observers for the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections volunteer initiative and her work in documenting severe abuses of detainees. As of December Rabkova remained in detention. Vyasna considered Rabkova to be a political prisoner.

Prior to the July crackdown, the government largely ignored reports issued by human rights NGOs and rarely met with them. State-run media rarely reported on human rights NGOs and their activities.

Authorities may close an NGO after issuing only one warning that it violated the law, including the law on mass events. The law allows authorities to close an NGO for accepting what it considered illegal forms of foreign assistance and permits the Justice Ministry to monitor NGO activities and review their documents. NGOs must also submit detailed annual reports to the ministry regarding their activities, office locations, and total number of members. Authorities drew on these regulations when deregistering the majority of independent NGOs operating in the country during the year.

Authorities did not engage on human rights problems with international human rights NGOs or other human rights officials, and international NGO representatives often had difficulty gaining admission to the country in their official capacity. Authorities routinely ignored local and international groups’ recommendations on improving human rights in the country, as well as requests to stop harassing the human rights community.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In 2018 the UN Human Rights Council appointed Anais Marin as the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country. The government continued to speak against “the politicized and senseless” mandate of the rapporteur, refused to recognize the mandate, and denied Marin entry to the country. In September 2020, 17 OSCE participating states invoked the Moscow Mechanism to establish an expert mission to examine and report on allegations of human rights violations and abuses in connection with the August 2020 presidential election. Belarus authorities did not cooperate with the expert mission or allow it access to the country. On November 4, 35 OSCE participating states invoked the OSCE Vienna Mechanism under which Belarus must answer a series of questions on the implementation of its human rights commitments as an OSCE member. The French ambassador to the OSCE, on behalf of the 35 OSCE participating states invoking the mechanism, noted that the Belarus OSCE delegation’s response “did not indicate a material change in the approach of the Belarusian authorities” regarding concerns raised about serious human rights violations and abuses in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country does not have an ombudsman or other national human rights institution. A standing commission on human rights in the lower chamber of the National Assembly was ineffective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Belgium

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting in all elections is compulsory; failure to vote is punishable by a nominal fine.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Parliamentary elections held in 2019 were considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In 2019 Sophie Wilmes became the country’s first female prime minister and oversaw the operation of the caretaker government. In October the country established a new federal government in which there were 10 female cabinet members, more than in any previous government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption, although no significant cases were reported during the year.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and regional government ombudsmen monitored and published reports on the workings of agencies under their respective jurisdictions. The Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities (UNIA) is responsible for promoting equal opportunity and combating discrimination and exclusion at any level (federal, regional, provincial, or local). The center enjoyed a high level of public trust, was independent in its functioning, and was well financed by the government.

In 2020 the government established the Federal Institute of Human Rights and nominated a board president and vice president in May. The institute is intended to intervene where other agencies, such as UNIA or the federal center for migration (Myria), do not act. The mission of the institute is to provide opinions, recommendations, and reports to the federal government, the Chamber of Representatives, the Senate, and other official bodies, to ensure that the fundamental rights arising from the international treaties to which the country is a party are carried out. The new body is competent only at the federal level, but an interfederal approach was also envisaged through a cooperation agreement between federal and regional authorities.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Belize

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November 2020 an estimated 82 percent of registered voters participated in parliamentary elections. The People’s United Party won 26 of 31 seats in the National Assembly. Party leader John Briceno was sworn in as prime minister in November 2020. Diplomatic observers reported isolated cases of vote buying and violations of campaign rules, but the election in general was free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In August the Supreme Court ruled that the suspension of legislator Julius Espat by the then speaker of the House of Representatives Michael Peyrefitte was unconstitutional. In 2016 Peyrefitte ordered Espat to vacate the legislative chamber during a session for what he described as “disregarding the rules of conduct in parliament.” Espat refused to leave willingly and was forcibly removed by police officers. As a result of his suspension, Espat did not receive a salary or benefits until his return to the House of Representatives five months later. The court awarded Espat 95,000 Belize dollars ($47,500), to be paid by the government. Espat and Peyrefitte had disagreed in the past, especially when Espat intended to question the actions of the then government for perceived acts of corruption.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Observers suggested cultural and societal constraints limited the number of women participating in government. Women remained a clear minority in government, making up only 13 percent of the 31-member House of Representatives. In the November 2020 parliamentary elections, 12 women candidates participated, an increase from past elections. A by-election was held on March 3 for the Corozal Bay electoral division that resulted in the election of a fourth woman to the House of Representatives. Of the 160 candidates in the March municipal election, 45 were women, of whom 51 percent were elected to office.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, deputy ministers, and chief executive officers, were numerous, although in most cases no substantial proof was presented.

In February the government instituted a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the sale of government assets between October 2019 and November 2020, including office equipment, furniture, and vehicles. The commission included a chairperson appointed by the government and one representative each from the Public Service Union (PSU) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. During the first phase of public hearings, the commission publicly questioned several high-ranking government officials, including former prime minister Dean Barrow, who was responsible for government property. In April the commission’s work was suspended after PSU representative Luke Martinez recused himself from the inquiry. Martinez stepped down in protest of the continued sale of public assets by the new administration; the same actions the commission was investigating. The commission’s investigation resumed on August 16.

On September 6, the BPD issued a wanted notice for the apprehension and arrest of former minister of works Rene Montero for the crime of “willful oppression.” The Ministry of Works investigated Montero’s use of human resources and government property to develop private property in which Montero had a personal financial interest. The commissioner of police stated Montero tried to leave the country on September 4 but was denied exit by immigration agents. As of November 15, Montero was presumed to be out of the country and there was a warrant for his arrest.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, appointed by the government, acts as an independent check on governmental abuses. The Office of the Ombudsman holds a range of procedural and investigative powers, including the right to enter any premise to gather documentation and the right to summon persons. The office operated under significant staffing and financial constraints. The law requires the ombudsman to submit annual reports. The office does not have the power to investigate allegations against the judiciary or private entities. While the Office of the Ombudsman has wide investigative powers, it lacks effective enforcement authority; noncompliance by the offices being investigated severely limited the effectiveness of the Office of the Ombudsman. As of April the post of ombudsman remained vacant after the government did not renew the contract of Lionel Arzu and failed to name a replacement. In August, Arzu sued the government for making amendments to his three-year contract, signed under a former administration in 2020, without his consent. The changes included reductions in salary, allowances, and vacation days.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Benin

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Constitutional amendments passed in 2019 requiring sponsorship from elected officials to participate as a presidential candidate, however, created a political process that is neither inclusive nor competitive. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly were both limited throughout the presidential election political process.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On April 11, the government held a presidential election that excluded candidates from established opposition parties. Voter turnout declined from 65 percent in 2016 to 27 percent according to the independent Electoral Platform of Civil Society Organizations and by 50 percent according to the government’s Independent National Electoral Commission. The Independent National Electoral Commission reported that voting did not take place in 16 of 546 districts due to violent demonstrations that prevented delivery of voting materials.

According to human rights activists, police in Tchaourou physically prevented voters from voting. During the campaign and immediately following the presidential election, police arrested more than 200 activists, opponents, and journalists, according to human rights organizations. ECOWAS observers, however, released a statement declaring that the “voting process took place in an orderly, transparent, and professional manner.” African Union observers released a statement calling the election “peaceful,” and International Francophone Organization observers released a statement stating that the “election complied with the legal measures, but without participation of all political parties.”

Legislative elections in 2019 excluded opposition parties; voter turnout was only 27 percent. Although there were incidents of voter interference by opposition demonstrators, election-day voting proceeded calmly in most of the country. Protesters in opposition strongholds in the central part of the country blocked some roads for much of the day, and media reported demonstrators in Parakou burned ballot materials at polling stations and prevented some citizens from voting. The government implemented an internet blackout on election day of social media sites, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and iMessage.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Only three candidates qualified for the presidential election. Prior to the election, the Independent National Election Commission disqualified 17 of the 20 presidential candidates who had submitted applications, citing failure to meet various application requirements, including obtaining at least 16 sponsorships from National Assembly deputies and mayors, designating a vice presidential running mate, and paying a 50 million CFA francs ($92,000) registration fee.

In 2018 the National Assembly legislated more stringent requirements for parties to qualify to run in elections. In 2019, two months before the legislative elections, the Constitutional Court declared all parties must possess a “certificate of conformity” with requirements to participate in elections. The election commission announced that no opposition party met the requirements, leaving only two progovernment parties on elections ballots.

In late 2019 the National Assembly, in which two pro-Talon parties had all 83 seats, passed a constitutional amendment requiring that presidential candidates obtain sponsorship from elected officials. To implement this amendment, the National Assembly adopted changes to the electoral code requiring that presidential candidates obtain endorsements from at least 10 percent of the country’s National Assembly members (83) and mayors (77), thereby giving them a direct role in determining presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. During the year voters selected Mariam Talata as vice president, the first woman to hold that position. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation. By custom and tradition, women assumed household duties, had less access to formal education, and were discouraged from involvement in politics. According to the Electoral Platform of Civil Society Organizations, 11 percent of women voted in the presidential election. There were reports that persons with motor disabilities were unable to access polling stations due to a lack of ramps and other means of access. There were also reports that no measures were taken at polling stations for blind persons to complete their ballots.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government sometimes implemented the law effectively; however, there were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. It was commonly believed, and acknowledged by some judicial personnel, that the judicial system at all levels was susceptible to corruption.

Corruption: According to the newspaper Matin Libre, traffic police routinely solicited bribes from truckers in exchange for not enforcing the law against overloaded and unsafe vehicles.

The government took several actions during the year to combat corruption. For example, CRIET convicted Port of Cotonou officials Jean-Baptiste Houngue, Rodrigue Glele-Kakai, and Frederic Behazin of corruption and on August 2, fined and sentenced them to five-year prison terms.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views. Nevertheless, the government denied permits to some domestic human rights groups to protest government action. Human rights groups reported they did not share all their findings publicly due to fear of government reprisal.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Beninese Human Rights Commission has the power to investigate human rights complaints, issue instructions to government officials, and publish an annual human rights report. The country also had an ombudsman responsible for responding to citizen complaints of maladministration who was independent, adequately resourced, and effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code provides penalties for conviction of rape, sexual exploitation, and corruption of minors, including procuring children for commercial sexual exploitation; it increases penalties for cases involving children younger than age 15. The child trafficking law provides penalties for conviction of all forms of child trafficking, including child commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing penalties if convicted of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Individuals convicted of involvement in child commercial sexual exploitation, including those who facilitate and solicit it, face imprisonment of two to five years and substantial monetary fines. The child code prohibits child pornography. Persons convicted of child pornography face sentences of two to five years’ imprisonment and substantial monetary fines.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Although concealed from authorities, traditional practices of killing breech babies, babies whose mothers died in childbirth, babies considered deformed, and one newborn from each set of twins (because they were considered sorcerers) occurred. The NGO Franciscan-Benin reported that communities in the four northern communes of Djougou, Gogounou, Kouande and Kandi continued to practice ritual infanticide. Authorities enforced prohibitions and discouraged the practice through door-to-door counseling and awareness raising.

Institutionalized Children: The government and human rights organizations reported poorly managed orphanages were not compliant with the law governing child protection centers. During the year the government inspected and closed several orphanages following reports of child abuse and neglect. In August the government closed one unregistered orphanage in Allada in southern Benin after inspections revealed poor living conditions and insufficient staffing. Authorities sanctioned an orphanage run by Roman Catholic nuns for using children as beggars to encourage charitable donations.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Bhutan

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the government successfully held national elections. Voter participation was estimated at approximately 66 percent in the first round and 71 percent in the second round. International observers generally considered the elections free and fair. There were no reports of significant irregularities during the election process. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in June the Election Commission conducted by-elections for National Assembly seats for the Mongar and Nganglam constituencies and in November 2020 for the Chhoekhor Tang constituency.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law prohibits ordained members of the clergy, including Buddhist monks and nuns, from voting or participating in politics.

