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Albania

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political pressure, intimidation, widespread corruption, and limited resources sometimes prevented the judiciary from functioning independently and efficiently. Court hearings were often not open to the public. Court security officers frequently refused to admit observers to hearings and routinely telephoned the presiding judge to ask whether to admit an individual seeking to attend a particular hearing. Some agencies exhibited a pattern of disregard for court orders.

The government implemented an internationally monitored process to vet judges and dismiss those with unexplained wealth or ties to organized crime. As of August, 44 percent of judges and prosecutors who had undergone vetting had failed and been dismissed. As a result, only two of nine judges remained on the Constitutional Court; the others had been dismissed during the vetting process or resigned before undergoing vetting, which deprived the court of a quorum. As of August, 15 of the 19 seats on the Supreme Court were also vacant, and the court faced a considerable case backlog. The politicization of appointments to the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court threatened to undermine the independence and integrity of these institutions.

The Ministry of Justice generally did not vigorously pursue disciplinary measures against judges. When it did, the High Council of Justice (HCJ) was reluctant to enact the measures. As of August, the Ministry of Justice had initiated disciplinary proceedings against four judges. The HCJ rejected the request to dismiss them, and issued a public reprimand for one. The HCJ ordered the suspension of four appellate-court judges following investigations for corruption. One was arrested after a search of his home revealed cash in different currencies worth 250,000 euros ($288,000). His trial was ongoing at year’s end, although he accepted the evidence against him, which would result in some leniency during sentencing. A second case involved appeals judges who accepted trips to expensive soccer matches in Western Europe from litigants. The accused judges had been changing lawyers frequently to delay the start of trial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

Persons who were political prisoners under the former communist regime continued to petition the government for compensation. The government made some progress on disbursing compensation during the year.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The Office of the Ombudsman and NGOs reported that some claimants still struggle to obtain due process from the government for property claims. Thousands of claims for private and religious property confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved with the Agency for Property Treatment. Claimants may appeal to the ECHR; many cases are pending ECHR review. The Office of the Ombudsman reported that as of August, the ECHR had tried seven cases that involved millions of Euros in claims. The Office of the Ombudsman repeated that the government, generally, paid out according to the timeframe that the ECHR determined.

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

Angola

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. Institutional weaknesses in the judicial system, however, such as political influence in the decision-making process, were problems. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs on the importance of an independent judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases, which resulted in major delays in hearings.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional leaders (known as “sobas”) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases, which only courts may hear.

Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings from the moment charged through all appeals. By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

A separate juvenile court is designated for children’s affairs. A juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than age 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 may be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. The constitution defines traditional authorities as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Damages for human rights violations may be sought in municipal or provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution provides that all untitled land belongs to the state. In 2016 security forces demolished hundreds of allegedly illegal, privately built homes in Zango, a suburban Luanda zone that falls within the restrictive perimeter of the Luanda-Bengo Special Economic Zone. The demolitions displaced thousands of persons and resulted in several deaths. Some persons forced to move did not receive fair compensation, at times due to lack of clear title or permits for the destroyed property. Relocated persons who received housing units often complained their units were located far from their jobs or places of business, or were of substandard quality.

Armenia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary did not generally exhibit independence and impartiality. After the May change in government, distrust in the impartiality of judges continued, and some human rights lawyers stated there were no legal safeguards for judicial independence.

Attorneys reported that in the past, the Court of Cassation dictated the outcome of all significant cases to lower-court judges. In February, with implementation of 2015 constitutional amendments, the High Judicial Council (HJC) was formed; on March 5, former Constitutional Court chair Gagik Harutyunyan was elected head of the HJC. Many observers blamed the HJC for abuse of power and for appointing only judges who were connected to the previous ruling party. Attorneys also stated the HJC’s control of the appointments, promotions, and relocation of judges weakened judicial independence.

According to observers, administrative courts had relatively more internal independence but were understaffed, with some hearings scheduled as far ahead as 2020.

Authorities generally complied with court orders.

NGOs reported judges routinely ignored defendants’ claims that their testimony was coerced through physical abuse. Human rights observers continued to report concerns about the reliance of courts on evidence that defendants claimed was obtained under duress, especially when such evidence was the basis for a conviction.

Human rights NGOs highlighted abuses of human rights of persons serving life sentences. According to these NGOs, individuals serving such sentences lacked the opportunity to have their sentences meaningfully reviewed by courts when changes in criminal law could possibly have resulted in less severe punishment. According to human rights groups, one of the greatest obstacles to justice for those serving life sentences was the court-ordered destruction of case files and evidence. This action deprived convicts of the opportunity to have their cases reviewed based on forensic analysis using new technologies, such as DNA testing.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and laws provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right.

The law provides for presumption of innocence, but suspects usually did not enjoy this right. During trials authorities informed defendants in detail of the charges against them, and the law required the provision of free language interpretation when necessary. The law requires that most trials be public but permits exceptions, including in the interest of “morals,” national security, and the “protection of the private lives of the participants.” Defendants have the right to counsel of their own choosing, and the law requires the government to provide them with a public defender upon request. A shortage of defense lawyers sometimes led to denial of this right outside of Yerevan.

According to the law, defendants may confront witnesses, present evidence, and examine the government’s case in advance of a trial, but defendants and their attorneys had very little ability to challenge government witnesses or police, while courts tended to accept prosecution materials routinely. In particular, the law prohibits police officers from testifying in their official capacities unless they were witnesses or victims in a case. Judges were reluctant to challenge police experts, hampering a defendant’s ability to mount a credible defense. Judges’ control over witness lists and over the determination of the relevance of potential witnesses in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Defense attorneys complained that judges at times did not allow them to request the attendance at trial of defense witnesses. According to lawyers and domestic and international human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, the prosecution retained a dominant position in the criminal justice system.

Following the “velvet revolution,” many judges released from pretrial detention many suspects in politically sensitive cases. According to human rights groups, since no other circumstances had changed in their cases, this was an indication that, before the April/May events, judicial decisions to hold those suspects in detention, instead of on bail were politically motivated.

Defendants, prosecutors, and injured parties have the right to appeal a court verdict and often exercised it.

In an illustrative case spanning several years, criminal proceedings against Karen Kungurtsev, who some NGO groups believe is innocent, continued. On July 20, the Cassation Court sent the case back to the trial court and ordered Kungurtsev’s release on bail. In July 2017 the criminal court of appeal had reversed the 2015 acquittal of Kungurtsev on charges of attempted murder of Davit Hovakimyan, sentencing him to seven years in prison. The victim’s family and the Helsinki Association for Human Rights continued to support Kungurtsev’s claim of innocence, asserting that Hovakimyan’s real killer was the son of a NSS official who had used his position to influence police and prosecutors to pin the crime on Kungurtsev.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Following the post “velvet revolution” release of certain individuals considered by some local human rights NGOs to be political detainees, there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees in the country.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although citizens had access to courts to file lawsuits seeking damages for alleged human rights violations, the courts were widely perceived as corrupt. Citizens also had the option of challenging in Constitutional Court the constitutionality of laws and legal acts that violated their fundamental rights and freedoms. According to lawyers, lower courts did not adhere to precedents set by the Cassation Court, the ECHR, and the Constitutional Court. As a result, lower courts continued to carry out the same legal mistakes.

Citizens who exhaust domestic legal remedies may appeal to the ECHR cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government generally complied with ECHR awards of monetary compensation but did not meaningfully review the cases on which the ECHR had ruled. When ruling on a case to which a prior ECHR decision applied, courts often did not follow the applicable ECHR precedent.

Azerbaijan

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, judges did not function independently of the executive branch. The judiciary remained largely corrupt and inefficient. Many verdicts were legally insupportable and largely unrelated to the evidence presented during the trial. Outcomes frequently appeared predetermined. Courts often failed to investigate allegations of torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in police custody.

The Ministry of Justice controlled the Judicial Legal Council. The council appoints a judicial selection committee (six judges, a prosecutor, a lawyer, a council representative, a Ministry of Justice representative, and a legal scholar) that administers the judicial selection examination and oversees the long-term judicial training and selection process.

Credible reports indicated that judges and prosecutors took instruction from the presidential administration and the Ministry of Justice, particularly in cases of interest to international observers. There were credible allegations judges routinely accepted bribes.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law requires public trials except in cases involving state, commercial, or professional secrets or confidential, personal, or family matters. The law mandates the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. It also mandates the right of defendants to be informed promptly of charges; to a fair, timely, and public trial (although trials can be closed in some situations, for example, cases related to national security); to be present at the trial; to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay); to provide adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; to confront witnesses and present witnesses’ evidence at trial; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Both defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal. Authorities did not respect these provisions in many cases that were widely considered to be politically motivated.

Judges at times failed to read verdicts publicly or explain their decisions, leaving defendants without knowledge of the reasoning behind the judgment. Judges also limited the defendant’s right to speak. For example, in the third appeal ruling of Ilgar Mammadov, the judge did not explain the court’s rationale for releasing him on August 13 with two years’ probation when he had only 18 months of his sentence remaining.

Authorities sometimes limited independent observation of trials by having plainclothes police and others occupy courtroom seats and, in some cases, by refusing entry to observers. For example, the Baku Grave Crimes Court allowed only restricted access to the hearings of activist Orkhan Bakhishli. Information regarding trial times and locations was generally available, but in some political cases, hearings were canceled at the last minute and rescheduled with limited notice.

Although the constitution prescribes equal status for prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges often favored prosecutors when assessing motions, oral statements, and evidence submitted by defense counsel, without regard to the merits of their respective arguments. Judges also reserved the right to remove defense lawyers in civil cases for “good cause.” In criminal proceedings judges may remove defense lawyers because of a conflict of interest or if a defendant requests a change of counsel.