Women were underrepresented in public office. Women occupied eight seats (17 percent) in the 47-member National Assembly. Seven of the 10 female candidates who contested 2018 National Assembly elections were elected, an increase from three in the previous election. One of the three recent by-elections had a female candidate elected to the National Assembly. There were three women in the 25-member upper house or National Council.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In April a district court sentenced two former bank employees convicted of embezzlement to 11 years’ imprisonment each. The former bank employees were convicted for forging and tampering with the account information of 67 clients between 2012 and 2019.

The government took an active role in addressing official corruption through the Public Accounts Committee in the National Assembly and the Royal Audit Authority, which monitored the use of government funds. The ACC is authorized to investigate cases of official and private sector corruption and allows citizens to submit information to its website regarding corrupt practices. The constitution enables the ACC to act as an independent body, although its investigative staff were primarily civil servants answerable to the Royal Civil Service Commission. The ACC has the authority to suspend the registration of civil society organizations under investigation.

The 2019 ACC report detailed 165 complaints of “abuse of functions,” 13 of embezzlement, nine of bribery, and 148 other related corruption offenses. In June the Good Governance Committee of the National Assembly submitted the Anti-Corruption Commission Annual Report 2019 to the parliament.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. According to international NGOs, local civil society organizations practiced self-censorship to avoid matters perceived as sensitive by the government. These included women’s rights, the environment, and human rights problems related to the Nepali-speaking community. Because the government categorized human rights groups established by the Nepali-speaking community as political organizations that did not promote national unity, these groups were not permitted to operate.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Assembly Human Rights Committee conducted human rights research on behalf of the National Assembly. The Civil Society Organization Authority has the legal authority to regulate civil society operations. Of 53 registered civil society organizations, 42 were categorized as public-benefit organizations and 11 as mutual-benefit organizations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography, child sex trafficking, and the sale of children. Authorities generally enforced the law. The legal age of consent is 16 for both boys and girls.

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

Trafficking in Persons

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

Bolivia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: National elections took place in October 2020. MAS candidate Luis Arce won the election for president with 55 percent of the vote. His closest opponent, Citizen Community candidate Carlos Mesa, won 28.8 percent of the vote. The elections were peaceful, and Mesa conceded soon after the release of the preliminary vote tabulations. International electoral observation missions and domestic electoral observation organizations characterized the elections as free, fair, and transparent. In November 2020 Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca were sworn in as president and vice president, respectively, along with the 36 newly elected members of the Senate and 130 members of the Chamber of Deputies.

Subnational elections took place on March 8. The elections were marked by an atmosphere of peace and calm. International and national electoral observation missions monitored the elections and reported the elections met international standards. Electoral authorities reported the overall participation in voting was 85 percent. No-shows by many citizen poll workers led to delays in opening some voting booths and long lines for voters, especially in La Paz and El Alto. By law each voting booth must be supervised by citizen poll workers chosen randomly by computer from the official voter roll. Many experts attributed the high no-show rate of these poll workers to either COVID-19 pandemic fears or concerns regarding the complicated nature of the poll work for subnational elections. President Arce publicly criticized electoral authorities. By noon on election day, electoral authorities confirmed all voting booths had opened, and absent poll workers were fined 630 bolivianos ($92), as required by law.

There were reports the government exerted pressure on the independent electoral authority, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). On July 1, MAS deputy Ramiro Venegas brought charges against TSE president Oscar Hassenteufel and TSE vice president Nancy Gutierrez for “not cooperating” with the legislature. On July 15, MAS deputy Jhonny Pardo filed a separate criminal complaint against existing and former TSE members, including Salvador Romero, Rosario Baptista, Maria Angelica Ruiz, and Nancy Gutierrez, for their decision to reinstate opposition leader Manfred Reyes Villa as candidate for Cochabamba mayor in the March subnational elections. Civil society activists denounced these charges as politically motivated and lacking substance. They cited them as evidence that the ruling MAS party was trying to control the independent electoral authority.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups:  No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law mandates gender parity in the candidate selection process at national, regional, and municipal legislative levels.

While women had a substantial amount of representation on the legislative level, occupying 52 percent of legislative seats, they remained significantly underrepresented in executive positions. Candidates for mayor, governor, vice president, and president were not chosen from party lists. Most executive political positions were held by men.

Women participating in politics faced violence and harassment. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Female Mayors and Councilwomen of Bolivia, 59 percent of councilwomen polled had suffered some type of violence or political harassment in their municipality, and 39 percent did not complete their term due to the severity of the threats and hostility they received.

On February 19, Juana Rojas Choque, a National Action Party of Bolivia (PAN-BOL) candidate for the municipal election in Puerto Villarroel, went into hiding because MAS supporters threatened to kill her and her family if she did not resign her candidacy. Before local elections in Copacabana on March 7, Nelly Tito Diaz was verbally and physically attacked for running as a PAN-BOL candidate after having been a member of the MAS-aligned Confederation of Female Indigenous Farmers (Bartolina Sisa). The ombudsman declared that any act of harassment and political violence must be punished, and investigations were opened in both cases.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Authorities apprehended Minister of Rural Development and Lands Edwin Characayo on April 12 for taking a $20,000 bribe in exchange for land titles and agriculture-drainage services. On April 14, Minister of Justice Lima stated Characayo was the subject of a criminal investigation involving “authorities at different levels of the state.”

On July 13, anticorruption prosecutor Anghelo Saravia was convicted of taking bribes to drop charges against potential defendants. Saravia was recorded taking the bribe during a sting operation. Civil society activists reported that situations such as Saravia’s were common and that prosecutors usually took $2,500 per case to drop charges.

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

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

On September 10, a radical group known as the Wila Lluch’us called on its followers to burn down the home of human rights activist Amparo Carvajal. The government refused calls to denounce the group, claiming it did not exist. Wila Lluch’us subsequently confirmed its existence and its ties to the government but denied having called for violence against Carvajal.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes a human rights ombudsman, subject to confirmation by both houses of Congress, with a six-year term. The ombudsman is charged with defending and promoting human rights, specifically defending citizens against government abuses. The constitution also gives the ombudsman the right to propose legislation and recommend modifications to laws and government policies. The ombudsman operated with inadequate resources. Civil society groups and several political figures contended the ombudsman lacked independence from the central government, in part because the MAS supermajority in Congress allowed for the nominee’s confirmation without meaningful debate.

Both houses of Congress had human rights committees that proposed laws and policies to promote and protect human rights. Opposition politicians accused the MAS of using the Ethics Committee within the Chamber of Deputies for political purposes. On June 24, the MAS-controlled committee accepted a complaint against 12 opposition legislators for having travelled to the United States “without permission.” The travelling legislators in question met with leadership from the Organization of American States, the IACHR, and Human Rights Watch. These legislators also denounced the arrest of former interim president Anez and the promotion of a false “coup” narrative related to the 2019 postelection unrest. (For information on former president Jeanine Anez, see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest.)

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held general elections in 2018 and local elections in 2020. The results of the 2018 general elections were not fully implemented, as the Federation entity government and Herzegovina-Neretva Cantonal government were not yet formed. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported that the 2018 elections were held in a competitive environment but were characterized by continuing segmentation along ethnic lines. While candidates could campaign freely, the office noted that “instances of pressure and undue influence on voters were not effectively addressed,” citing long-standing deficiencies in the legal framework. The office further noted that elections were administered efficiently, but widespread credible allegations of electoral contestants’ manipulating the composition of polling station commissions reduced voter confidence in the integrity of the process. More than 60 complaints of alleged election irregularities were filed with the BiH Central Election Commission.

BiH municipal elections and separate elections in the city of Mostar were held in 2020. Amendments to the election law in 2020 paved the way for the city of Mostar to hold its first local elections in 12 years, bringing BiH into compliance with the ECHR decision in Baralija v. BiH. In 2019 the ECHR ruled in favor of Irma Baralija, a local politician from Mostar, who sued the state for preventing her from voting or running for office in elections in the city of Mostar, where local elections had not been held since 2008. The court found that a legal void had been created by authorities’ failure to implement a 2010 Constitutional Court ruling on the arrangements for local elections in Mostar. In December 2020, Mostar city elections were held accordingly. Civil society and international community observers characterized the process as generally free and fair. The Mostar City Council met for the first time in a new convocation on February 5, and a new mayor was elected on February 15.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively nor prioritize public corruption as a serious problem. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Courts have not processed high-level corruption cases, and in most of the finalized cases, suspended sentences were pronounced. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and corruption remained prevalent in many political and economic institutions. Corruption was especially prevalent in the health and education sectors, public procurement processes, local governance, and public administration employment procedures.

The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but political pressure often prevented the application of these mechanisms. Observers considered police impunity widespread, and there were continued reports of corruption within the state and entity security services. There are internal affairs investigative units within all police agencies. Throughout the year, mostly with assistance from the international community, the government provided training to police and security forces designed to combat abuse and corruption and promote respect for human rights. The field training manuals for police officers also include ethics and anticorruption training components.

Corruption: While the public viewed corruption as endemic in the public sphere, there was little public demand for the prosecution of corrupt officials. There were indications that the judiciary was under political influence and judiciary appointments were not merit based, and the accountability of judges and prosecutors was low. The multitude of state, entity, cantonal, and municipal administrations, each with the power to establish laws and regulations affecting business, created a system that lacked transparency and provided opportunities for corruption. The multilevel government structure gave corrupt officials ample opportunities to demand “service fees,” especially in the local government institutions.

Analysts considered the legal framework for prevention of corruption to be satisfactory across almost all levels of government and attributed the absence of high-profile prosecutions to a lack of political will. Many state-level institutions tasked with fighting corruption, such as the Agency for Prevention and Fight against Corruption, had limited authority with no executive powers and remained under resourced. There were indications that the judiciary was under political influence, and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) was at the center of corruption scandals, which resulted in the resignation of the president of the council, Milan Tegeltija, due to his alleged involvement in corruption. As soon as he resigned, Tegeltija was appointed as an advisor to the Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Milorad Dodik. The accountability of judges and prosecutors was low, and appointments were often not merit based. Prosecutions also were considered generally ineffective and subject to political manipulation, often resulting in suspended sentences or prison sentences below mandatory minimum sentences. By the end of 2020, there were 50 high-level corruption cases in all prosecutor’s offices. Investigation was ongoing in 20 cases; an order not to proceed with investigation was issued in three cases; and trial was ongoing in 27 cases. According to a Transparency International report, the number of corruption investigations decreased – especially in the Federation and RS entities – over the past five years. The report underlined that it is especially worrisome that more than half of criminal corruption charges end up with an order not to investigate. TI stated that this indicated inadequate cooperation between prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement agencies.

The Court of BiH sentenced Kemal Causevic, former director of the Indirect Taxation Authority, to nine years’ imprisonment for accepting bribes and money laundering.

According to professors and students, corruption continued at all levels of the higher education system. Professors at several universities reported that bribery was common and that they experienced pressure from colleagues and superiors to give higher grades to students with family or political connections. There were credible allegations of corruption in public procurement, public employment, and health-care services.

The COVID-19 pandemic was misused for different corrupt activities; one of the most significant cases concerned procurement of unusable respirators from China worth approximately six million dollars. In the Federation, Prime Minister Fadil Novalic, Minister of Finance Jelka Milicevic, and Director of Civil Protection Fahrudin Solak were charged by the Court of BiH for corruption. As of November the main trial in the case was still ongoing.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were seldom cooperative and responsive to their views, and the Council of Ministers largely excluded NGOs from politically important or sensitive decisions or consultations on legislation that was being proposed for adoption. At times the government attributed the failure to consult with NGOs to pandemic meeting restrictions. NGOs continued, however, to expand cooperation with the government at lower levels.

Government officials in both the Federation and the RS entities did not attempt to limit NGO activities. Observers noted that some civil society representatives working on highly sensitive issues such as conflict-related crimes and combating corruption were subjected to threats and verbal assaults. Such threats often came by individuals via social media or graffiti on NGOs’ offices. Authorities would seldom successfully investigate such threats. NGOs can only be involuntarily dissolved if found in violation of the law.

Civil society organizations frequently lacked adequate funding, and most were dependent on either governmental or international assistance. Local governments generally extended support to NGOs, provided the governing parties did not consider them threats.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Botswana

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won a majority in the 2019 parliamentary elections, returning President Mokgweetsi Masisi to office for a full five-year term and continuing the party’s control of the government dating from independence in 1966. Outside observers generally considered the vote credible; however, opposition parties challenged some of the election results in court, citing primarily irregularities with voter registrations. The Court of Appeals dismissed all claims and ordered the opposition parties and petitioners to pay court costs. Some losing opposition candidates had to sell personal property to cover court fees.

Using COVID-19 state of emergency powers, the government postponed indefinitely 11 special elections, scheduled from 2019 onwards, for district council seats to replace lawmakers who died. These elections took place in December.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In July 2020 the National Assembly suspended the leader of the opposition (an officially designated position), Dumelang Saleshando, for one week for accusing members of President Masisi’s family of improperly manipulating the government tendering process. The speaker of the National Assembly, who was appointed by the president, called for the suspension vote. In August the High Court ruled that the speaker’s actions were irrational and unprocedural because he violated Saleshando’s constitutional rights to freedom of expression and speech as a duly elected representative of the people. The only BDP member of parliament to vote against Saleshando’s suspension during the year left the party to join the opposition.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Nevertheless, observers suggested the lack of support from political parties, fundraising challenges, and cultural constraints, including the sexual exploitation of women in politics, limited the number of women in government. There were seven women in the 65-seat National Assembly, three of whom were elected and four appointed by President Masisi. The president named five female members of parliament to serve in the 30-member cabinet. There were also two women in the 34-seat House of Chiefs.

While the constitution formally recognizes eight principal tribes of the Tswana nation, amendments to the constitution also allow minority tribes to be represented in the House of Chiefs. The law provides that members from all groups enjoy equal rights. Outside observers noted many tribes were unrecognized or unrepresented, and women were underrepresented in the traditional chieftaincy system.

The election authority makes accommodation for persons with disabilities during voting, including providing ballots in braille upon request and installing temporary ramps at polling places. During the 2019 national election, polling places were established in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, an area inhabited primarily by indigenous groups. There are no restrictions on LGBTQI+ persons seeking to take part in the political process.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally sought to implement these laws effectively. Officials tasked with enforcement lacked adequate training and resources, however. Media reports of government corruption continued. During the year there were numerous reports of government corruption, including allegations tied to tenders issued by local governments for COVID-19 projects, such as renovating public facilities so that they complied with virus prevention measures, as well as in the acquisition of personal protective equipment. A 2019 poll by Transparency International found that 7 percent of those polled had paid bribes to government officials, an increase from the 1 percent who reported paying bribes in a 2015 poll.

Corruption: In July 2020 former permanent secretary to presidents Khama and Masisi, Carter Morupisi, and his wife stood trial on charges of abuse of office, money laundering, and receiving bribes. A decision remained pending at year’s end. An embezzlement case against the former chief of DISS, Isaac Kgosi, ended in November 2020 when the Gaborone High Court dismissed the case for lack of evidence. On August 23, a court also dismissed a case against Welheminah Mphoeng Maswabi, a former DISS agent accused of facilitating a $10 billion theft of bonds from the Bank of Botswana by Kgosi and former president Ian Khama. Neither was charged in the case, although government court filings in the agent’s case implicated the pair. Khama responded by filing a formal complaint in April against government investigators, alleging they committed perjury by naming him in the agent’s case.

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

The small number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to domestic NGO views on most subjects. The government interacted with and provided financial support to some domestic organizations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: An ombudsman within the Office of the President handled complaints of maladministration, including some human rights abuses in the public sector, and the government generally cooperated with the ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, however, lacked sufficient staff.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Brazil

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Brunei

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government. The sultan rules through hereditary birthright. While the country is a constitutional sultanate, in 1962 the then ruler invoked an article of the constitution that allows him to assume emergency powers. The sultan has renewed the emergency powers every two years.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Political authority and control rest entirely with the sultan. The Legislative Council, composed primarily of appointed members with little independent power, provided a forum for limited public discussion of proposed government programs, budgets, and administrative deficiencies. It convenes once per year in March for approximately two weeks. Council members serve five-year terms at the pleasure of the sultan.

Persons age 18 and older may vote by secret ballot in village consultative council elections. Candidates must be Muslim, approved by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and have been a citizen or permanent resident for more than 15 years. The councils communicated constituent wishes to higher authorities through a variety of channels, including periodic meetings chaired by the minister of home affairs. The government also met with groups of elected village chiefs to allow them to express local grievances and concerns.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The National Development Party was the only registered political party. The party pledged to support the sultan and the government and made no criticisms of the government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: The constitution requires that all ministers be of Malay ethnicity and Muslim except as permitted by the sultan. The cabinet included an ethnic Chinese minister. Members of non-Malay indigenous communities lacked representation at all levels of government. Women accounted for more than half of civil service employees, and many held senior positions, including at the deputy minister level; no woman has ever been appointed as a minister. Women are subject to an earlier mandatory retirement age than men (55 versus 60 years), which may inhibit their career progression. The law requires that elected village heads be Malay Muslim men; questioning of this requirement by a female Legislative Council member in March resulted in unusually contentious online discussions, ending with a pledge by the minister of home affairs to “consider” a change in policy.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices.

Corruption: Although corruption was not pervasive, the sultan publicly criticized several ministries for poor performance, intimating budget mismanagement among other shortcomings. During his latest inspection in December 2020, the sultan called out the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports for dismal job prospects for children with disabilities and poor preparation of athletes competing in international events. The sentences for a husband-and-wife duo of former judges convicted in 2020 for misappropriating and laundering more than 11.5 million Brunei dollars ($15.75 million) in government funds were increased by the court of appeal to 7.5 and 15 years, respectively. The case maintained high public interest because the husband was the son of the minister of religious affairs and the wife the daughter of a retired high ranking military officer.

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

Neither domestic nor international human rights groups could operate freely due to government restrictions. No registered civil society organizations dealt directly with human rights, mostly due to self-censorship. A few domestic organizations worked on humanitarian issues, such as assistance for victims of domestic violence or provision of free legal counsel for indigent defendants. They generally operated with government support, and the government was somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, although they reported practicing self-censorship and avoiding sensitive issues. Regional and other international human rights organizations occasionally operated in the country but faced the same restrictions as all unregistered organizations. In December 2019 the UN resident coordinator visited the country and noted that UN agencies already had some roles there, including the International Labor Organization’s work with the Ministry of Home Affairs on labor standards and the World Health Organization’s work with the Ministry of Health on public-health issues.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Bulgaria

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held early National Assembly elections on November 14 and a two-round presidential election on November 14 and 21. A Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) observer delegation described the elections as competitive and respecting fundamental freedoms. Transparency International Bulgaria said the elections occurred without major election law violations but noted “unacceptable foreign interference” due to reports of Turkish political parties campaigning on behalf of Bulgarian candidates on election day and facilitating voting by Bulgarian citizens residing in Turkey. The caretaker government took measures to prevent vote-buying, although some political parties asserted they were selectively targeted by the Ministry of Interior’s actions which they claimed interfered with their ability to campaign.

There were no reports of major irregularities during the regularly scheduled National Assembly elections on April 4 or the early National Assembly elections on July 11. Most political commentators, including the election observation missions of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), considered both elections in line with fundamental freedoms, while noting that during the April elections “massive use of state resources gave the ruling party a significant advantage.” In April and July, the Association of European Journalists issued declarations calling on politicians to abandon the use of “hate speech, sexist, and disrespectful rhetoric.”

ODIHR criticized the existence of legislative “gaps, repetitive and ambiguous provisions, and inconsistencies,” including prisoner disenfranchisement and insufficient measures promoting the participation of women and members of minority groups. NGOs reported that address registration laws limited the ability of Roma occupying illegal housing to obtain identity cards, which in turn restricted their ability to register for and vote in elections.

NGOs accused authorities of negligence and failure to exercise flexibility and provide alternatives for approximately 14,000 persons quarantined in the last few days before the April elections, who faced a penalty if they went to the polling station. In March the ombudsman expressed concern that 2,000 technical personnel responsible for voting machines would be unable to vote because election authorities refused to allow them to vote anywhere other than in their originally assigned polling stations, as required by law.

In May and June, the caretaker government replaced many local police chiefs and all regional governors, claiming it was a measure to prevent vote-buying and voter intimidation. The Ministry of Interior conducted a campaign against vote-buying across the country ahead of the July and November early National Assembly elections, resulting in more than 1,000 case files, nearly 100 pretrial proceedings, and the freezing of 800,000 levs ($462,000) in cash and assets suspected as earmarked for vote-buying. Some political parties complained this campaign only targeted select parties and was used to intimidate their voters. Roma activists alleged the campaign was predominantly focused on Roma neighborhoods and aimed to intimidate and disenfranchise Romani voters. On November 9, the NGO Amalipe publicly protested police operations against vote-buying in Romani neighborhoods in Ruse, Burgas, Varna, Plovdiv, Montana, and other regions using an “unnecessary demonstration of force by breaking into suspects’ homes after breaking down doors and in front of children and very old people.” Amalipe and other NGOs and activists defended Lalo Kamenov, a Romani candidate for the National Assembly, whose parents’ apartment became a target of police action, alleging it was done to intimidate him. The NGO insisted the police operations “further solidify the false stereotype that vote-buying only takes place in Roma neighborhoods” and will have an adverse effect on Roma voting activity.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires a political party to have at least 2,500 members to register officially. The constitution prohibits the establishment of political parties along religious, ethnic, or racial lines, but the prohibition did not appear to weaken the role of some ethnic minorities in the political process, as several parties represented various ethnic minority groups. NGOs may not engage in political activity.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Women held mayoral offices in 38 out of 265 municipalities and 23 percent of elected seats in the 47th National Assembly. There were no Romani members in the National Assembly, and Roma were underrepresented in appointed leadership positions compared to the size of their population. Ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) held elected positions at the local level.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

In March the government adopted a new national strategy and roadmap on preventing and combating corruption for the period 2021-27, with a focus on combating high-level corruption. The government simultaneously adopted a report on the implementation of the preceding five-year anticorruption strategy, stating it had achieved its main goal to build stronger anticorruption capacity in the country. In September the caretaker government updated the roadmap for implementing the new strategy, acknowledging corruption at all levels and adding a focus on reducing corruption at the local level. NGOs alleged authorities applied the anticorruption law arbitrarily and selectively and assessed corruption prosecutions as ineffective and leading to few convictions.

Corruption: The prosecution service reported working on 274 pretrial investigations in 2020, which resulted in 17 indictments involving 56 persons and five convictions. In July the NGO Anticorruption Fund reported that in the previous five years it had monitored investigations against 63 high-profile former ministers, deputy ministers, National Assembly members, magistrates, mayors, and regional governors. The Anticorruption Fund also noted a further decline in anticorruption prosecutions, with zero convictions.

In June caretaker government ministers reported that 8.6 billion levs ($4.97 billion) of contracts (more than 40 percent) awarded by state-owned companies under the previous government since 2019 used in-house procedures and did not go through public procurement processes. The regional development minister cited an example in which the government awarded more than 1.5 billion levs ($867 million) to the state-owned Motorways company, which subcontracted a large part of the money to private companies in advance payments for projects that had not been launched yet.

In May the appellate specialized criminal court found seven customs officials guilty of extorting bribes from drivers crossing the Lesovo border checkpoint and sentenced them to pay a 5,000 lev ($2,890) fine each. As of December the trial against the former head of the State Agency for Bulgarians Abroad, Petar Haralampiev, and three other employees of the agency was ongoing at the specialized criminal court. The four were charged with receiving bribes and trading in influence to aid foreign citizens in obtaining the Bulgarian passports.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Human rights observers reported uneven levels of cooperation from national and local government officials.

The Civil Society Development Council remained suspended, after failing to start working in June 2020 due to objections by the Commission for Combating Corruption and Forfeiture of Illicit Assets and conflicting views within the government coalition regarding the election of council members.

Nationalist parties and NGOs routinely targeted human rights organizations and activists with accusations of treason and criminal offenses. In May vandals defaced the facade of the building where the office of the BHC was located with offensive graffiti.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The national ombudsman is an independent constitutional body elected by the National Assembly for a five-year mandate. The ombudsman reviews individuals’ complaints against the government for violations of rights and freedoms. The ombudsman can request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals to end existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request the Constitutional Court to abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent specialized agency for preventing and protecting against discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity.