The law limits representation in criminal cases to members of the country’s progovernment Collegium (bar association). The number of defense lawyers willing and able to accept politically sensitive cases continued to shrink due to various measures taken by authorities, including by the collegium’s presidium, its managing body. Such measures–which included disciplinary proceedings resulting in censure and sometimes disbarment–intensified during 2017-18. For example, on June 11, the collegium voted to expel lawyer Irada Javadova after she voted against disbarring human rights attorney Yalchin Imanov in 2017. The collegium suspended human rights lawyers Fakhraddin Mehdiyev on January 22, Asabali Mustafayev and Nemat Karimli on April 23 for one year, and Agil Layij for six months on October 30. The collegium officially reprimanded lawyer Fuad Aghayev on July 10.

Other punitive tools employed by authorities against lawyers included correctional labor and financial penalties. For example, on November 23, the Binagadi district court fined and sentenced lawyer and human rights defender Aslan Ismayilov to one year of corrective labor for hooliganism after he allegedly slammed a door in the courtroom. Ismayilov was fined and sentenced to one and a half years corrective labor by the Sabayil district court for alleged criminal slander in a separate case July 31. Ismayilov stated the sentences were meant to punish him for his investigations of government corruption in the health sector.

Some activists estimated the number of remaining lawyers willing to take politically sensitive cases to be as low as four or five. The majority of the country’s human rights defense lawyers were based in Baku, which made it difficult for individuals living outside of Baku to receive timely and quality legal service.

Amendments to the law on legal representation came into force on February 5. The law previously permitted nonbar lawyers to represent clients in civil and administrative proceedings. Under the amended law, however, only members of the bar association are able to represent citizens in any legal process. Representatives of the legal community and NGOs criticized the amended law, asserting it had reduced citizens’ access to legal representation and further empowered the bar association to prevent human rights lawyers from representing individuals in politically motivated cases by limiting the number of human rights lawyers who are bar members in good standing.

During the year the collegium held examinations for lawyer-candidates and increased its membership from 900 to 1,500. Human rights defenders asserted new members were hesitant to work on human rights-related cases for fear they would be sanctioned by the collegium. Some activists and lawyer-candidates stated the examination process was biased and that examiners failed candidates who had previously been active in civil society on various pretexts.

The constitution prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence. Despite some defendants’ claims that police and other authorities obtained testimony through torture or abuse, human rights monitors reported courts did not investigate allegations of abuse, and there was no independent forensic investigator to substantiate assertions of abuse.

Investigations often focused on obtaining confessions rather than gathering physical evidence against suspects. Serious crimes brought before the courts most often ended in conviction, since judges generally sought only a minimal level of proof and collaborated closely with prosecutors.

With the exception of the Baku Court of Grave Crimes, human rights advocates also reported courts often failed to provide interpreters despite the constitutional right of an accused person to interpretation. Courts are entitled to contract interpreters during hearings, with expenses covered by the state budget.

There were no verbatim transcripts of judicial proceedings. Although some of the newer courts in Baku made audio recordings of some proceedings, courts generally did not record most court testimonies, oral arguments, and judicial decisions. Instead, the court recording officer generally decided the content of notes, which tended to be sparse.

The country has a military court system with civilian judges. The Military Court retains original jurisdiction over any case related to war or military service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Political prisoners and detainees are entitled to the same rights as other prisoners, although restrictions on them varied. According to OC Media, political prisoners faced special prohibitions on reading and communication with their families. Authorities provided international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners and detainees.

In addition to the presidential pardon on March 24, on April 5, the Supreme Court conditionally released journalist Aziz Orujov, who was convicted in December 2017 for illegal entrepreneurship and abuse of office. On August 13, the Sheki Court of Appeals conditionally released the chairman of the opposition Republican Alternative Party, Ilgar Mammadov. Mammadov had been incarcerated since 2013 despite rulings by the ECHR in 2014 and 2017 that his initial detention was illegal and that he had been denied a fair trial. On October 31, Ilgar Mammadov submitted a cassation appeal requesting full acquittal.

Nongovernmental estimates of political prisoners and detainees ranged from 128 to 156 at year’s end. According to human rights organizations, dozens of government critics remained incarcerated for politically motivated reasons as of November 23. The following individuals were among those widely considered political prisoners or detainees (also see sections 1.c., 1.d., 1.f., 2.a., 3, and 4).

On January 12, the Balakan District Court sentenced Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli to a six year prison term. Authorities reportedly abducted Mukhtarli in Georgia on May 30 and subsequently arrested him in Azerbaijan on smuggling and related charges, which were widely considered politically motivated. On April 24, the Sheki Court of Appeals upheld the verdict. On September 18, the Supreme Court rejected Mukhtarli’s appeal of the verdict.

On January 23, the Gazakh District Court sentenced deputy chairperson of the opposition Popular Front Party Gozel Bayramli to three years imprisonment on charges of attempted smuggling of currency across the border. Human rights defenders stated the case was politically motivated and that authorities punished Bayramli for her role in organizing authorized political demonstrations. On April 20, the Ganja Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.

On May 5, the Shirvan Criminal Court sentenced the leader of the local branch of the opposition Musavat Party, Alikram Khurshudov, to five years in prison on charges of hooliganism. On August 31, the Shirvan Court of Appeal reduced his sentence to four and half years. Human right defenders asserted the charges were politically motivated.

On March 1, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Bagirzada, his deputy, Abbas Huseynov, and 16 other persons. The court also rejected the appeal of Fuad Gahramanli, one of three deputy chairs of the secular opposition Popular Front Party, on March 1. In January 2017 the Baku Grave Crimes Court had sentenced Bagirzada and Huseynov to 20 years in prison. Sixteen other persons associated with the case received prison terms ranging from 14 years and six months to 19 years on charges including terrorism, murder, calling for the overthrow of the government, and inciting religious hatred. In a related case Gahramanli was sentenced to 10 years in prison in January 2017. Human rights defenders asserted the government falsified and fabricated the charges to halt the spread of political opposition in the country. In July 2017 the Baku Court of Appeal upheld the verdicts.

On June 25, the Supreme Court rejected the second appeal of prominent blogger and IRFS chairman Mehman Huseynov. In March 2017 a Baku court convicted him and sentenced him to two years in prison for alleged defamation. On August 24, a Baku Court rejected Mehman Huseynov’s request for early release. On October 17, Baku Court of Appeals upheld this verdict.

On March 6, The Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Fuad Ahmadli. In June 2017 the Baku Grave Crimes Court sentenced Ahmadli, a member of the Youth Committee of the Popular Front Party, to four years’ imprisonment for alleged abuse of office and purportedly illegally accessing private information at the mobile operator where he worked. The Baku Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in August 2017. Human rights defenders stated he was punished for participating in protest actions and for criticizing the government on social media.

Other individuals considered by activists to be political detainees included Popular Front Party members Vidadi Rustamli, Agil Maharramov, Ruslan Nasirli, Babek Hasanov, party supporter Saleh Rustamov, and exiled Musavat Party activist Azad Hasanov.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens have the right to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. All citizens have the right to appeal to the ECHR within six months of exhausting all domestic legal options, including an appeal to and ruling by the Supreme Court.

Citizens exercised the right to appeal local court rulings to the ECHR and brought claims of government violations of commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights. The government’s compliance with ECHR decisions was mixed; activists stated the government generally paid compensation but failed to release prisoners in response to ECHR decisions.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

NGOs reported authorities did not respect the laws governing eminent domain and expropriation of property. Homeowners often reported receiving compensation well below market value for expropriated property and had little legal recourse. NGOs also reported many citizens did not trust the court system and were, therefore, reluctant to pursue compensation claims.

Bahrain

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, political opposition figures reported the judiciary remained vulnerable to political pressures, especially in high-profile cases. The judiciary has two branches: the civil law courts deal with all commercial, civil, and criminal cases, including family issues of non-Muslims, and the family law courts handle personal status cases of Muslims. The government subdivided the family courts into Sunni and Shia sharia-based courts. Many of the country’s approximately 160 judges were foreign judges serving on limited-term contracts (which are subject to government approval for renewal and residence in the country). The Supreme Judicial Council reported working with the Judicial Legal Studies Institute to prepare on average 10 new Bahraini judges per year, in an effort to increase their number. The Supreme Judicial Council is responsible for supervising the work of the courts, including judges, and the PPO.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. By law authorities should inform detainees of the charges against them upon arrest. Civil and criminal trial procedures provide for a public trial. A panel of three judges makes the rulings. Defendants have the right to consultation with an attorney of their choice within 48 hours (unless the government charges them pursuant to counterterrorism legislation); however, there were reports that defendants and their lawyers had difficulty getting police, public prosecutor, and courts to recognize or register representation by an attorney. The government provides counsel at public expense to indigent defendants. On July 24, the Supreme Judicial Council released a memorandum directing plaintiffs to provide their own interpreters, except in labor dispute cases when the Ministry of Justice may provide assistance.

Defendants have the right to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. While defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, the judges may declare the questions to be irrelevant and prohibit a line of questioning without providing reasoning. Prosecutors rarely present evidence orally in court but provide it in written and digital formats to judges in their chambers. In criminal trials prosecutors and judges walk into the courtroom together. Defendants are not compelled to testify or to confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The government frequently tries defendants in their absence.

Family status law varied according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, especially for women (see section 6). In July 2017 King Hamad ratified a new Unified Family Law, which for the first time included a civil code for Shia family law. According to supporters of the law, the new civil code provides for the protection of Shia, in particular Shia women, from the imposition of arbitrary decisions by unregulated clerics. Between August 2017 and July, the new family courts heard 4,814 cases including courts of first instance and appeals. Women’s rights groups reported the family courts granted divorces more quickly and judicial decisions had adhered to the new civil code.