A National Assembly permanent committee covers human rights, religious groups, and citizen petitions.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Burkina Faso

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore was re-elected to a second five-year term with 57.74 percent of the popular vote in the November 2020 national elections. His party, the People’s Movement for Progress, won 56 of the 127 seats in the National Assembly, remaining the largest party in a legislative majority coalition with smaller parties. The Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party of longtime former president Blaise Compaore, ousted in a popular uprising in 2014, became the largest opposition party with 20 seats. Some leading opposition candidates alleged irregularities and fraud but acknowledged the results and urged a “spirit of political dialogue.” National and international observers characterized the elections as peaceful and “satisfactory,” while noting logistical problems on election day and a lack of access to the polls for many citizens due to insecurity, including the majority of IDPs of voting age. The government had earlier declared that voting would take place only in areas where security could be guaranteed.

The National Assembly adopted a bill in August 2020 to modify the electoral law. This new electoral law stipulates that in the event of force majeure or exceptional circumstances duly noted by the Constitutional Council, resulting in the impossibility of organizing the elections in a part of the territory, the elections shall be validated on the basis of results from those polling stations open on election day. This modification, which was approved with the support of the ruling coalition as well as key segments of the parliamentary opposition, was nonetheless criticized by part of the political class and civil society organizations, since it allows for the exclusion of many voters living in insecure areas of the country.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties generally operated freely. In September 2020 the Minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization, and Social Cohesion, in application of the electoral code, made public the list of political parties authorized to participate in the November 2020 presidential and legislative elections. According to the communique, 143 political parties and three political formations were legally constituted.

The 2015 electoral code approved by the National Transitional Council stipulated the exclusion of certain members of the former political majority. The code stated that persons who “supported an anti-constitutional change that led to a popular uprising” were ineligible to be candidates in future elections. The electoral law allows all political candidates to run for election and opened the vote to members of the Burkinabe diaspora in possession of a national identity card or passport.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women and members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Parties and government officials stated women were less engaged in politics due to cultural and traditional factors. Although the gender quota law requires political parties to name women to fill at least 30 percent of the positions on their candidate lists in legislative and municipal elections, no political party met this requirement in the November 2020 elections. In March 2020 a new law establishing “zebra lists” mandated that electoral lists alternate names of men and women to better achieve a 30 percent quota. The law includes positive incentives for political parties respecting the quota but no penalties for those who do not abide by the law. Monique Yeli Kam, of the Burkina Rebirth Movement, was the only female candidate among 14 certified as eligible for the November 2020 presidential election. Following the 2020 legislative elections and the formation of a new government, women held 19 of 127 seats in the National Assembly after the elections (compared with 14 women in the previous National Assembly). Of 18,602 city councilors, 2,359 were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, including cases of misappropriation, fraud, or other offenses. The NGO National Network for Anti-Corruption cited the customs, police, and General Directorate of Land and Maritime Transport as the most corrupt entities in the government.

Corruption: Authorities opened an investigation of Seydou Zagre, the president’s chief of staff, for money laundering. He answered the summons of the investigating judge of the Ouagadougou Court on June 18. The investigation continued at year’s end.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and somewhat responsive to their views. In September the minister of humanitarian affairs suspended the activities of the Norwegian Refugee Council in IDP sites for criticizing the government’s humanitarian response (see section 2.d.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On October 6, the minister of foreign affairs and the UN country representative for human rights signed a Memorandum of Understanding for opening a UN Human Rights Office, which the government had originally approved in May 2020.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights organized several training sessions for security forces on the laws of armed conflict, provided assistance to victims of extremist and gender-based violence, and organized antistigmatization and social cohesion campaigns. The government sometimes assigned gendarmes as provost marshals to accompany deployed troops during military operations to verify detainees were afforded proper treatment and promptly taken before a military magistrate.

The Office of the Ombudsman addresses citizen complaints regarding government entities and other bodies entrusted with a public service mission. The ombudsman, whom the president appoints for a nonrenewable five-year term and who may not be removed during the term, was generally viewed as effective and impartial.

The government-funded National Commission on Human Rights provides a permanent framework for dialogue on human rights concerns. Its members include 15 representatives of human rights NGOs, unions, professional associations, and the government. In March the National Assembly adopted a bill that gives the commission the authority to act in matters regarding torture, strengthens the independence of commissioners, and, for the first time, sets aside funds to guarantee commissioners’ salaries. The bill also authorizes funds to reimburse commissioners for the previous three years’ salaries, which had not been paid.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Burma

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

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

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

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

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Burundi

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government did not respect that right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May 2020 the country held legislative, communal, and presidential elections without international observers. The CNDD-FDD candidate, Evariste Ndayishimiye, won the election with 68 percent of the vote. The government also held Senate elections in July 2020. The CNDD-FDD won absolute majorities in the National Assembly and Senate.

The elections were deeply flawed with irregularities that undermined the credibility of the process, including blocking independent international observers. The government opened the political space slightly, allowing participation of opposition parties and permitting them to carry out campaign activities across the country. According to the 2020 COI report, opposition parties cited irregularities during the vote tabulation process, including the expulsion of accredited party-affiliated monitors from voting stations. The international community and independent domestic organizations widely condemned the process as flawed, although domestic and international actors generally accepted the election outcomes. Several progovernment CSOs observed and validated the elections. The CNL rejected the results of the election and filed an appeal, which the Constitutional Court dismissed.

The COI noted the presidential election was largely free of mass violence. There were reports of incidents of violence during the election period, namely clashes between members of the ruling party and opposition party, which resulted in injuries and deaths in some cases. The COI stated that opposition political parties and their members, mainly the CNL, suffered serious human rights abuses in the run-up to elections. There were reports of targeted killings, kidnappings, gender-based violence, torture, and arbitrary arrests. Media remained under strict control, and journalists were unable to carry out their duties freely. The CNIDH declared that incidents of human rights abuses were too insignificant to affect the credibility of results, as announced.

The National Independent Elections Commission imposed restrictive conditions, such as limiting movement of locally-based foreign observers and rejecting AU and UN observers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution outlines a multiparty system and provides rights for parties and their candidates including assurance for authorities’ noninterference in political parties’ affairs. According to the law, to qualify for public campaign funding and compete in the parliamentary and presidential elections, parties needed to be “nationally based,” (i.e., ethnically and regionally diverse) and prove in writing they were organized and had membership in all provinces. The Ministry of the Interior recognized 36 political parties. In 2019 the Ministry of the Interior registered the previously unapproved National Forces of Liberation-Rwasa under the new name, the CNL. The Union for National Progress, led by Evariste Ngayimpenda, remained unrecognized, except for a small faction that broke off and pledged its allegiance to the ruling party. All registered political parties regularly met through the National Forum of Political Parties, the minister of interior’s institution for political dialogue. In addition, President Ndayishimiye met regularly with leaders of political parties to discuss topics of importance to the country and sought their input. Government officials praised the discussion’s framework for promoting political unity, while critics argued it served mainly for publicity and did not touch on sensitive political topics.

Political parties allied with the CNDD-FDD were largely able to operate freely. The COI reported political violence subsided and that hate speech against opponents was replaced by official calls for political tolerance. Media and human rights organizations, however, reported abuses including arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearance against political opponents, mainly CNL members, by the Imbonerakure and unidentified armed men in retaliation for political engagement and alleged involvement in armed groups responsible for security incidents in the country. The COI reported that some CNL members were victims of enforced disappearance in the months following the 2020 elections and were seen for the last time being taken away by state agents or members of the Imbonerakure. In some rural communities, CNL offices were ransacked or destroyed.

The constitution includes restrictions on independent candidates, including a measure that prevents individuals from running as independents if they had claimed membership in a political party within the previous year or if they had occupied a leadership position in a political party within the previous two years. The constitution also provides that independent candidates for the National Assembly must receive at least 40 percent of the vote in their district to be elected, a standard that did not apply to candidates representing political parties. The constitution’s ban on coalitions for independents further constrained the options for unrecognized parties.

Individuals often needed membership in, or perceived loyalty to, the ruling CNDD-FDD party to obtain or retain employment in the civil service and the benefits that accrued from such positions, including transportation allowances, free housing, electricity, and water, exemption from personal income taxes, and interest-free loans. The COI reported that individuals were forced to make payments – often with no legal basis – to support the CNDD-FDD on penalty of being denied access to public services and spaces or the issuance of administrative documents. In December online media reported that candidates for leadership positions of the Burundi Football Federation who were not members of the ruling CNDD-FDD party received death threats and were told to withdraw their candidacies.

There were reports opposition-aligned election observers were not allowed full access to monitor elections.

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

The constitution reserves 30 percent of positions in the National Assembly, Senate, and Council of Ministers for women and the government respected this requirement. This was implemented under the electoral code by adding seats to meet the gender requirement and by closed-list voting, whereby voters choose a political party, and the party provides the order in which candidates are selected, taking gender into account. In the sitting government, approximately 38 percent of seats in the National Assembly and 41 percent of seats in the Senate were filled by women, and five of 15 ministers were women. Women were not well represented in political parties and held very few leadership positions. Some observers believed that tradition and cultural factors kept women from participating in politics on an equal basis with men.

The constitution provides for representation in all elected and appointed government positions for the two largest ethnic groups. The Hutu majority is entitled to no more than 60 percent of government positions and the Tutsi minority to no less than 40 percent; however, a Ligue Iteka report published in February indicated the ethnic quota was not respected in many public institutions. The law designates three seats in each chamber of parliament for the Twa ethnic group, which makes up approximately 1 percent of the population.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Some high-level government officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The constitution provides for the establishment of a High Court of Justice to review accusations of serious crimes against high-ranking government officials, but the court does not yet exist. The anticorruption law also applies to all other citizens, but no high-ranking official to date has stood trial for corruption.

Corruption: The public widely viewed police to be corrupt, and petty corruption involving police was commonplace. There were numerous allegations of corruption in the government, including incidents related to the lack of transparency of budget revenue involving gasoline importation; the trading in influence and abuse of office or power; the mismanagement of public tenders and contracts, including in the health and mining sectors; misappropriation of public funds; customs fraud; and the appropriation of the country’s limited foreign currency reserves to finance imports. The Burundian Revenue Office has an internal antifraud unit, but observers accused its officials of fraud.

Authorities undertook noteworthy anticorruption initiatives, including dismissing high-level officials as well as hundreds of other low-level officials accused of malfeasance and targeting some high-profile corruption schemes. The Ministry of Interior was charged with leading anticorruption efforts as part of President Ndayishimiye’s new anticorruption campaign. The ministry continued a “zero tolerance toward corruption” campaign and kept suggestion boxes in all commune offices and government ministries to allow the population to report corrupt activities. The minister of interior also maintained a toll-free telephone number to allow citizens to report corruption and malpractice.

In February all Bujumbura-based tax collectors were fired after authorities discovered a shortfall of more than 40 billion Burundian francs ($20.4 million) in annual taxes compared with estimates of what should have been collected.

On May 1, President Ndayishimiye fired Minister of Trade, Transport, Industry and Tourism Immaculee Ndabaneze, and media reported that she was detained before being released shortly thereafter. According to the relevant decree, the minister was dismissed for acts that risked compromising the country’s economy and tarnishing its image. The NGO corruption watchdog OLUCOME opined that the minister’s departure was linked to the illegal sale of the last plane of the now defunct Air Burundi fleet and for allegedly embezzling funds intended to fund the country’s future flagship carrier, Burundi Airlines. President Ndayishimiye also fired Ndabaneze’s replacement, Minister of Trade, Transport, Industry and Tourism Capitoline Niyonizigiye, on November 18, via a decree. Soon after, media sources reported that Niyonizigiye had engaged in inappropriate use of government resources by including family members and friends in the country’s official delegation to the 2020 Dubai Expo.

On September 14, the Senate dismissed Senate Vice President Spes-Caritas Njebarikanuye after her company sold sugar at rates higher than prescribed limits.