In April 2017 King Hamad ratified a constitutional amendment that grants military courts the right to try civilians accused of threatening the security of the state. Government media reported the government approved the amendment to better fight terrorist cells, while activists claimed the change would jeopardize fair trial standards. In May 2017 the PPO referred the case of Fadhel Sayed Abbas Hasan, charged with terrorist attacks and the attempted killing of the Bahraini Defense Force commander in chief, to military courts. In December 2017 the High Military Court convicted Hasan and several codefendants, and sentenced four of them to death. Seven other convicted codefendants were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment; others were acquitted. On February 21, the Military Court of Appeal upheld the four death sentences, and on April 25, the Military Court of Cassation rejected their appeal. The king commuted the death sentences to life in prison the following day.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to human rights organizations, the government continued to imprison members of the opposition, along with scores of others detained for what these organizations assert is peaceful political activity. The government denied holding any political prisoners, although it acknowledged holding several dozen high-profile individuals, including leaders or prominent members of formerly legal, now banned political societies and organizations and others who were publicly critical of government institutions or government actions prior to their arrests. Authorities held some high-profile prisoners separately from the general prison population.

A number of jailed political activists, among them 70-year-old Hassan Mushaima, complained of poor treatment while in detention. Mushaima’s family claimed prison officials did not allow him access to medicines needed for a number of chronic diseases and to keep his cancer in remission. Mushaima also complained that prison officials had refused to take him to medical appointments since 2016 for these conditions because he refused to wear handcuffs. On August 1, in protest of his father’s treatment, his son Ali, convicted in absentia in the same trial as his father, began a hunger strike in the United Kingdom outside the Bahraini embassy. On September 5, the ombudsman interviewed Hassan Mushaima, who confirmed his refusal to comply with the policy of being handcuffed for appointments. The ombudsman recommended a waiver for Mushaima due to his age and health status, and officials complied.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may submit civil suits before a court seeking cessation of or damages for some types of human rights violations. In many such situations, however, the law prevents citizens from filing civil suits against security agencies.

A decree that establishes alternative penalties and measures to reduce the number of inmates in detention centers and prisons went into effect in July 2017. The alternative measures are available when a person has no previous criminal history, is a minor, or is charged with minor legal infractions. The government reported using the alternative penalty mechanism for 50 convicts during the year, although legal professionals estimated the number to be higher. The law on minors prohibits the imposition of prison terms on children, defined as younger than 15.

Barbados

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides that persons charged with criminal offenses receive a timely, fair, and public hearing by an independent, impartial court and a trial by jury. The government generally respected these rights, although prosecutors expressed concerns about increasing pretrial delays. Civil society representatives reported that wait times could be as long as five or six years before trial. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. The government provided free legal aid to the indigent in family matters (excluding divorce), child support cases, serious criminal cases such as rape or murder, and all cases involving minors. The constitution prescribes that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. These timelines may be set by the court on arraignment. Defendants may confront and question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, have the right of appeal, and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Magistrates’ courts have civil and criminal jurisdiction, but the civil judicial system experienced heavy backlogs. Citizens primarily sought redress for human rights or other abuses through the civil court system, although human rights cases were sometimes decided in the criminal court. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

Belarus

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Observers believed corruption, inefficiency, and political interference with judicial decisions were widespread. Courts convicted individuals on false and politically motivated charges brought by prosecutors, and observers believed that senior government leaders and local authorities dictated the outcomes of trials.

As in previous years, according to human rights groups, prosecutors wielded excessive and imbalanced authority because they may extend detention periods without the permission of judges. Defense lawyers were unable to examine investigation files, be present during investigations and interrogations, or examine evidence against defendants until a prosecutor formally brought the case to court. Lawyers found it difficult to challenge some evidence because the Prosecutor’s Office controlled all technical expertise. According to many defense attorneys, this power imbalance persisted throughout the year, especially in politically motivated criminal and administrative cases. Courts did not exonerate criminal defendants except in rare circumstances.

By law, bar associations are independent, and licensed lawyers are permitted to establish private practices or bureaus. All lawyers must be licensed by the Ministry of Justice and must renew their licenses every five years.

No repressive or retaliatory measures against lawyers were reported during the year. In September 2017 a Ministry of Justice standing commission, which reviews lawyers’ performance, found that prominent independent lawyer Ana Bakhtsina had “insufficient professional skills” to be a defense lawyer. Bakhtsina appealed the commission’s decision revoking her license but her appeal was dismissed. Additionally, at least seven more defense lawyers were ordered to retake their bar exams within six months following the ministry’s determination that their professional skills were “partially insufficient.”

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but authorities occasionally disregarded this right.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, the lack of judicial independence, state media practice of reporting on high-profile cases as if guilt were already certain, and widespread limits on defense rights frequently placed the burden of proving innocence on the defendant.

The law also provides for public trials, but authorities occasionally held closed trials in judges’ chambers. Judges adjudicate all trials. For the most serious cases, two civilian advisers assist the judge.

The law provides defendants the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect these rights.

The law provides for access to legal counsel for the defendant and requires courts to appoint a lawyer for those who cannot afford one. Although by law defendants may ask for their trials to be conducted in Belarusian, most judges and prosecutors were not fluent in this language, rejected motions for interpreters, and proceeded in Russian. Interpreters are provided when the defendant speaks neither Belarusian nor Russian. The law provides for the right to choose legal representation freely; however, a presidential decree prohibits NGO members who are lawyers from representing individuals other than members of their organizations in court. The government’s past attempts to disbar attorneys who represented political opponents of the regime further limited defendants’ choice of counsel. The government also required defense attorneys to sign nondisclosure statements that limited their ability to release any information regarding the case to the public, media, and even defendants’ family members.

Courts often allowed statements obtained by force and threats of bodily harm during interrogations to be used against defendants. Some defendants were tried in absentia.

Defendants have the right to appeal convictions, and most defendants did so. Nevertheless, appeals courts upheld the verdicts of the lower courts in the vast majority of cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Local human rights organizations reported several different lists of political prisoners in the country. Leading local human rights groups, including Vyasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), recognized two individuals as prisoners of conscience.

Dzmitry Palienka, an opposition and anarchist movement activist who participated in the “Critical Mass” bicycle ride of April 2016, was sentenced to a two-year suspended term for using violence against a traffic police officer during his detention and for distributing pornographic images on social media in October 2016. He was rearrested and had the suspension of his sentence revoked in April 2017, allegedly for participating in unauthorized mass events. On a judge’s order, he spent 18 months and 13 days (the remainder of the two-year sentence) in prison and was released in October. Local human rights advocates called for his unconditional and immediate release, pointing to the peaceful nature of the “Critical Mass” ride and all subsequent protest events in which Palienka participated.

Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, cofounder of the now-defunct prison monitoring NGO Platforma, continued to serve a six and a half year sentence. He was convicted in 2015 in a closed-door session for deliberately disclosing classified information, illegally acquiring or making equipment for obtaining classified information, and offering a bribe to an official.

Former political prisoners released in August 2015 continued to be unable to exercise some civil and political rights at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides that individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation, but the civil judiciary was not independent and was rarely impartial in such matters.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

There are no laws providing for restitution or compensation for immovable private property confiscated during World War II and the Holocaust. The country also has no legislative regime for restitution of communal property or of heirless property. The government reported that, in the last 10 years, it did not receive any requests or claims from individuals, NGOs, or any other public organization, either Jewish or foreign, seeking compensation or restitution of any property.

Bolivia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary remained overburdened, vulnerable to undue influence by the executive and legislative branches, and plagued with allegations of corruption. Authorities generally respected court orders, but on several occasions they pressured judges to change verdicts. Judges and prosecutors sometimes practiced self-censorship when issuing rulings to avoid becoming the target of verbal and legal harassment by the government.

Physician Jhiery Fernandez was detained and imprisoned in December 2014 for the alleged rape and death of “baby Alexander,” who died in November 2014 while at the hospital where Fernandez was on duty. On March 27, after nearly four years of preventive detention, during which he suffered from what local NGOs characterized as “biological torture” that included sensory deprivation and solitary confinement, a court sentenced Fernandez to 20 years in prison for rape, homicide, and failure to perform medical duties. The president of the court, Patricia Pacajes, admitted in secretly recorded audio, however, she had known Fernandez was innocent. Nevertheless, she convicted him to cover up a mistake made by the forensic doctor, Angela Mora. According to her own account, Pacajes knew the baby was never a victim of rape and that an incorrect autopsy was made public due to a forensic diagnostic error. After the president of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights and other human rights groups called for an investigation of the case, the president of the Council of Magistrates, Gonzalo Alcon, stated there were indications of criminal responsibility against Pacajes. On September 24, Pacajes was dismissed from her duties as a judge, and on October 29, the Court of Anticorruption and Violence ordered that Pacajes be held in prison under preventive detention for discussing the Fernandez case with friends, which the court qualified as a breach of duty. On October 10, Fernandez was released from prison and placed under house arrest. On November 16, a sentencing court granted Fernandez “pure and simple liberty,” meaning his movement was not restricted and he was no longer under arrest. The court simultaneously stated the judges and prosecutors involved in the case were corrupt, but authorities had not announced official judicial punishment for their actions. Fernandez was to undergo a process to have the initial sentence annulled.

The judiciary faced a myriad of administrative and budgetary challenges. NGOs asserted the amount of funds budgeted for the judiciary was insufficient to guarantee equal and efficient justice and that underfunding overburdened public prosecutors had led to serious judicial backlogs. As a result, justice officials were vulnerable to bribery and corruption, according to credible observers, including legal experts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Defendants are entitled to be informed of charges promptly and in detail and to a presumption of innocence and trial by a panel of judges. They have the right to avoid self-incrimination and to consult an attorney of their choice, receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and confront adverse witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, and file an appeal. Defendants who cannot afford an attorney have the right to a public defender or private attorney at public expense.

Corruption, influence by other branches of government, and insufficient judicial coverage undermined these constitutional rights. Free translation and interpretation services are required by law. Officials did not always comply with the law.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

Cameroon

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law ostensibly provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is under and often controlled by the president and, by proxy, the ruling party.  Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes, often due to political motivations, or caused trial delays to settle personal scores.  Authorities generally enforced court orders.