In a setback for anticorruption initiatives, in April the National Assembly approved a law disbanding the anticorruption special court and the anticorruption police unit. The anticorruption court’s authorities were transferred to the office of the attorney general and courts of appeals, and the anticorruption police unit’s authorities were delegated to the judicial police. The NGO anticorruption watchdog OLUCOME criticized the decision and warned it risked hindering anticorruption efforts. They requested that the government restructure the institutions instead of abolishing them.

The COI report stated that President Ndayishimiye acknowledged the corruption problem in the country and made the fight against corruption one of his priorities but noted that reforms had been modest and that most of the steps taken were symbolic gestures. In some cases public servants were accused of misappropriation of funds without thorough investigations or judicial proceedings, and there were collective punishments that appeared arbitrary.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups struggled to operate in the face of governmental restrictions, harassment, and repression, and government officials were rarely cooperative or responsive to their views. The law requires CSOs to register with the Ministry of the Interior, a complex process, which includes approval of an organization’s activities. Registration must be renewed every two years, and there was no recourse for organizations denied registration or renewal (see also section 2.a., Freedom of Association). By law an organization may be suspended permanently for “disturbing public order or harming state security.”

The government took notable actions regarding CSOs, including releasing human rights defenders (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees, case of Germain Rukuki) and in April lifting sanctions against the organization PARCEM (Speech and Action for the Raising of Consciousness and the Evolution of Mentalities). The organization had been suspended in 2019 for undermining public order and security; media reported the organization was suspended because of a campaign it initiated, Ukuri Ku Biduhanze (“Truth on the challenges the country faces”), highlighting problems like malaria and food insecurity that were not being reported.

On April 27, Nestor Nibitanga, a former employee for the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons, was released as part of the large-scale presidential pardon. Nibitanga had been arrested in 2017 after authorities found human rights reports at his home that they claimed threatened state security and later sentenced him to five years in prison.

Human Rights Watch, the COI and other organizations continued to report that human rights defenders who remained in the country were subjected to threats, intimidation, and arrest. The COI’s report stated the positive gestures with regard to civil society were generally ad hoc symbolic gestures and that the government took measures aimed more at strengthening its control over the activities and functioning of CSOs than at reopening the democratic space. In February the Supreme Court pronounced a guilty verdict and life sentence for five human rights defenders, lawyers and NGO representatives living in exile (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures).

Numerous CSOs, especially those that focused on human rights, remained banned or suspended. President Ndayishimiye invited all citizens in exile to return to the country, but to date none of these organizations had applied for reinstatement. Ligue Iteka, officially banned since 2017, and other organizations without official recognition continued to monitor the human rights situation from abroad. Members of both recognized and unrecognized organizations reported being subjected to harassment and intimidation and took measures to protect the identities of their employees and sources.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally barred UN or other international bodies focused on human rights access to the country and refused to cooperate with such mechanisms. Some UN mechanisms also reported that individuals who cooperated with them faced acts of intimidation and reprisals or refused to cooperate due to such outcomes.

On May 31, the Office of the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Burundi officially closed its doors. The government requested its closure in November 2020, arguing that the presence of a UN mission with an exclusively political character was no longer relevant.

The UN Human Rights Council created the three-member COI in 2016 to investigate and report human rights abuses since 2015. In October the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution approving a special rapporteur to replace the COI as the mechanism for monitoring and reporting on human rights in the country. In December Minister of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation Albert Shingiro told reporters that the government would “never” allow the special rapporteur to investigate the country.

Government officials refused to cooperate with the COI or allow it access to the country over the course of its mandate. Additionally, the COI reported that individuals who cooperated with the mechanism faced acts of intimidation and reprisals both in the country and neighboring countries.

In September the commission delivered its annual report, finding there was reason to believe that grave abuses of human rights and crimes against humanity continued to be committed in the country but on a smaller scale than during the elections period. The COI report found these abuses were primarily attributable to state officials at the highest level and to senior officials and members of the SNR, police, and Imbonerakure. Government officials dismissed the COI report. President Ndayishimiye said that any tendency to single out the country for special human rights mechanisms was counterproductive. He called on partners, including the UN Human Rights Council and other nations, to make “a fair and responsible reading” of the country’s efforts.

In April the AU’s Peace and Security Council removed the country from its agenda and terminated the AU’s mandate for human rights observers and military experts deployed in the country since 2016. The 10 civilians and three military AU monitors were the only external monitors in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parties to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement of 2000 committed to the establishment of an international criminal tribunal, which had yet to be implemented, and a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was adopted into law in 2014. The TRC gathered testimony and conducted outreach activities under its mandate to investigate and establish the truth regarding serious human rights and international humanitarian law abuses committed in the country. The TRC was also mandated to establish the responsibilities of state institutions, individuals, and private groups.

Some CSOs and opposition political figures raised concerns that the TRC was deliberately focusing on the events of 1972 to favor the Hutu ethnic group. CSOs also raised concerns that in view of continued human rights abuses, political tensions, a climate of fear and intimidation, fears of retribution for testimony, and restrictions on freedom of expression, conditions were not conducive for an impartial or effective transitional justice process. CSOs cited concerns that the participation of ruling party members in deposition-gathering teams could reduce the willingness of some citizens to testify or share fully their stories. CSOs indicated that some of the TRC commissioners represented the interests of the ruling party and were not impartial and that a lack of qualified experts adversely affected the TRC’s ability to operate. On December 20, the TRC presented a report to the National Assembly and the Senate qualifying the 1972-1973 events as a genocide. According to the TRC’s president, the commission based its conclusion on “findings about the serious, massive and systematic human rights violations committed in 1972 and 1973 against the Hutu ethnic group by the government of Michel Micombero.” The National Assembly approved the report and confirmed that the 1972-1973 events qualify as a genocide against Hutus.

The Office of the Ombudsman has a mandate to investigate complaints regarding human rights abuses committed by civil servants, the judiciary, local authorities, public institutions, and any other public entities. The office is also focused on the establishment of community mediation and conflict prevention mechanisms.

The CNIDH, a quasi-governmental body charged with investigating human rights abuses, exercised its power to summon senior officials, request information, and order corrective action. In June the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) reaccredited the CNIDH with “A” status, the highest label of independence available, after it was provisionally downgraded in 2016 and suspended by GANHRI in 2018. Nevertheless, some observers continued to raise questions concerning the organization’s independence and ability to work on politically sensitive cases without government interference. The CNIDH was active in promoting and defending human rights including freeing opposition members imprisoned during the electoral period, increased interaction with the international community, advocacy to improve prison conditions and a focus on general human rights topics like gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and children and worker’s rights. Over the course of the year, the CNIDH increased its reporting to the government and the public, including announcing for the first time it completed an investigation into allegations of torture by SNR employees.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Cabo Verde

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In the April 18 legislative elections, individuals and parties were free to declare their candidacies and candidates for a total of 72 seats. The ruling party, Movement for Democracy, won 38 seats in the National Assembly with 49 percent of the vote. The main opposition party, the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde (PAICV), won 30 seats with 38 percent, and the Union for a Democratic and Independent Cabo Verde won the remaining four seats with 8 percent of the vote.

The most recent presidential election took place in October. Jose Maria Neves won the election with the support of the PAICV and nearly 52 percent of the vote.

Election observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterized the legislative elections as free, transparent, and credible while observers from ECOWAS and the African Union assessed the presidential election as transparent, peaceful, and free of significant irregularities.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The National Elections Commission did not allow some persons with mental disabilities to vote (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). Women remained underrepresented in positions within the central government and the Supreme Court of Justice, especially in prosecutorial positions. Women held 26 of the 72 National Assembly seats (36 percent), an increase from 17 in the previous National Assembly, and occupied five of the 18 cabinet-level positions in government ministries. Women filled two of the seven seats on the Supreme Court.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Authorities opened a criminal investigation of a Judicial Police inspector accused of narcotrafficking, money laundering, corruption, and extortion.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Commission for Human Rights worked on all nine inhabited islands to protect, promote, and reinforce human rights, rights of citizenship, and international humanitarian law in the country. Although independent, the commission remained inadequately staffed and funded.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Cambodia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, in practice there was no such ability. By law the government may dissolve parties and ban individuals from party leadership positions and political life more broadly. The law also bars parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal.

As of September, 29 of the 118 CNRP officials barred from political activity after the Supreme Court disbanded the party in 2017 had applied for political rehabilitation. Authorities restored the political rights of 26 individuals and rejected three applications. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated in August that he would not restore any politician’s political rights unless he was “pleased.” Local experts and opposition party members complained the “rehabilitation” process was arbitrary, created a false appearance of wrongdoing on the part of the banned politicians, and allowed the prime minister to choose his own political opponents. The CPP dominated all levels of government from districts and provincial councils to the National Assembly.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national election occurred in 2018. Although 20 political parties participated, the largest opposition party, the CNRP, was excluded. Of the 19 non-CPP parties that competed in the election, political rights groups claimed that 16 were CPP proxies.

Although campaign laws require news outlets to give equal coverage to each party participating in an election, there was no evidence of the law’s enforcement during the 2018 election; news outlets gave significantly greater coverage to the CPP than to other parties. In view of the decline in independent media outlets, government-controlled news outlets provided most content and coverage prior to the election. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where voters had less access to independent media.

Approximately 600,000 ballots cast in 2018 were deemed invalid, compared with an estimated 100,000 in the previous election. Observers argued this was a sign of protest; in view of the pressure to vote and the absence of the CNRP from the ballot, many voters chose to spoil their ballots intentionally rather than vote for a party. According to government figures, 83 percent of registered voters went to the polls. The ruling CPP won all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Government statistics could not be verified due to a lack of independent observers.

Most independent analysts considered the entire election process seriously flawed. Most diplomatic missions to the country declined to serve as official observers in the election. Major nonstate election observation bodies, including the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections, also decided against monitoring the election after determining the election lacked basic credibility. The National Election Committee accused the international community of bias, arguing the international community supported it only when the CNRP was on the ballot. Although nominally independent, the government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the committee offices, enabling it to observe the committee’s proceedings.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Excepting the CPP and several small progovernment parties, independent political parties suffered from a wide range of legalized discrimination, selective enforcement of the law, intimidation, and biased media coverage. These factors contributed significantly to the CPP’s effective monopolization of political power. Membership in the CPP was a prerequisite for many government positions.

In September 2020 Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly stated that CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s case may not be resolved until 2024.

In April, Kak Sovanchhay, the teenage child of an imprisoned former opposition party official, was struck in the head by a brick thrown by two men on a motorbike, putting him in critical condition. The offenders were not located. Kak Sovanchhay was later arrested and charged with “incitement,” a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. Kak, who reportedly had autism, received no treatment or any special accommodation in detention or during his trial.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural practices that relegate women to second-class status – epitomized by the Chbab Srey, a traditional code of conduct for women dating to the 14th century – limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by the CPP to increase female representation, only 19 women were elected to the National Assembly in the 2018 national election, down from 25 in 2013. The 2017 local elections saw participation for the first time of the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party; the party also participated in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. The National Council Against Corruption and its Anticorruption Unit are authorized by law to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The unit, however, did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating official corruption. Instead, it focused on investigations of opposition figures, leading to a widespread perception that it served the interests of the ruling CPP. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Anticorruption Unit has never investigated a high-level member of the ruling party, despite widespread allegations of corruption at senior levels of the party and government. For example, in June activists renewed allegations against National Assembly member and former provincial governor Prak Chan for involvement in the illegal smuggling of timber to Vietnam after his name was put forward as a candidate for the National Election Committee, but authorities took no action against him. In August the unit arrested two individuals for impersonating government officials, but otherwise had not arrested anyone since 2016 when it arrested five employees of a prominent human rights NGO and an opposition party member serving as commune chief. Similarly only one financial disclosure statement was ever unsealed, that of then National Assembly vice president and opposition CNRP president Kem Sokha.

Corruption was endemic throughout society and government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges took bribes from owners of both legal and illegal businesses.

Civil servants must seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative inquiries about corruption allegations.

Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials. In January, Le Changsangvath, head of the Banteay Meanchey provincial health department, was accused of soliciting a 60-million-riel ($15,000) bribe. Instead of investigating, the Ministry of Health dismissed the allegation and claimed that those who made the complaint were trying to provoke social chaos. On October 25, police surrounded the house of Kong Kheang, an official from the ruling CPP, who had accused Land Management Minister Chea Sophara of demanding bribes from lower officials in exchange for their position promotions in the party and in the government. Police threatened him and his family. In July the government granted 425 acres of land (designated as state forest) to real estate tycoon (and former government official) Leng Pheaktra (commonly known as Leng Navatra).

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

There were multiple reports of a lack of official cooperation with human rights investigations and in some cases, intimidation of investigators by government officials.

Approximately 25 human rights NGOs operated in the country. A further 100 NGOs’ work involved some human rights concerns, but only a few actively organized training programs or investigated abuses.

Human rights defenders faced increasing repression. On September 18, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly ordered the arrest of political commentator Seng Sary, accusing him of joining the opposition party to create a revolution; the prime minister withdrew his order two days later, stating he had listened to Seng’s explanations and found them “reasonable.”

Defenders were detained without bail before trial and pending verdict.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: Although the government generally permitted visits by UN representatives with human rights responsibilities, authorities generally restricted access to opposition officials, including Kem Sokha. On September 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen met via videoconference with Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Government spokespersons regularly chastised UN representatives publicly for their remarks on a variety of human rights concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There were three government human rights bodies: a Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Reception of Complaints in both the Senate and National Assembly; and the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, which reported to the prime minister’s cabinet. The Cambodian Human Rights Committee submitted government reports for international human rights review processes, such as the Universal Periodic Review, and issued responses to reports by international organizations and government bodies, but it did not conduct independent human rights investigations. Credible human rights NGOs considered the government committees of limited efficacy and criticized their role in vocally justifying the government crackdown on civil society and the opposition.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was established to investigate and prosecute leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime who were most responsible for the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979, continued operations. The chambers are a hybrid tribunal, with both domestic and international jurists and staff, governed by both domestic law and an agreement between the government and the United Nations. All investigations have officially ended, no new investigations were opened during the year, and no prosecutions were conducted in the trial chamber. Appeals and some preprosecution proceedings continued.

On August 16, the chambers’ Supreme Court heard an appeal in a case against Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge head of state in the 1970s. In 2018 the chambers sentenced Khieu to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and genocide. Two separate cases, those of Khmer Rouge naval commander Meas Muth and Khmer Rouge official Yim Tith, remained under consideration before the chambers. As of September international jurists continued to advocate that the two defendants be brought to trial for similar charges, while Cambodian jurists continued to advocate for dismissal. As of November, the Pretrial Chamber had yet to resolve these disputes.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Cameroon

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections, however, were often marked by irregularities, although no elections were conducted during the year.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In February 2020 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections. An estimated 32 political parties participated in the legislative elections and 43 participated in the municipal elections. Security concerns constrained voter participation in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The courts annulled the legislative elections in 11 constituencies of the Northwest and Southwest Regions due to voter turnout of less than 10 percent. Legislative reruns occurred in the 11 constituencies in March 2020. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won 152 of the 180 National Assembly seats and 316 of 360 local councils. Opposing political parties lost significant numbers of seats when compared with previous elections. Overall, eight opposition political parties won seats in the National Assembly, and nine won control of local councils. Additionally, irregularities including lack of equal access to media and campaign space, restrictions on the ability of opposition candidates to register for the election, ballot stuffing, lack of ballot secrecy, voter intimidation, inconsistent use of identification cards, and lack of expertise among local polling officials prompted the Constitutional Council and regional administrative courts to annul some legislative elections.

Estimates of voter turnout showed an unprecedented low rate of participation of 43 percent for the legislative and municipal elections in 2020. The lower turnout could partially be attributed to the call for a boycott of the elections by the MRC and other opposition parties. In December 2020 the first-ever election of regional councilors was held, 24 years after provisions for regional elections in the 1996 constitution. Due to the gains achieved in the municipal councils that made up the electoral college in the February 2020 elections, the ruling CPDM won in nine of the 10 regions. The government cited the regional elections as a sign of progress on decentralization, although political opposition and civil society groups criticized the elections for failing to meaningfully decentralize power.

In 2018 Paul Biya was re-elected president in an election marred by irregularities and against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As of the end of December, the country had approximately 330 registered political parties. During the year the government accredited 11 new political parties “to enrich the political debate and encourage the expression of freedoms.” The CPDM remained dominant at every level of government due to restrictions on opposition political parties, gerrymandering, unbalanced media coverage, the use of state funds to promote party campaigns, interference with the right of opposition parties to register as candidates and to organize during electoral campaigns, and undue influence of traditional rulers, who were largely coopted by the CPDM. Traditional rulers, who received salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the 2018 presidential election, and some reportedly compelled residents of their constituencies to prove they did not vote for an opposition candidate by presenting unused ballots. Traditional rulers who refused to associate with the government were either removed or threatened with destitution. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service. Conversely, membership in some opposition political parties, especially the MRC, was often associated with threats and intimidation from the government.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair. They complained that smaller districts considered CPDM strongholds were allocated a disproportionate number of seats compared with more populous districts where the opposition was expected to poll strongly. Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities, or persons with disabilities in the political process and they did participate, although women remained underrepresented at all levels of government. There were no official laws limiting the participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; however, observers noted social stigma and criminalization of same-sex conduct may have deterred LGBTQI+ persons from openly participating in the political process. In parliament women occupied 87 of 280 seats, 61 in the National Assembly and 26 in the Senate. Women held 11 of 66 cabinet positions. Similar disparities existed in other senior-level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions. The minority Baka, a nomadic indigenous group, were not represented in the Senate, National Assembly, or higher offices of government, although there were no laws limiting their participation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The law identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and failure to declare a known conflict of interest. Reporting corruption was encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings. In addition to the laws, the National Anticorruption Agency (CONAC), Special Criminal Court, National Financial Investigation Agency, Ministry in Charge of Supreme State Audit, and Audit Bench of the Supreme Court also contributed to fighting corruption in the country. CONAC, the most prominent of the anticorruption agencies, was constrained by the absence of any legislative or presidential mandate that could empower it to combat corruption. There were reports that senior officials sentenced to prison were not always required to forfeit their ill-gotten gains.

Corruption: As in 2020, allegations of mismanagement of resources continued, especially in respect to the special COVID-19-pandemic fund, which some referred to as “Covidgate.” The presidency in March ordered an audit of the management of COVID-19-pandemic spending to include an audit of the Special National Solidarity Fund established in 2020 to fight against the pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences. Endowed with a budget of 180 billion CFA francs ($3.27 million), the Special Solidarity Fund was expected to be used, among other things, for the purchase of protective equipment, tests, ambulances, and medicines, and to manage the quarantine of travelers.

According to its interim report, the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court specifically targeted two ministries that played a central role in the official COVID-19-pandemic response, namely the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation. The report highlighted shortcomings including the degree of opacity in the awarding of contracts, overruns of allocated budgets, embezzlement, and blatant overbilling. According to the Audit Bench, Mediline Medical Cameroon (MMC) and Moda Holding Hong Kong (a shareholder of MMC) won 90 percent of the COVID-19 rapid tests purchased and received 95 percent of the available credit to finance purchase orders to the detriment of two other local providers with experience in the same field. Moda Holding Hong Kong billed the Ministry of Health for transportation-related expenses, but the incurred expenses were not proportional to the quantity of tests delivered. Auditors noted that a COVID-19 test purchased from MMC cost 17,500 CFA francs ($32) per unit, 10,415 CFA francs ($19) more than the price proposed by SD Biosensor. The overpayment cost the state an additional 14.5 billion CFA francs ($26.36 million).

A dozen officials reportedly appeared before the commission during the investigation. Members of the political opposition and human rights activists urged the government to publish the full report, especially since all relevant agencies were not assessed in the interim report. On April 6, the presidency sent the Ministry of Justice a copy of the report on COVID-19-pandemic spending and instructed the minister to open a “judicial inquiry” into the misappropriation of funds. On May 28, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi reported that President Biya called for judicial proceedings to take place at the Special Criminal Court. In December the full report was released; however, no criminal proceedings had taken place by year’s end.

The trial of the former defense minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo opened at the Special Criminal Court in September 2020 after multiple adjournments. He stood accused of embezzling 236 billion CFA francs ($429 million) as part of the purchase of military equipment for the army. Mebe Ngo and his wife had been awaiting trial at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde since their arrest in 2019. As of the end of December, the court had not reached a decision.

The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk that was launched in 2006 to fight embezzlement of public funds. As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court opened new corruption cases during the year. The National Gendarmerie maintained a toll-free telephone line to allow citizens to report acts of corruption in the gendarmerie.

In a September 23 anticorruption report, CONAC reported the country lost close to 18 billion CFA francs ($32.7 million) to corruption in 2020. The report on the state of the fight against corruption in 2020 showed that corruption remained prevalent in the country. The report identified the transportation sector, land tenure, and the police force as the three most corrupt sectors in the country, adding corrupt practices were rampant in the Center and Littoral Regions.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. Government officials impeded many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel. The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences. The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations by accusing them of publishing baseless accusations.

On August 2, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report entitled Cameroon: New Abuses by Both Sides, which accused government forces of destruction of property, rape, killings, execution of civilians, and looting in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In response military spokesman Cyrille Atonfack Guemo firmly rejected what he referred to as an “outrageous and provocative” report. In an August 5 statement, he declared, “Everything appeared to clearly indicate that the multiple positions taken by HRW are intended only to discredit the defense and security forces.”

In an August 26 press release, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji announced an inquiry into the registration of all foreign NGOs operating in Cameroon. In the release Atanga Nji ordered them to deposit all required original documentation at his ministry by the end of September.

The order specifically asked for a dossier comprising an original copy of the document authorizing the organization in Cameron; two copies of the organization’s constitution; the instrument appointing the organization’s representative; a legalized photocopy of the national identity card or the representative’s passport that is less than three months old; a map indicating the location of the organization’s headquarters, or of its legal representative’s office and permanent telephone address; a complete list of nonnational staff working for the organization; their curricula vitae and certified copies of their passports; a complete list of local personnel including their work contracts; and the organization’s annual activity program. Minister Atanga Nji added that foreign organizations that did not submit the documents prior to the required deadline would be suspended (see also section 2.b, Freedom of association). As of October the Ministry of Territorial Administration had relaxed some of the requirements after strong pushback from civil society organizations and international NGOs.

Observers saw the minister’s decision as a strategy to intimidate human rights organizations and possibly ban those that highlighted government abuses. As in the previous year, human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats from persons suspected to be affiliated with the government by telephone, text message, and email. In particular this was the case for the Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network was a consistent target of the government.