Musa Usman Ndamba, the national vice president of the Mbororo Social and

Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), was prosecuted for

“propagation of false information” and “false oath,” although he submitted strong evidence that he was not associated with the offense.  He continued to suffer judicial harassment by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a businessman and member of the central committee of the ruling CPDM, who pressured the court to continue to hear the case after various instances in which it had been dismissed.  On May 11, the Court of First Instance in Bamenda sentenced Usman Ndamba to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850) after more than 60 hearings that began in 2013.  Human rights defenders believed Danpullo used the judicial system to discourage Usman Ndamba from defending the rights of the minority Mbororo community of nomadic cattle herders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.  The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which in turn is under the president.  The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary.  The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence.  He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council.  While judges hearing a case are technically to be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice or to the minister in charge of military justice.  With approval from the minister of justice, the Special Criminal Court may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he is accused of having embezzled, which essentially renders the act of corruption free of sanctions.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians for offenses including the following:  offenses committed by civilians in military establishments; offenses relating to acts of terrorism and other threats to the security of the state, including piracy; unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and oil platforms; offenses relating to the purchase, importation, sale, production, distribution, or possession of military effects or insignia as defined by regulations in force; cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence; and crimes committed with firearms, including gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law.  Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter.  Many pretrial suspects were treated as if they were already convicted, frequently held in the same quarters as convicted criminals, and denied visits.  Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or Anglophone separatists.  When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint counsel at the public’s expense; however, the process was often burdensome and lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor.  Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.  Defendants may appeal convictions.  In at least one case, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses and evidence to support his case.

In August the High Court for Mfoundi in Yaounde allegedly released a person suspected of trafficking in persons who had been in pretrial detention since 2016.  The victim, Lilian Mbeng Ebangha, returned from Kuwait in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against her alleged trafficker, a pastor of Shiloh Liberation Ministries International.  After preliminary investigations the case was sent to trial in 2016 and thereafter had more than 20 adjournments.  Each time a hearing was scheduled in Yaounde, Ebangha travelled from Douala to attend.  The alleged offender was released in August or September, but it was unconfirmed whether there was a court decision on the matter.  The victim stated that her trafficker had called her to inform her of his release.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of newly identified political prisoners or detainees, and no statistics were available on the number of political prisoners.  Previously reported political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities.

Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities and at the principal prisons in Yaounde.  The government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention.  In May 2016 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years.  In June 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered.  The United Nations noted there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options, however, involved lengthy delays.  Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.  There were no reports that the government had failed to comply with civil case court decisions pertaining to human rights.  A number of labor rights-related cases involving government entities were ongoing as of the end of August.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government continued to compensate relocated families over the past few years in connection with infrastructure projects, including the Kribi Sea Port and the Yaounde-Douala highway projects.  There were no reported developments in the cases of corrupt officials who had misappropriated money the government had earmarked for compensation previously.  There was no report of intentional targeting of particular groups for discriminatory treatment.

Costa Rica

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

All defendants have the right to the presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, and to trial without undue delay. All trials, except those that include juvenile defendants, are public. Trials that involve victims or witnesses who are minors are closed during the portion of the trial in which the minor is called to testify. Defendants have the right to be present during trial and communicate with an attorney of choice in a timely manner or to have one provided at public expense. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants, if convicted, have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

Cote d’Ivoire

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government did not respect judicial independence. The judiciary was inadequately resourced and inefficient. The continued lack of civilian indictments against pro-Ouattara elements for crimes during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis indicated the judiciary was subject to political and executive influence. There were also numerous reports of judicial corruption, and bribes often influenced rulings. By early December no magistrate or clerk had been disciplined or dismissed for corruption. On the other hand, magistrates who advocated independence or acted in a manner consistent with judicial independence were sometimes disciplined. For example, in July, two magistrates were dismissed from their jobs after they spoke out about the importance of independence in the judiciary, ethics, and “victor’s justice.” They fled the country following harassment by security forces.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), the government did not always respect this requirement. In the past assize courts (special courts convened as needed to try criminal cases involving major crimes) rarely convened. Starting in 2015, however, they convened for one session per year in several cities to hear a backlog of cases. Defendants accused of felonies have the right to legal counsel at their own expense. Other defendants may also seek legal counsel. The judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys, although only limited free legal assistance was available; the government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may present their own witnesses or evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports such abuse sometimes occurred. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try defendants in their absence. Those convicted had access to appeals courts in Abidjan, Bouake, and Daloa, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts.

Military tribunals did not try civilians or provide the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Although there are no appellate courts within the military court system, persons convicted by a military tribunal may petition the Supreme Court to order a retrial.

The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Dispute resolution was by extended debate. There were no reported instances of physical punishment. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government denied that there were political prisoners, although President Ouattara recognized in August there were prisoners indicted for “offenses connected to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis,” a statement widely interpreted as recognition that political prisoners existed. In 2017 an Abidjan jury found Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, not guilty of crimes against humanity stemming from the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. She had been in custody since 2011. Although Simone Gbagbo was released from prison under the August amnesty, it was unclear who or how many other persons were released.

In March authorities arrested 18 supporters of an opposition alliance and detained them at Abidjan’s main prison.

In July a prominent imam was arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges after criticizing the president for lack of progress in helping the poor and advocating for Muslim schools. Authorities released him after several weeks.

Some political parties and local human rights groups claimed members of former president Gbagbo’s opposition party FPI, detained on charges including economic crimes, armed robbery, looting, and embezzlement, were political prisoners, especially when charged for actions committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. A government-created platform to discuss detainees and other issues concerning the opposition did not meet during the year.

Authorities granted political prisoners the same protections as other prisoners, including access by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the judiciary was subject to corruption, outside influence, and favoritism based on family and ethnic ties. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. The judiciary was slow and inefficient, and there were problems in enforcing domestic court orders.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In May local police destroyed homes, forcibly evicting a number of persons from a gentrifying neighborhood in Abidjan. Because residents had been informed by official notice that they had until July to move, most residents, including children and the elderly, were unprepared and without alternative lodging during the rainy season. The demolition disrupted the students’ exams and hindered the possibility for some to advance to the next grade.

In July, one person was killed and several others injured as police clashed with youths after more than 20,000 persons were evicted from their homes in an Abidjan neighborhood local authorities believed to be unsafe and illegally occupied, according to news reports. Human rights groups reported that due process was not followed.

Dominican Republic

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Improper influence on judicial decisions was widespread. Interference ranged from selective prosecution to dismissal of cases amid allegations of bribery or undue political pressure. The judiciary routinely dismissed high-level corruption cases. Corruption of the judiciary was also a serious problem. The National Office of Public Defense reported the most frequent form of interference with judicial orders occurred when authorities refused to abide by writs of habeas corpus to free detainees.

The Office of the Inspector of Tribunals, which disciplines judges and handles complaints of negligence, misconduct, and corruption, increased its technical training beginning in 2016, and as a result it opened more investigations. As of September the office had completed more than 700 inspections and investigations, more than triple the number completed in 2015. In April the Judicial Council approved revised, more stringent disciplinary regulations for judges. In June judicial authorities stated that in the past two years seven judges had been suspended, 10 demoted, and 15 expelled. Authorities also reprimanded or suspended 92 administrators, expelled 117, and were pursuing another 254 cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a defense in a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The District Attorney’s Office is required to notify the defendant and attorney of criminal charges. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, the right to confront or question witnesses, and the right against self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and the indigent have a right to a public defender. Defendants have the right to present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for free interpretation as necessary. The constitution also provides for the right to appeal and prohibits higher courts from increasing the sentences of lower courts. The courts frequently exceeded the period of time provided by the criminal procedures code when assigning hearing dates.

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

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

Ecuador

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, outside pressure and corruption impaired the judicial process. Legal experts, bar associations, and NGOs reported on the susceptibility of the judiciary to bribes for favorable decisions and faster resolution of legal cases. In April the independent Transition Council on Citizen Participation and Social Control (T-CPCCS) began its evaluation of judicial entities, as mandated by a February 4 national referendum. On June 4 and August 31, respectively, the T-CPCCS announced a unanimous decision to remove the leading members of the Judicial Council and Constitutional Court from their positions for failing to carry out their duties and responsibilities. The T-CPCCS cited examples of the arbitrary appointment and removal of judges based on political criteria.

On September 30, media reported 222 individuals had been found guilty of charges stemming from their involvement in the 2010 protest, known as 30-S, against austerity measures imposed by former president Correa’s government. Seventy-four investigations of law enforcement and military officers continued. On February 20, law enforcement and military officers previously indicted for participating in 30-S demanded an investigation into former government and intelligence officials whom they accused of manipulating and altering evidence during their trial preparation. This request followed public statements made by the former comptroller, General Carlos Polit, that officials had contracted “services” to alter evidence in the 30-S investigations. The families of the five persons killed during 30-S (two police officers, two military members, and a university student) continued to demand the government provide them full access to information and conduct a transparent investigation.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although delays occurred frequently. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges in detail. The accused have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided and to appeal. Defendants have the right to free assistance from an interpreter, but some defendants complained about the lack of an interpreter at court hearings. Defendants have the right to adequate time and resources to prepare their defense, although in practice this was not always the case, and delays in providing translation services made this difficult for some foreign defendants. Foreigners also often faced a language barrier with their public defenders, which impaired their ability to present a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. The accused may also present evidence and call witnesses, invoke the right against self-incrimination, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.

Judges reportedly rendered decisions more quickly or more slowly due to political pressure or fear in some cases. There were reported delays of up to one year in scheduling some trials.

Criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing congested dockets in criminal cases produced “simplified” proceedings in pretrial stages, resulting in faster resolution of cases. Prisoners reported that after cases reached a higher court, they had lengthy delays in receiving dates for preliminary hearings.

The regular court system tried most defendants, although some indigenous groups judged members independently under their own community rules for violations that occurred in indigenous territory.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil courts and the Administrative Conflicts Tribunal, generally considered independent and impartial, handle lawsuits seeking damages for, or immediate ending of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically and to regional human rights bodies.

Egypt

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Individual courts sometimes appeared to lack impartiality and to arrive at outcomes that were politically motivated or without individual findings of guilt. The government generally respected court orders. Judicial and executive review is available to individuals sentenced to the death penalty.

Some trials involving hundreds of defendants continued, particularly in cases involving demonstrators sympathetic to former president Morsi and the MB in 2013 and 2014.

On April 28, the Court of Cassation upheld the death sentence against six defendants, sentenced three defendants to life, and 59 to 10 years in prison. It acquitted 47 defendants. The defendants faced charges in connection with the killing of a police officer and attempting to kill two other police officers in 2013. In August 2017 the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 24 persons to death, 12 of them in their absence, and a further 119 to life in prison, eight of them in their absence. It sentenced a further two defendants to 10 years in prison and acquitted the remaining 238 defendants.

On September 23, a court sentenced MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, along with 64 defendants out of 682 others, to life imprisonment in a retrial over charges of inciting violence in a 2013 case charged with attacking a police station and killing two police officers in Minya. Dozens of others tried in the same case received sentences ranging from two to 15 years, while authorities acquitted 463 others. On July 29, the Minya Criminal Court issued a death sentence to one defendant in the retrial. In 2015 the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial after the Minya Criminal Court issued provisional death sentences in 2014 to 683 defendants.

The law imposes penalties on individuals designated by a court as terrorists, even without criminal convictions. As of May authorities had added more than 2,800 persons to the national terrorists list. The effects of a designation include a travel ban, asset freeze, loss of political rights, and passport cancellation. HRW claimed designated individuals could not contest the designation, and authorities had not informed most individuals of their designation before the court decision; however, the decision may be appealed directly to the country’s highest appeals court. On July 4, the Court of Cassation overturned a ruling placing 1,538 people on a government terrorist list, many of whom were jailed members of the banned MB. The Court of Cassation returned the case to a lower court for reconsideration. On September 27, the Court of Cassation removed Badie and 35 other MB members from the official terrorist list.

The constitution states: “Civilians may not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that represent a direct assault against military facilities, military barracks, or whatever falls under their authority; stipulated military or border zones; military equipment, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, documents, military secrets, public funds or military factories; crimes related to conscription; or crimes that represent a direct assault against its officers or personnel because of the performance of their duties.”

Authorities used military courts to try civilians accused of threatening national security. Public access to information concerning military trials was limited. Military trials were difficult to monitor because media were usually subjected to restraint orders. Rights groups and lawyers stated defense attorneys in military trials had difficulty gaining access to their clients and to documentation related to the cases.

According to a 2016 HRW report, military courts had tried at least 7,400 civilians since the issuance of a 2014 decree ordering the military to “assist” police in securing “vital public facilities.” In an official statement responding to a HRW report, the government noted that, according to the constitution, the military judiciary adjudicates all crimes related to the armed forces, its officers and personnel, and what falls under the military’s jurisdiction.

Domestic and international human rights organizations criticized the executions between December 2017 and January 9 of 22 individuals previously convicted in military courts and raised concerns about lack of respect for fair trial assurances. In one instance authorities executed four individuals convicted in a military trial in 2016 of a deadly attack that killed three military college students and injured two. According to human rights organizations, the defendants were subjected to forced disappearance for more than 70 days. According to the defendants’ written testimony, most were tortured in prison.

On July 31, a military court sentenced poet Galal el Behairy to three years in prison on charges of publishing fake news and insulting the military. The charges stemmed from his anthology of poems The Best Women on Earth, whose title plays on a phrase used to describe the military.

On October 15, the Court of Cassation upheld three-year sentences for former president Morsi and 18 others for insulting the judiciary. On September 30, the Cairo Criminal Court ordered a retrial of MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and other senior figures in the MB, related to a 2015 case in which Badie and 13 others received life sentences “over violence between MB supporters and opponents near the group’s headquarters.” The retrial started October 15 and included additional charges of beating protesters, but the law allows modification of charges if new evidence arises. Some local and international rights groups questioned the impartiality of proceedings. According to press statements by Morsi’s family, authorities have only allowed them to visit him twice since his incarceration in 2013. They also stated he remained in solitary confinement and denied medical treatment for his diabetes, resulting in impaired vision in one eye, among other complications.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary often failed to uphold this right.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and authorities usually inform them promptly and in detail of charges against them. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials. Attendance is mandatory for individuals charged with felonies and optional for those charged with misdemeanors. Civilian criminal and misdemeanor trials usually are public. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney, and the government is responsible for providing counsel if the defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. The court assigns an interpreter. The law allows defendants to question witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The constitution provides for the right of an accused person to remain silent in his own trial. Defendants have the right of appeal up to the Court of Cassation. Judges must seek the nonbinding review of the grand mufti on all death sentences, and the president must confirm all such sentences.

The law permits individual members of the public to file charges with the prosecutor general, who is charged with deciding whether the evidence justifies referring the charges for a trial. Observers reported, however, that, due to unclear evidentiary standards, the Prosecutor General’s Office investigates and refers for trial the overwhelming majority of such cases, regardless of the strength of the evidence.

After a prime ministerial decree in October 2017, authorities have referred certain economic and security crimes, including violations of protest laws, to state security courts instead of the public prosecutor. State security courts may have two military judges appointed to sit alongside three civilian judges and verdicts of state security courts can only be appealed on points of law rather than the facts of the case as in a civilian court.

Military courts are not open to the public. Defendants in military courts nominally enjoyed the same fair trial assurances, but the military judiciary has wide discretion to curtail these rights in the name of public security. Military courts often tried defendants in a matter of hours, frequently in groups, and sometimes without access to an attorney, leading lawyers and NGOs to assert they did not meet basic standards of due process. Consequently, the quick rulings by military courts sometimes prevented defendants from exercising their rights. Defendants in military courts have the right to consult an attorney, but sometimes authorities denied them timely access to counsel. According to rights groups, authorities permitted defendants in military trials visits from their attorneys every six months, in contrast with the civilian court system, where authorities allowed defendants in detention attorney visits every 15 days.

The Military Judiciary Law governing the military court system grants defendants in the military court system the right to appeal up to the Supreme Military Court of Appeals. The president must certify sentences by military courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. The government claimed there were no political prisoners and that all persons in detention had been or were in the process of being charged with a crime. Human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned as many as several thousand persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs. One local rights organization estimated there were more than 2,000 political prisoners in Borg al-Arab Prison alone. A local rights group considered any persons arrested under the 2013 demonstrations law to be political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals had access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and filed such lawsuits during the year. Nonetheless, courts often dismissed cases or acquitted defendants for lack of evidence or conflicting witness testimonies. Individuals and organizations can appeal adverse domestic decisions to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Since the launching of Operation Sinai 2018 in February, the government has intensified its efforts to establish a buffer zone in North Sinai Governorate to interdict weapons smuggling and incursions to and from the Gaza Strip. The government also created a buffer zone around the Arish Airport, south of al-Arish.

Based on interviews and analysis of satellite imagery, human rights organizations reported the government destroyed approximately 3,600 homes and commercial buildings and hundreds of acres of farmland in North Sinai since January. In contrast to such reports, according to statements to media, the government stated it demolished 3,272 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings between mid-2013 and 2016. Although the government stated it would appropriately compensate all families whose homes it destroyed, rights groups stated that the security forces continued to evict residents of the buffer zone without adequate compensation for loss of property. Moreover, the government did not compensate residents for agricultural land. Human rights organizations, including HRW, reported that security forces punitively demolished the homes of suspected terrorists, dissidents and their families.

El Salvador

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence, and the judiciary was burdened by inefficiency and corruption.

While the government generally respected court orders, some agencies ignored or minimally complied with orders, or sought to influence ongoing investigations. When ordered by the Constitutional Court on June 19 to release military records related to the El Mozote killings and serious civil war crimes, the Ministry of Defense responded it had already done so while denying investigators access to archival facilities at military bases, citing national security concerns. As of July 31, the Legislative Assembly had not complied with a 2015 ruling that it issue regulations to clarify certain sections of the political parties law regarding campaign contributions.

In a February 26 press conference, Minister of Defense David Munguia Payes criticized the attorney general’s charges against three military officers after they were acquitted of obstruction of justice in a torture case. On February 27, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard released a statement calling on Payes to respect the independence of the judiciary and reiterating her support for the attorney general. Media experts called Munguia’s stagecraft menacing and reminiscent of civil war-era propaganda employed by the military junta.

While implemented to expedite fair trials, virtual trials still involved delays of up to eight months, according to a July 22 newspaper report. Virtual trials often involved group hearings before a judge, with defendants unable to consult with their defense lawyers in real time. The penitentiary code reforms passed in August allow defense lawyers to attend a hearing without the defendant’s presence. Human rights groups questioned the constitutionality of the reform.

As of July 31, the PDDH received 31 complaints of lack of a fair, public trial.

Corruption in the judicial system contributed to a high level of impunity, undermining the rule of law and the public’s respect for the judiciary. As of August 31, the Supreme Court heard 57 cases against judges due to irregularities, 52 of which remained under review; removed two judges; suspended nine others; and brought formal charges against eight judges. Accusations against judges included collusion with criminal elements and sexual harassment.

In 2016, in response to a petition by victims, a judge issued an order to reopen the investigation into the 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which an estimated 800 persons were killed. The PDDH concluded that the Attorney General’s Office lacked initiative in investigating civil war crimes, The PDDH also cited the Attorney General Office’s lack of cooperation from the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President (CAPRES). On August 16, a group of Argentine forensics specialists testified they recovered 282 pieces of evidence determined to be human remains, including 143 skulls, 136 of them belonging to children younger than 12 years old. They also recovered 245 bullet casings corresponding to the type used in automatic weapons used by the armed forces.