On July 21, Chief Warrant Officer Bako Jean Oscar, commander of research Brigade I in Bonanjo, Douala, summoned Maximilienne Chantal Ngo Mbe, executive director of Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa, to appear before him on August 9. The summons did not contain further information on the case in question, and authorities refused to specify what charges, if any, they were investigating. Ngo Mbe received an additional summons on August 13 from the Legion Gendarmerie to appear on August 16 again without any specified reason; however, the date in question fell on a holiday so she was not required to appear. Ngo Mbe received a subsequent summons to appear before the Yaounde Scientific and Judicial police in November, ordering her to appear on December 28; however, her lawyers petitioned to have the date postponed until February 2022.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2019 the government passed a law establishing the Cameroon Human Rights Commission (CHRC), as a replacement for the existing National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF). During the year the president appointed 15 members to the CHRC, including James Mouangue Kobila, formerly acting chairperson of the NCHRF, as chairperson, and Galega Gana Raphael as the deputy chairperson. The CHRC became operational on April 29 after the team took the oath of office. Like the NCHRF, the CHRC is a nominally independent, government-funded institution. The law establishing the CHRC extended its mandate to protect human rights. While the CHRC coordinated actions with NGOs and participated in some inquiry commissions, it remained poorly funded.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Canada

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following a free and fair federal election on September 20, the Liberal Party won a plurality of seats in the federal parliament and secured a mandate to form a minority national government.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. In the September federal election, 44 percent of 338 House of Commons candidates were women, up from a previous record high of 42 percent of female candidates in the 2019 election. Women won 30 percent of the seats in the House of Commons. The government of New Brunswick provided financial incentives to political parties to field female candidates in provincial elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On May 13, the federal ethics commissioner reported his findings in investigations into former federal finance minister Bill Morneau’s failure to recuse himself from the proposed award of a sole source C$900 million ($692 million) federal pandemic-relief contract in 2020 to the nonprofit WE Charity, and into the prime minister’s relations with the charity. The contract was never issued. The commissioner found Morneau had a prior personal and professional relationship with the charity’s directors and broke federal ethics law by failing to recuse himself, by allowing his staff to “disproportionately assist” WE, and by “improperly furthering” WE’s private interests. The breaches did not carry criminal or financial penalties. In a related investigation, the commissioner cleared Morneau of improperly accepting approximately C$41,000 ($32,000) in personal travel from WE Charity. Separately, the commissioner found the prime minister did not breach the act.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and provincial human rights commissions enjoyed government cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. Observers considered the commissions effective. Parliamentary human rights committees operated in the House of Commons and the Senate. The committees acted independently of government, conducted public hearings, and issued reports and recommendations to which the government provided written, public, and timely responses. Most federal departments and some federal agencies employed ombudsperson. Nine provinces and one territory also employed an ombudsperson.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Central African Republic

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Refugees who returned to the country after voter registration was closed and the estimated 200,000 potential voters still outside the country were denied the right to participate in the December 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In many areas of the country, before and during late December 2020 presidential and legislative elections, armed groups interfered with voter registration and the distribution of election materials. On election day threats and violence by armed groups prevented citizens from voting in 26 of 68 voting districts and interrupted voting in six others. It was unclear precisely how many registered voters were prevented from voting because of armed group interference with electoral processes. Most of the violence committed around the elections was committed by CPC-affiliated armed groups. There were no reports of government security actors attempting to interfere with the election or prevent individuals from voting. The government did not attempt to restrict eligible voters from registering, but armed groups interfered with registration.

International and NGO observers reported high voter turnout in Bangui. Some media reported that threats of violence suppressed turnout in many other areas. NGO observers reported some irregularities in polling places that were able to open, particularly a lack of indelible ink and legislative ballots at certain sites. They also reported that some voters who did not have voter identification cards were allowed to vote with a certificate from the National Elections Authority. Some candidates and opposition leaders, including Anicet Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, and Mahamat Kamoun, alleged there were cases of election fraud. A local elections NGO, the National Observatory of Elections, concluded that observed irregularities did not undermine the overall credibility of the elections. The African Union observation mission reported that voting in Bangui conformed to the country’s electoral code and international standards. Election results were announced in early January.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. UN Women, however, assessed traditional attitudes and cultural practices limited women’s ability to participate in political life on an equal basis with men. Societal and legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons prevented them from effectively advocating for their interests in the political sphere (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity). The law requires that in all public and private institutions, 35 percent of seats should be reserved for women. This provision was not observed. Seven of 32 ministers in President Touadera’s cabinet were women, a 5 percent increase over his previous cabinet, but still short of the law’s requirements. Political parties likewise did not reach 35 percent gender parity in their slates of candidates during the 2020 parliamentary elections. There were 17 women among the 133 members of the National Assembly, a 5 percent increase over the previous legislature. The law prohibits gender discrimination and provides for an independent National Observatory for Male/Female Equality to monitor compliance. As of year’s end the National Observatory had not been established.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not effectively implement the law, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government. Weak government capacity further limited attempts to address fully the problem of public-sector corruption. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: Corruption and bribery remained widespread. In April, President Touadera signed a decree dismissing Regis Lionel Privat Dounda, minister of youth and sports. Dounda was allegedly implicated, according to a report by the State’s General Inspectorate, in a corruption affair with a Cameroonian oil company.

Laws and procedures for awarding natural resource extraction contracts and ensuring that information on those processes remain transparent were not followed. The Constitutional Court also asked that the government disclose mining concessions terms. The government did not respond. The government’s oversight body, the High Authority for Good Governance, is not authorized to proceed with investigations without prior authorization from the president and the prime minister.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights abuses and violations of law. Government officials were typically cooperative and responsive.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country’s independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties has the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents. In March the commission investigated living conditions in Ngaragba Prison and the M’Baiki Prison. The commission publicized its findings in the local press.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Chad

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens with the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government limited this right. The executive branch dominated the other branches of government.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 11-April 9 presidential election campaign culminated in elections on April 11. The political opposition had a highly limited space to operate in both before and during the election. Amnesty International reported pretrial detentions, systematic bans on gatherings, and attempts to prevent the free exchange of information leading up to the election.

In the leadup to the election, the government disallowed the candidacies of two major opposition figures, Yaya Dillo, citing an improper birth certificate, and Succes Masra, for his not having met the required minimum candidate age of 40 and the lack of government recognition of his political party. Other candidates, citing unfair government behavior in favor of President Deby, voluntarily announced their withdrawal from the electoral process prior to the March 9 deadline for the publication of the final presidential candidate list by the Supreme Court. These voluntary withdrawals included Brice Mbaimon Guedmabye, Ngarledjy Yorongar, Mahamat Yosko, and Saleh Kebzabo. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court retained three of these candidates on the election day ballot, which some perceived as an effort to disperse the accumulation of votes behind any single opposition candidate.

Analysts viewed many of the remaining candidates as tacit supporters of Deby. Election observers reported low voter turnout and an overwhelming presence of ruling MPS party observers on election day. Election observers reported multiple irregularities, including improperly secured ballot boxes, polling sites in private spaces in violation of the law, voting authorities improperly accompanying some voters, poor staffing coverage by the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI), campaigning within or near polling stations, police and military giving voters instructions on voting, missing voter registration lists, duplicate voting, underage voting, and improper transport of ballot boxes.

On April 19, the CENI announced Idriss Deby won the election with 79 percent of the vote. The sitting transitional government Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke finished second with 10 percent of the vote. The CENI announced high turnout of 65 percent, although opposition figure Saleh Kebzabo took credit in media reports for his part in suppressing turnout by encouraging a boycott.

On the next day, President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield while commanding an army unit against Libya-based rebels advancing toward N’Djamena. Shortly after Deby’s death, a 15-member CMT established itself, dissolved the country’s constitution, and issued a transitional charter that outlined an 18-month mandate and transition back to a democratically elected civilian-led government.

Under the 2020 constitution, the Senate president stood to take charge of the country, with the Senate vice president standing next in line. The Senate, however, had not yet been constituted when Deby died. In this scenario, the constitution provided that the powers of the Senate should have devolved to the National Assembly. The CMT offered the presidency to the president of the National Assembly, who declined. The first vice president also declined. The CMT thus named Deby’s son, army general Mahamat Idriss Deby as CMT president and the de facto leader of the country.

On April 26, CMT President Deby appointed a civilian transitional government led by Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke and a cabinet of ministers, but the transitional charter grants the CMT president the authority to dissolve the transitional government, which exists to “guide and execute the nation’s policy defined by the CMT.”

The transitional charter as of year’s end guided the country’s transition toward elections of a civilian leader in late 2022. In September, CMT President Deby appointed by presidential decree a transitional parliament, the National Transitional Council, composed of a majority loyal to the powerful MPS, to replace the National Assembly. The government began planning for a national dialogue, new constitution, and elections in 2022.

The most recent legislative elections took place in 2011, during which the ruling MPS won 118 of the National Assembly’s 188 seats. Subsequent legislative elections were repeatedly postponed for lack of financing or planning.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were 138 registered political parties, of which more than 100 were associated with the dominant MPS party. Changes to the law in 2018 complicated and increased the cost of party registration, outreach, and participation procedures. Opposition leaders attributed the changes to the government’s attempt to limit dissent. The government severely restricted opposition protests and suspended all political programming on public and private networks until the April elections (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Numerous laws disadvantage full political participation by citizens holding political views or allegiances out of alignment with the dominant MPS party. For example, opposition parties are legally barred from ownership of media outlets. The government enacted age limits on leadership of political parties, which many viewed as an effort to disqualify certain key opposition leaders. The dominant MPS party owned and enjoyed state-funded political programming on state-owned television and radio stations, which many saw as granting it an unfair political advantage in a country where television and radio comprised the most effective public outreach tools. Others criticized the MPS party as leading the unfair drawing of voter districts in ways that directly benefitted the MPS. Officials affiliated with the MPS often used official vehicles for political campaigning, and there were reports that government employees were pressured to close their offices during campaign season to support MPS campaigning. Active membership in the MPS often conferred advantages for those wishing to hold high-level government positions. In addition, the MPS-led central government faced accusations of having appointed local and traditional chiefs in a way that rewarded allegiance to the MPS rather than respecting the traditional transmission of power via birth.

After previously refusing registration on administrative grounds, on June 8, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization signed the decree granting the opposition party Les Transformateurs the permission to operate.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Political disenfranchisement in the country is typically de facto, rather than de jure.

The law mandates that leadership of all political parties must be at least 30 percent women. Women’s political participation, however, was limited by many factors, including lack of access to economic resources and cultural norms that discourage their participation in public and professional life. The law also requires a minimum of 30 percent women in government institutions and elective offices. In April, Beassemda Lydie was the first woman to run for president, placing third. Women also received appointments to the transitional parliament and the National Transitional Council, although observers noted that many were relatives of powerful men, casting doubt on their autonomy. While women comprised 33 percent of the council, there were no female members, despite several high-ranking potential women candidates in security institutions.

Government authorities often awarded political positions and formed alliances based largely on tribal and ethnic affiliations. Political parties and groups generally had readily identifiable regional or ethnic bases. Northerners, particularly members of the CMT president’s Zaghawa ethnic group, were overrepresented in key institutions, including the military officer corps, elite military units, and presidential staff.

Widespread social discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals resulted in all but a tiny percentage choosing to live closeted for personal safety and to enjoy fuller social and political rights. Those choosing to live openly, at great personal risk, were often denied the opportunity to register to vote, which observers noted appeared to contravene the constitution, which affirms that suffrage is universal.

Persons with disabilities, while generally able to vote, faced major hurdles in achieving full political participation. Likewise, some laws prohibited persons with disabilities from serving in elected office. Observers noted these laws appeared in contravention of the constitutional right of all persons to work. In addition, the constitution mandates “good physical and mental health” for presidential candidacy, a provision many observers believed disallowed persons with disabilities from serving as president.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in The World 2021 report, corruption, bribery, and nepotism were “endemic” in the country, and prominent journalists, labor leaders, and religious figures faced harsh reprisals for speaking out concerning corruption, including arrest, prosecution, and exile.

Corruption: Freedom House reported that selective prosecutions of high-level officials were widely viewed as efforts to discredit those posing a threat to the former president or his allies. Judicial corruption hindered effective law enforcement and rule of law. Security forces routinely stopped citizens on pretexts of minor traffic violations to extort money or confiscate goods.

While widespread, corruption was most pervasive in government procurement, the awarding of licenses or concessions, dispute settlement, regulation enforcement, customs, and taxation. While the investigation by international journalists continued in December, the October publication of the leaked “Pandora Papers” tax documents implicated Zakaria Deby Itno, a son of former president Idriss Deby and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, in having owned shares in a Seychelles-based company along with a known arms dealer.

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

Several domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were sometimes cooperative and responsive to their views.

In August 2020 a court approved a request by a former member of the CTDDH to suspend Mahamat Nour Ibedou from his position as head of the organization. In December 2020 a new CTDDH general assembly was installed despite protests by sitting members of procedural violations. Observers believed the former member lacked standing to bring any legal action, the new general assembly lacked legitimacy, and authorities supported these actions to lessen the stature and capability of the CTDDH to investigate human rights problems. In May the Court of Appeals cancelled the order that suspended Ibedou from his post.

In late April and early May the headquarters of the Chadian League of Human Rights was encircled by police and military forces, preventing staff from entering their offices. These acts were denounced by the Observatory of International Federation of Human Rights.

Government Human Rights Bodies: To show solidarity with the human rights community, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights cosponsored, made remarks at, and attended conferences, training sessions, and launches of campaigns officially hosted by local and international NGOs aimed at protecting human rights. Local NGOs reported the ministry functioned independently yet was of limited effectiveness, due partially to conflicts of interest with state security forces.