Women who were accused of intentionally terminating their pregnancies were charged with aggravated homicide, but a number asserted they had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths and other medical emergencies during childbirth. Legal experts pointed to serious flaws in the forensics collection and interpretation.

In December 2017 Teodora del Carmen Vasquez’ conviction on aggravated homicide charges was upheld by the same appeals judges who had earlier sentenced her to 30 years. The Supreme Court commuted her sentence on February 15, opining that the evidence and motive presented by the prosecution in the case was insufficient to support the charges.

During the first nine months of the year, the justice system released five women accused of aggravated homicide of their unborn or newborn children due to lack of evidence. Twenty-five other women remained in custody for infanticide.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although some trial court judges were subject to political and economic influence. By law juries hear only a narrow group of cases, such as environmental complaints. After the jury determines innocence or guilt, a panel of judges decides the sentence.

Defendants have the right to be present in court, question witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence. The constitution further provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges, the right to a trial without undue delay, protection from self-incrimination, the right to communicate with an attorney of choice, the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, freedom from coercion, the right to appeal, and government-provided legal counsel for the indigent.

According to press reports, plea deals occurred in approximately 20 percent of cases, with the accused turning state’s witness in order to prosecute others. Legal experts pointed to an overreliance on witness testimony in nearly all cases, as opposed to the use of forensics or other scientific evidence. The justice system lacked DNA analysis and other forensics capability. In criminal cases a judge may allow a private plaintiff to participate in trial proceedings (calling and cross-examining witnesses, providing evidence, etc.), assisting the prosecuting attorney in the trial procedure. Defendants have the right to free assistance of an interpreter. Authorities did not always respect these legal rights and protections. Although a jury’s verdict is final, a judge’s verdict is subject to appeal. Trials are public unless a judge seals a case.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

On May 25, the Constitutional Chamber declared unconstitutional Article 49 of the Civil Service Law, ruling that it violated the double jeopardy prohibition because previously established facts were taken as an essential element for a more serious administrative sanction.

Ethiopia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to political influence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Under the constitution accused persons have the right to a fair public trial without undue delay, a presumption of innocence, legal counsel of their choice, appeal, the right not to self-incriminate, the right to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The law requires translation services provided in a language defendants understand. The federal courts have staff working as interpreters for major local languages and are required to hire interpreters for defendants that speak other languages.

Detainees did not always enjoy all these rights, and as a result defense attorneys were sometimes unprepared to provide adequate defense. The courts did not always presume a defendant’s innocence, allow defendants to communicate with an attorney of their choice, provide timely public defense, or provide access to government-held evidence. Defendants were often unaware of the specific charges against them until the commencement of their trials. There were reports of authorities subjecting detainees to abuse while in detention to obtain information or confessions.

The federal Public Defender’s Office provided legal counsel to indigent defendants, but the scope and quality of service were inadequate due to a shortage of attorneys. A public defender often handles more than 100 cases and may represent multiple defendants in a single case. Numerous free legal aid clinics, primarily based at universities, provided legal services. In certain areas of the country, the law allows volunteers, such as law students and professors, to represent clients in court on a pro bono basis. There was no bar association or other standardized criminal defense representation.

The constitution recognizes both religious and traditional courts. Many citizens residing in rural areas had little access to formal judicial systems and relied on traditional mechanisms for resolving conflict. By law all parties to a dispute must agree to use a traditional or religious court before such a court may hear a case, and either party may appeal to a regular court at any time. Sharia (Islamic law) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims if both parties agree to use the sharia court before the formal legal process begins. Sharia courts received some funding from the government. These sharia courts adjudicated a majority of cases in the Somali and Afar Regions, which are predominantly Muslim. Other traditional systems of justice, such as councils of elders, functioned predominantly in rural areas. Some women felt they lacked access to free and fair hearings in the traditional court system because local custom excluded them from participation in councils of elders and due to persistent gender discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no high-profile political prisoners at year’s end, because the government dropped charges and/or granted pardons to more than ten thousand individuals charged and convicted with crimes of terrorism and corruption.

Authorities released Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) chairperson Merera Gudina on January 17, following a decision by the attorney general to discontinue the multiple criminal charges against him. In 2017 the attorney general brought multiple criminal charges against Merera and four others, including Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega and diaspora-based Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed.

In February the federal attorney general dropped pending charges against remaining members of the Zone 9 blogging group Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berhane, and Befekadu Hailu. In 2017 the Supreme Court downgraded the charges against the three bloggers from terrorism to criminal provocation of the public. Officials also released Bekele Gerba, OFC deputy chair, on February 13, after prosecutors dropped charges against him and his codefendants for leading protests against plans to expand the city of Addis Ababa.

On May 29, the attorney general withdrew charges against diaspora-based Ginbot 7 leader Berhanu Nega and Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed, as well as their respective media organizations Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio and Oromo Media Network.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides citizens the right to appeal in civil court, including in cases with human rights violations. For rights violations where a government agency is the accused perpetrator, the victim initiates the process by filing a complaint at the EHRC. Parliament created the EHRC in 2000, and it continued to fund and provide oversight over the commission. The EHRC investigates and makes recommendations to the concerned government agency. Citizens did not file any human rights violations under this system, primarily due to a lack of evidence and a lack of faith in their ability to secure an impartial verdict in these types of cases.

Fiji

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but its independence continued to be compromised. The president appoints or removes from office the judges of the Supreme Court, justices of appeal, and judges of the high court on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission in consultation with the attorney general. The commission, following consultations with the attorney general, may appoint magistrates, masters of the high court, the chief registrar, and other judicial officers. The constitution and law provide for a variety of restrictions on the jurisdiction of the courts. A 2012 amendment removed the courts’ jurisdiction to hear challenges to government decisions on judicial restructuring, terms and conditions of remuneration for the judiciary, and terminated court cases. Various other decrees contained similar clauses limiting the jurisdiction of the courts on decisions made by the cabinet, ministers, or government departments.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In most cases defendants have the right to a fair public trial, and the court system generally enforced this right.

Defendants generally have a presumption of innocence; they may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf and confront witnesses against them. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary through all appeals. Authorities also must accord them adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and be present at trial. In most cases defendants have the right to counsel, but many reportedly were unaware of their rights when detained or interviewed and, therefore, often did not ask for legal counsel. The Legal Aid Commission, supplemented by voluntary services of private attorneys, provided free counsel to some indigent defendants in criminal cases. The right of appeal exists, but procedural delays often hampered this right. The constitution allows for limitations on the right to public trial and provides for trials to “begin and conclude without unreasonable delay.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. In the event of a human rights violation, an individual may submit a complaint to the FHRADC, but the constitution prohibits the FHRADC from investigating cases filed by individuals and organizations relating to the 2006 coup and the 2009 abrogation of the 1997 constitution.

Gabon

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary demonstrated only partial independence and only in some cases. The judiciary was inefficient and remained susceptible to government influence. The president appoints and may dismiss judges through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to which the judiciary is accountable. Corruption was a problem.

To address military cases, each year the Office of the Presidency appoints a military court composed of selected magistrates and military members. A military court provides the same basic legal rights as a civilian court. Outside the formal judicial system, minor disputes may be referred to a local traditional chief, particularly in rural areas, but the government did not always recognize a traditional chief’s decision.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial and to legal counsel, and the judiciary generally respected these rights. Trial dates were often delayed.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges when booked at a police station, and authorities provided free interpretation as necessary, when staff members with the required language skills were available. A panel of three judges tries defendants, who enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of choice and to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals and have a right to be present at trial. Indigent defendants in both civil and criminal cases have the right to have an attorney provided at state expense, but the government often failed to provide attorneys because private attorneys refused to accept the terms of payment the government offered for such cases. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, present witnesses or evidence on their own behalf, and appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In August the president stated there were no political prisoners in the country. One civil society group, however, claimed there were seven individuals in prison it considered political prisoners. Of an estimated 60 protesters detained in August and September 2017, opposition leaders Frederic Massavala-Maboumba and Pascal Oyougou remained in pretrial detention.

In 2016 a former PDG deputy who joined the opposition was arrested without a warrant and charged with disturbing public order, failure to help a person in danger, instigation of violence, and illegal firearms possession. He had yet to be tried and remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations may seek relief in the civil court system, although this seldom occurred.

Georgia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, there remained indications of interference in judicial independence and impartiality. Judges were vulnerable to political pressure from within and outside of the judiciary.

The Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, Transparency International, and others continued to raise concerns over a lack of judicial independence. During the year, they highlighted problems including the strengthening of an influential group of judges primarily consisting of High Council of Justice members and court chairs, that allegedly stifled critical opinions within the judiciary and obstructed proposals to strengthen judicial independence; the impact of the High Council’s powers on the independence of individual judges; manipulation of the case distribution system; a lack of transparency in the High Council’s activities; and shortcomings in the High Council’s appointments of judges and court chairpersons.

The president, the public defender, the Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary, and the international community continued to highlight shortcomings in the 2017 legislative package informally known as the “third wave of judicial reform.” They pointed to problems in the laws’ implementation and highlighted challenges to judicial independence, including flawed processes for selecting judges at all court levels, many to lifetime appointments, which left the judiciary vulnerable to political influence.

In May Chief Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze resigned over allegations that his office improperly influenced the investigation of the Khorava Street murders (see section 1.d.). Civil society groups widely criticized Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani for nominating a new chief prosecutor in advance of the adoption of new constitutional rules designed to ensure impartiality in appointment of the chief prosecutor. The new constitution empowers a new 15-member Prosecutor’s Council, rather than the justice minister, to nominate the chief prosecutor.