In February 2020 the CNDH became operational. The commission’s mandate is to advise the government on human rights, conduct investigations, assess prison conditions, verify adequate protection against abuse and torture of prisoners, and provide recommendations to the government following investigations. Observers considered the CNDH to be substantially independent of the government and relatively effective.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Chile

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held concurrent presidential and legislative elections on November 21, which observers considered free and fair. On December 19, in free and fair elections, voters chose Gabriel Boric, who was to take office on March 11, 2022.

On May 15-16, voters elected 155 members of the constitutional convention and voted for regional governors, mayors, and municipal councilors. The country held runoff elections for governors on June 13 and official presidential primaries on July 18. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

The constitutional convention began on July 4 and was scheduled to conclude by July 2022. Delegates elected Mapuche indigenous rights activist Elisa Loncon as president. On October 7, the convention approved four main statutes covering general regulations, ethics, indigenous participation and consultation, and citizen participation. Convention rules prohibit denial of crimes against humanity committed during the Pinochet regime and alleged human rights abuses during the 2019 civil unrest. Rules also established nonbinding indigenous consultations requiring the country “to recognize, specify, respect, promote, protect, and guarantee all its obligations with the different preexisting indigenous peoples and nations, all of which emanate from subscribed international obligations.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The rules for the election in May of members for the constitutional convention stipulated gender parity and, from a total of 155 seats, included 17 seats reserved for representatives of indigenous groups. The Mapuche minority group, which represents approximately 13 percent of the population, has historically been underrepresented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: On July 26, the former mayor of the San Ramon municipality, Miguel Angel Aguilera, was accused of repeated bribery, illicit enrichment, and money laundering and was placed in pretrial detention. The case was under investigation at year’s end.

Prosecutors brought charges against former army officials accused of corruption. In an August 6 pretrial hearing, prosecutors requested a 15-year sentence for former army commander in chief Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba for embezzlement of public funds and money laundering. The National Prosecutor’s Office also filed a motion seeking a 10-year sentence for Fuente-Alba’s wife for her role in concealing the use of public funds. A trial date was set for March 2022.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, including multiple investigations into abuses during the 2019-20 civil unrest. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The INDH operated independently and effectively, issued public statements and an annual report, and proposed changes to government agencies or policies to promote and protect human rights. The Senate and Chamber of Deputies have standing human rights committees responsible for drafting human rights legislation.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states, “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and the organs through which citizens exercise state power are the NPC and the people’s congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. In practice the CCP dictated the legislative agenda to the NPC. While the law provides for elections of people’s congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. The CCP controlled all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power. The CCP used various intimidation tactics, including house arrest, to block independent candidates from running in local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 the NPC’s 2,980 delegates elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consists of 175 members, oversaw the elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC. The selection of NPC members takes place every five years, and the process is controlled by the CCP.

The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP. All important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP’s approval.

According to Ministry of Civil Affairs 2019 statistics, almost all the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections by ordinary citizens for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials remained narrow in scope and was strictly confined to the lowest rungs of local governance. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.

Election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under the law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people’s congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels, legislators selected people’s congress delegates from among their own ranks. For example, provincial-level people’s congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people’s congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted “the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation” under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policymaking and were only allowed to operate under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The China Democracy Party remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison its current and former members. China Democracy Party founder Qin Yongmin, detained with his wife Zhao Suli in 2015, has been in Hubei’s Qianjiang Prison since 2018 for “subversion of state power.”

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: Women and members of minority groups held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 13th NPC in 2018, 742 (25 percent) were women. Following the 19th Party Congress in 2017, one member of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo was a woman. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.

A total of 438 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 13th NPC, accounting for 16 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 19th Party Congress elected 15 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 202-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo, and only one ethnic minority member was serving as a party secretary of a provincial-level jurisdiction, although a handful of ethnic minority members were serving as leaders in provincial governments. An ethnic Mongolian woman, Wang Lixia, served as chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. An ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, served as chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. An ethnic Bai woman, Shen Yiqin, served as party secretary of Guizhou Province.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government and the CCP did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant. Many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.

Transparency International’s analysis indicated corruption remained a significant problem in the country. There were numerous reports of government corruption – and subsequent trials and sentences – during the year.

By law the NSC-CCDI is a government and CCP body charged with rooting out corruption and discipline inspection (enforcing conformity). Its investigations may target any public official, including police, judges, and prosecutors; the commission can investigate and detain individuals connected to targeted public officials. The NSC-CCDI is vested with powers of the state and may conduct investigations against any employee who performs a public duty; that includes doctors, academics, and employees of state-owned enterprises. There were credible reports that the NSC-CCDI investigations and detentions by liuzhi were sometimes politically motivated. According to Safeguard Defenders’ analysis of NSC-CCDI official documents of a select few provinces, in those provinces the NSC-CCDI placed at least 5,909 individuals into liuzhi since its creation in 2018. Nationwide, Safeguard Defenders estimated that 52,000 individuals were placed into liuzhi since 2018.

Corruption: In numerous cases government prosecutors investigated public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, for corruption.

While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, in general very few details were made public regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption. Observers also said that corruption charges were often a pretext for purging political rivals.

In October the NSC-CCDI detained former vice ministers of public security, Fu Zhenghua and Sun Lijun. The South China Morning Post reported that Fu Zhenghua was being held for “serious violations” of party discipline. Sun Lijun was expelled from the CCP and faced trial for “serious violation of discipline rules and law.” According to state media, Sun accepted bribes and gifts and misused his position to “achieve his political objectives.” The South China Morning Post reported in August that the NSC-CCDI was investigating Peng Bo, a former deputy chief of the CAC, for accepting bribes and expelled him from the party. Published accusations that Peng strayed from CCP plans regarding the “propaganda struggle over the internet,” “sought benefits from internet companies,” “resisted investigations by the party and engaged in superstitious activities,” and violated the “eight-point requirements on frugal living, visited private clubs frequently and accepted invitations to extravagant banquets and dinners” may indicate that corruption was not the primary reason for the investigation into Peng.

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

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder activities of civil society and human rights groups. The government frequently harassed independent domestic NGOs and in many cases did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial or other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and all official NGOs were required to have a government agency sponsor.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. The government sharply limited the visits of UN experts to the country and rarely provided substantive answers to queries by UN human rights bodies. A dozen requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government used its membership on the UN Economic and Social Council’s Committee on NGOs to block groups critical of China from obtaining UN accreditation and barring accredited activists from participating in UN events. The government also retaliated against human rights groups working with the United Nations.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Colombia

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on nearly universal suffrage. Active-duty members of the armed forces and police may neither vote nor participate in the political process. Civilian public employees are eligible to vote, although they may participate in partisan politics only during the four months immediately preceding a national election.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Legislative and presidential elections were held in March and May 2018, respectively. Because no presidential candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote in the election, as required for a victory in the first round, in June a second election was held, in which voters elected Ivan Duque Marquez president. Observers considered the elections free and fair and the most peaceful in decades. There were no reports of election-related violence during the June 2018 presidential runoff, in which the candidate of the Democratic Center party, Ivan Duque Marquez, defeated the candidate of Humane Colombia, Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego. The then minister of defense, Luis Carlos Villegas Echeverri, described it as the most peaceful election in decades. The leading domestic elections NGO, Electoral Observation Mission, deployed more than 3,500 nonpartisan volunteers to monitor the elections. International observers included an electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States. The first local and regional elections since the signing of the 2016 peace accord took place in October 2019 and were largely peaceful and the most inclusive in the country’s history. Observers reported some indications of electoral fraud, including vote buying.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Organized-crime gangs, FARC dissidents, and the ELN threatened and killed government officials (see section 1.g.). As of June 30, the NPU, under the Ministry of Interior, was providing protection to 255 mayors, 16 governors, and 435 other persons, including members of departmental assemblies, council members, judges, municipal human rights officers, and other officials related to national human rights policies. By decree the CNP’s protection program and the NPU assume shared responsibility for protecting municipal and district mayors.

As part of the 2016 peace accord, the FARC registered a political party in 2017 under the name People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force, maintaining the same acronym. The accord guaranteed the FARC political party, now known as the Commons party, 10 seats in Congress – five each in the Senate and in the House of Representatives – in the 2018 and 2022 elections.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively, although officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices without punishment. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, particularly at the local level. Revenues from transnational organized crime, including drug trafficking, exacerbated corruption.

Corruption: Through July 31, the Attorney General’s Office registered 8,414 allegations related to corruption and 51 active investigations. In August press reports alleged government contractors embezzled a $17 million advance from the Ministry of Technology and Communications in connection with a project to connect rural schools to the internet. The contractors allegedly failed to comply with the commitments in the contract, and the Inspector General’s Office opened an investigation.

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

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were typically cooperative and willing to listen to local human rights groups’ concerns.

Several NGOs reported receiving threats in the form of email, mail, telephone calls, false obituaries, and objects related to death, such as coffins and funeral bouquets. The government condemned the threats and called on the Attorney General’s Office to investigate them. Some activists claimed the government did not take the threats seriously.

The government announced advances in the investigations into attacks and killings of human rights defenders and assigned priority resources to these cases. The Attorney General’s Office reported that as of August 10, it had convicted and sentenced 89 persons for the homicides of human rights defenders.

Through July the Attorney General’s Office reported 961 active investigations into threats against human rights defenders. There were three convictions in cases of threats against human rights defenders during the year.

As of July the NPU’s protection program provided protection to more than 8,000 individuals. Among the protected persons were 4,000 human rights defenders and social leaders.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is independent, submits an annual report to the House of Representatives, and has responsibility for providing for the promotion and exercise of human rights. According to human rights groups, underfunding of the Ombudsman’s Office limited its ability to monitor violations effectively. The ombudsman, as well as members of his regional offices, reported threats from armed groups issued through pamphlets, email, and violent actions.

The National System for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law – led by a commission of 21 senior government officials, including the vice president – designs, implements, and evaluates the government’s policies on human rights and international humanitarian law. The Office of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights coordinates national human rights policy and actions taken by government entities to promote or protect human rights.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have human rights committees that served as forums for discussion of human rights problems.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Trafficking in Persons

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

Comoros

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised that ability, although electoral irregularities marred the 2019 presidential election.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2019 the country held presidential and gubernatorial elections, and the Supreme Court declared Azali Assoumani the winner of the presidential election with 59 percent of the vote. These elections were not free and fair, and international and domestic observers noted the election was marked by significant irregularities.

During the afternoon of election day, the opposition protested ballot stuffing and the lack of observers in polling stations. Refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the vote, the opposition destroyed ballot boxes on Anjouan and, to a lesser extent, on Grande Comore. Responding to these developments, the government failed to uphold election rules and regulations in the collection and counting of ballots. The government ordered security forces to collect ballots in multiple jurisdictions before polls were scheduled to close, and ballot counting occurred without public oversight.

In 2019 presidential candidate Soilihi Mohamed, along with the other opposition candidates, established a National Transition Council and called on the population to engage in civil disobedience if the government did not invalidate the election. Police arrested Mohamed for undermining the security of the state. Following a gunfight in which three individuals died, Mohamed’s supporters freed him, but security forces subsequently recaptured him. After 12 days in prison, the government released him, and Mohamed recognized Azali as president and resigned his position as president of the National Transition Council.

In January 2020 election authorities conducted legislative elections. International observers considered them to be generally free and fair. The opposition boycotted the elections and stated they did not recognize either the 2019 presidential or the January 2020 legislative results. The government did not allow opposition groups to hold meetings during the legislative elections.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women, persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons or members of minority groups in the political process and they did participate. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life on an equal basis with men. The 2019 gubernatorial election resulted in the election of the first female governor, Sitti Farouata Mhoudine, who represented Grande Comore. In the National Assembly, there were four women out of 24 elected members, compared with one woman among elected members in the previous National Assembly.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

The National Commission for Preventing and Fighting Corruption was an independent administrative authority established to combat corruption, including through education and mobilization of the public. In 2016 the president repealed the provisions of the law that created the commission, citing its failure to produce any results. The Constitutional Court subsequently invalidated this decision, noting that a presidential decree may not overturn a law. Nevertheless, the president has neither renewed the commissioners’ mandates nor appointed replacement members.

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