In August Supreme Court Chief Justice and Chair of the High Council of Justice Nino Gvenetadze resigned. Civil society and opposition politicians widely believed she stepped down due to political pressure. Civil society organizations urged then-President Margvelashvili to nominate a new chief justice; the president declined to do so, saying he had “failed to achieve broad public consensus” over a candidate.

On December 24, the High Council of Justice (HCOJ) nominated 10 controversial candidates to the Supreme Court. Civil society, opposition, and some ruling party members accused the nominees, all of whom were alleged to be a part of, or closely affiliated with, the influential group of judges that civil society referred to as a “clan.” They also criticized the lack of a transparent nomination procedure or clear criteria for nominees. The non-transparent nature of the nominations immediately became a divisive issue within Parliament and, on December 27, the Chair of the Parliamentary Legal Issues Committee, a Georgian Dream member of parliament (MP), resigned in protest. That evening, the HCOJ granted a lifetime lower court appointment to Levan Murusidze, who had been accused of corruption. This prompted a major outcry, and several NGOs released a statement blaming Georgian Dream for not having the will to reform the judiciary. On December 28, Parliamentary Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze agreed that criteria for selecting judges had to be modified and, as of year’s end, the debate continued in Parliament.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. The Public Defender reported numerous violations of the right to a fair trial, and NGOs noted this right was not enforced in some high profile, politically sensitive cases. NGOs reported courts were inconsistent in their approaches to closing hearings to the public and at times did not provide an explanation for holding a closed hearing.

Defendants are presumed innocent and must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have a right to be present at their trial and to have a public trial except where national security, privacy, or protection of a juvenile is involved.

In August, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Giorgi Mamaladze, who had been convicted in 2017 of “preparing for premeditated murder.” The Tbilisi Appeals Court had already upheld the original conviction in February. The PDO and NGOs consistently raised concerns that the investigation and court proceedings deprived the defendant of a fair trial.

The law allows for trial in absentia in certain cases where the defendant has left the country. The code on administrative offenses does not provide the necessary due process provisions including the presumption of innocence, especially when dealing with violations that can result in a defendant’s deprivation of liberty.

The law does not prescribe a maximum period for investigation of cases but stipulates a maximum period for trial if a suspect is arrested. The criminal procedure code requires trial courts to issue a verdict within 24 months of completing a pretrial hearing.

GYLA noted that unreasonable delays in cases and court hearings were a serious factor in limiting the right to timely justice. The requirement of a continuous trial was met only in jury trial cases. In bench trials with defendants not in custody, trials were scheduled with intervals as long as one month. GYLA also reported that judges were unable to maintain order in many cases. The Public Defender’s Office highlighted weak reasoning in court judgments.

Examples of delayed proceedings included the related cases of Temur Barabadze and founding Millennium Challenge Fund Georgia Chief Executive Officer Lasha Shanidze and his father Shalva. According to court documents, Barabadze was forced to testify against the Shanidzes under duress in 2009, but subsequently recanted his testimony. Pending for more than seven years, court hearings in Barabadze’s case began in spring 2017. Completion of judicial review of the Shanidzes’ 2011 embezzlement convictions based on Barabadze’s coerced testimony continued to await resolution of Barabadze’s case. In June Barabadze’s case was separated from the Shanidzes’ case, and the trial court acquitted him. The Prosecutor’s Office appealed the trial court’s decision, however, and the trial remained underway as of year’s end.

Defendants have the right to meet with an attorney of their choice without hindrance, supervision, or undue restriction. Defendants enjoy the right to have an attorney provided at public expense if they are indigent, but many did not always have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The Public Defender’s Office noted that while a state appointed lawyer generally was available for those in need, state appointed attorneys often were not present until submitting charges or plea bargaining.

In criminal proceedings, defendants and their attorneys have the right of access to prosecution evidence relevant to their cases no later than five days before the pretrial hearing and can make copies. Defendants have the right to question and confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf at trial. Defendants have the right to refuse to testify or incriminate themselves. While a defendant generally has the right to appeal a conviction, making an effective appeal under the administrative code was difficult. By law, defendants have 30 days to file an appeal once they receive the court’s written and reasoned judgment. Administrative sentences that entail incarceration must be appealed within 48 hours and other sentences within 10 days. On October 19, the Constitutional Court issued a decision in a case related to appeal procedure in administrative violation cases. It noted that the existing appeal procedures were substandard and declared them unconstitutional. Based on this decision, the existing provisions were scheduled to lose legal force on March 31, 2019 and be replaced by new procedures allowing meaningful appeals in cases of administrative violation.

By law a court must certify that a plea bargain was reached without violence, intimidation, deception, or illegal promise and that the accused had the opportunity to obtain legal assistance. Plea bargaining provisions in the criminal procedure code provide safeguards for due process, including the removal of a no contest plea and allowing charge bargaining. The evidentiary standard for plea agreements stipulates that evidence must be sufficient to find a defendant guilty, without a full trial of a case, and must satisfy an objective person that the defendant committed the crime. GYLA reported that courts did not fairly evaluate the voluntariness of a defendant’s plea agreement and that, out of 303 motions proposed by the prosecution, judges approved 98 percent (298). According to Supreme Court statistics for the first eleven months of the year, the rate of cases disposed of via plea agreements stood at 6.6 percent, while cases resolved by trial constituted 33.4 percent. During the same period, courts fully acquitted defendants in 7.1 percent of trials and partially acquitted them in 2.9 percent of trials. Of cases reviewed on their merits, courts terminated the prosecution in 3.1 percent of trials.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Opposition party members and family members of prisoners stated the government held political prisoners. The government permitted international and domestic organizations to visit persons claiming to be political prisoners or detainees, and several international organizations did so.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, but there were concerns about the professionalism of civil judges and transparency in their adjudication. The constitution and law stipulate that a person who suffers damages resulting from arbitrary detention or other unlawful or arbitrary acts, including human rights violations, is entitled to submit a civil action. Individuals have the right to appeal court decisions involving alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after they have exhausted domestic avenues of appeal.

There were reports of lack of due process and respect for rule of law in a number of property rights cases. NGOs also reported several cases in which groups claimed the government improperly used taxes on property to pressure organizations, as was the case with the International Black Sea University (see section 2.a.).

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In Abkhazia, the de facto legal system prohibits property claims by ethnic Georgians who left Abkhazia before, during, or after the 1992-93 war, thereby depriving internally displaced persons of their property rights in Abkhazia.

In a 2010 decree, South Ossetian de facto authorities invalidated all real estate documents issued by the Georgian government between 1991 and 2008 relating to property in the Akhalgori Region. The decree also declared all property in Akhalgori belongs to the de facto authorities until a “citizen’s” right to that property is established in accordance with the de facto “law,” effectively stripping ethnic Georgians displaced in 2008 of their property rights in the region.

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) had little indication that de facto South Ossetian authorities demolished houses belonging to Georgian internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Eredvi during the year, as they did in 2017, but EUMM observed scavengers at work.

Ghana

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, it was subject to unlawful influence and corruption. Judicial officials reportedly accepted bribes to expedite or postpone cases, “lose” records, or issue favorable rulings for the payer.

Following a 2015 report by an investigative journalist into corruption in the judiciary, the chief justice constituted a five-member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the allegations, resulting in the dismissal later that year of 12 high court judges, 22 lower court judges, and 19 judicial service staff. In May the president suspended four additional high court judges who were implicated by the report. In December, the president fired those four judges, three of whom had cases pending before the ECOWAS court.

Despite alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures to decongest the courts and improve judicial efficiency, court delays persisted. Professional mediators trained to conduct ADR worked in various district courts throughout the country to resolve disputes and avoid lengthy trials. Nevertheless, even in fast-track courts established to hear cases to conclusion within six months, trials commonly went on for years.

A judicial complaints unit within the Ministry of Justice headed by a retired Supreme Court justice addressed complaints from the public, such as unfair treatment by a court or judge, unlawful arrest or detention, missing trial dockets, delayed trials and rendering of judgments, and bribery of judges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair hearing, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal hearings must be public unless the court orders them closed in the interest of public morality, public safety, public order, defense, welfare of persons under the age of 18, protection of the private lives of persons concerned in the proceedings, and as necessary or expedient where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges against them, with free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, but trials were often delayed. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, be represented by an attorney, have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, present witnesses and evidence, and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. In his statement following his visit in April, however, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston wrote, “Ghana’s constitutional right to legal aid is meaningless in the great majority of cases because of a lack of resources and institutional will to introduce the needed far-reaching reforms.” Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, although generally defendants are expected to testify if the government makes a sufficient case. Defendants have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these safeguards, and the law extends these rights to all citizens.

Military personnel are tried separately under the criminal code in a military court. Military courts, which provide the same rights as civilian courts, are not permitted to try civilians.

Village and other traditional chiefs can mediate local matters and enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Their authority continued to erode, however, because of the growing power of civil institutions, including courts and district assemblies.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Fast-track ADR courts and “automated” commercial courts, whose proceedings were expedited through electronic data management, continued efforts to streamline resolution of disputes, although delays were common. Authorities established additional automated courts across the country, and selecting their judges randomly helped curb judicial corruption.

The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights violations at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.

Guatemala

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

Judges, prosecutors, plaintiffs, and witnesses continued to report threats, intimidation, and surveillance, most often from drug trafficking organizations. By the end of August, the special prosecutor for crimes against judicial workers received 157 complaints of threats or aggression against workers in the judicial branch, compared with 129 through August 2017.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations have access to administrative and judicial remedies to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation or other alleged wrongs. While the judiciary was generally impartial and independent in civil matters, it suffered from inefficiencies and a legal system that often permits spurious complaints. The judiciary estimated the country had a ratio of 2.46 judges for every 100,000 inhabitants, which international and domestic observers considered insufficient.

Honduras

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

On September 13, the Supreme Court accepted an appeal by the defense attorneys of six former members of the court, including its former president Jorge Rivera Aviles, to grant the accused freedom from pretrial detention after one month in jail. Charges against the six former court officials included several counts of misappropriation of funds and abuse of authority. The legal proceedings against the six were ongoing as of October.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.

The law presumes an accused person is innocent. The accused has the right to an initial hearing before a judge, to ask for bail, consult with legal counsel in a timely manner, have a lawyer provided by the state if necessary, and request an appeal. Defendants may receive free assistance of an interpreter. The law permits defendants to confront witnesses against them and offer witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities generally respected these rights.

Credible observers noted problems in trial procedures such as a lack of admissible evidence, judicial corruption, widespread public distrust of the legal system, witness intimidation, and an ineffective witness protection program.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

Iraq

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but certain articles of law restricted judicial independence and impartiality. The country’s security situation and political history left the judiciary weak and dependent on other parts of the government. The Federal Supreme Court rules on issues related to federalism and constitutionality, and a separate Higher Judicial Council manages and supervises the court system, including disciplinary matters.

Corruption or intimidation reportedly influenced some judges in criminal cases at the trial level and on appeal at the Court of Cassation.

Numerous threats and killings by sectarian, tribal, extremist, and criminal elements impaired judicial independence. Judges, lawyers, and their family members frequently faced death threats and attacks. For example, in April a group of armed individuals shot and wounded a judge in Maysan Governorate. The judge reportedly was overseeing the investigation of several official corruption complaints. Also in April, media reported that an IED killed the vice president of Diyala Governorate’s Court of Appeals.

Lawyers participated in protests demanding better protection from the government against threats and violence. In July a group of lawyers in Basrah Governorate protested the killing of a fellow lawyer who had been defending people involved in demonstrations demanding clean water and electricity. The lawyers demanded the government provide them better protection. In September, HRW reported that government forces threatened and arrested lawyers working in and around Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, whom the government forces perceived to be providing legal assistance to suspected members or supporters of ISIS and their associates and family members.

HRW reported in February and June that the government conducted rushed trials of foreign women and children on charges of illegal entry into the country and membership in or assistance to ISIS. Defense attorneys stated they rarely had access to their clients before hearings and were threatened for defending them. HRW alleged that judicial officials did not sufficiently take into account the individual circumstances in each case or guarantee the defendants a fair trial. Many of the foreign women received the death penalty or were sentenced to life in prison, and children older than age eight in some cases received sentences of up to five years in prison for ISIS membership and up to 15 years in prison for participating in violent acts. As of August at least 23 non-Iraqi women–including 17 from Turkey, two from Kyrgyzstan, two from Azerbaijan, and two from Germany–had received death sentences during the year for violating the counterterrorism law.

The Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, but the KRG executive reportedly influenced politically sensitive cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide all citizens the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right for all defendants. Some government officials, the United Nations, and CSOs reported trial proceedings fell short of international standards.

By law accused persons are innocent until proven guilty. Judges in ISIS-related cases, however, sometimes reportedly presumed defendants’ guilt based upon presence or geographic proximity to activities of the terrorist group, or upon a spousal or filial relationship to another defendant, as indicated by international NGOs throughout the year. The law requires detainees to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and of their right to a fair, timely, and public trial. Nonetheless, officials routinely failed to inform defendants promptly or in detail of charges against them. Trials were public, except in some national security cases. Numerous defendants experienced undue delays in reaching trial.

Defendants’ rights under law include the right to be present at their trial and the right to a privately retained or court-appointed counsel, at public expense, if needed. Defendants’ insufficient access to defense attorneys was a serious defect in investigative, trial, and appellate proceedings. Many defendants met their lawyers for the first time during the initial hearing and had limited to no access to legal counsel during pretrial detention. This was particularly true in counterterrorism courts, where judicial officials reportedly sought to complete convictions and sentencing for thousands of suspected ISIS members quickly, including through mass trials.

Defendants also had the right, under law, to free assistance of an interpreter, if needed. The qualifications of interpreters reportedly varied greatly. Sometimes foreign consulates provided translators when their nationals were on trial, HRW reported in June; in other cases, the court found an ad hoc solution, for instance by asking a journalist in attendance to interpret for a defendant from Trinidad and Tobago. When no translator was available, judges reportedly postponed proceedings and sent the foreign defendants back to jail.

Judges assemble evidence and adjudicate guilt or innocence. Defendants and their attorneys have the right, under law, to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Nevertheless, defendants and their attorneys were not always granted access to evidence, or government officials demanded a bribe in exchange for access to the case files. In numerous cases judges reportedly relied on forced or coerced confessions as the primary or sole source of evidence in convictions, without the corroboration of forensic evidence or independent witness testimony.

In a July report, HRW described how judges routinely failed to investigate and punish security forces alleged to have tortured suspects, particularly those accused of terrorism and affiliation with ISIS. Instead, judges frequently ignored allegations of torture and reportedly convicted defendants based on forced or coerced confessions. In some cases judges convicted defendants without a retrial even after medical examinations revealed signs of torture. Legal experts noted that investigative judges’ and police investigators’ lack of expertise in forensics and evidence management also contributed to their reliance on confessions.

The law provides the right to appeal, although there is a statute of limitations for referral; the Court of Cassation reviews criminal cases on appeal. The law provides for retrials of detainees convicted due to forced or coerced confessions or evidence provided by secret informants, and the Ministry of Justice reported authorities released almost 7,900 detainees from government custody between the law’s enactment in 2016 and July 31. Appellate courts sometimes upheld convictions reportedly based solely or primarily on forced or coerced confessions.

KRG officials noted that prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that prisoners’ trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons. According to the IHRCKR, detainees have remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders for their release. Lawyers provided by an international NGO continued to have access to and provide representation to any juvenile without a court-appointed attorney.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government did not consider any incarcerated persons to be political prisoners or detainees and stated that all individuals in prison or detention centers had been either convicted or charged under criminal law or were detained and awaiting trial while under investigation. It was difficult to assess these claims due to lack of government transparency; prevalence of corruption in arrest procedures; slow case processing; and extremely limited access to detainees, especially those held in counterterrorism, intelligence, and military facilities. Political opponents of the government alleged the government imprisoned individuals for political activities or beliefs under the pretense of criminal charges ranging from corruption to terrorism and murder.

There were isolated reports of political prisoners or detainees in the KRG. According to a human rights CSO in the IKR, in May KDP-aligned Asayish arrested and held for three months a former Peshmerga commander and prominent KDP member who had defected to an opposition party. In July the former mayor of Alqosh, Ninewa Governorate, claimed the Asayish detained, beat, threatened, and then released him to prevent him from reporting to work.

Niaz Aziz Saleh, convicted in 2012 of leaking KDP party information related to electoral fraud, remained in a KRG prison, despite the completion of his sentence in 2014.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for, or cessation of, human rights violations through domestic courts. Administrative remedies also exist. The government did not effectively implement civil or administrative remedies for human rights violations due in part to the overwhelming security focus of the executive branch, coupled with an understaffed judiciary dependent on the executive.

Unlike federal law, KRG law provides for compensation to persons subject to unlawful arrest or detention; the KRG Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs handles such cases. The IHRCKR reported that, while approximately 5,000 cases (many historical) received approval for compensation consisting of a piece of land, 10 years’ salary, and college tuition for one family member, the government could not pay compensation due to budget constraints. The ministry stated there were 13,000 unlawful arrests pending compensation decisions.

Property Restitution

The constitution and law prohibit the expropriation of property, except for the public benefit and in return for just compensation. Some government forces and officials, however, forced suspected ISIS members and supporters from their homes in several governorates, confiscating homes and property without due process or restitution.

HRW reported in April that some police and judicial officials in Ninewa Governorate believed the counterterrorism law allowed legal expropriation and transfer of a home or property if it is registered in the name of an individual ISIS member. The compensation commission of Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, stated that families of ISIS members could receive compensation if they obtain a security clearance to return home from the NSS, but HRW reported that all families of ISIS suspects were being denied clearance. According to the April report, there were 16 expropriations of homes registered to ISIS suspects or their relatives in Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, by PMF, Federal Police, or local police, or other families; in each case, the owners or their relatives were unable to retake the property, even when they sought judicial redress. Several local officials in Ninewa Governorate admitted that government forces were occupying or confiscating homes illegally in this manner.

Some home and property confiscations appeared to have ethnic or sectarian motives. For example, the 30th Shabak Brigade, an Iran-aligned PMF group operating east of Mosul, reportedly detained and harassed Christians and Kaka’i, including a Kaka’i man who was detained in July until he agreed to sell his house to a PMF leader. NGOs reported that judges and local officials often took bribes to settle such property disputes.

Jamaica

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. An extreme backlog of criminal cases, however, led to a denial of fair public trial for thousands of citizens.

The Ministry of Justice estimated that more than 400,000 criminal cases were awaiting trial. This delay occurred from numerous causes. Defense attorneys often requested committal proceedings, which are lengthy and resource intensive. Additionally, the legal infrastructure in terms of buildings, judges, courts, and other facilities remained virtually the same despite the huge backlog. Finally, the courts were hesitant to implement technological improvements such as teleconferencing witness testimony or admitting videos recorded from a telephone. Consequently, criminal proceedings could extend for years. The government’s statistical office reported the legal system failed to convict in more than 90 percent of murder cases. During the year courts made significant efforts to address the backlog by closely monitoring and reporting case throughput to the Ministry of Justice.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, and the ability to confront witnesses. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges against them and the right to a trial within a reasonable time. Defendants had ample time to prepare defense and may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal. Public attorneys were available to defend the indigent, except those charged with drug-related crimes or high-level criminal conspiracy. The government provided free assistance of an interpreter as necessary. The Supreme Court tries serious criminal offenses, which include all murder cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial civil judiciary process. Complainants may bring human rights abuse cases to the courts for civil remediation, but awards were difficult to collect. The government is required to undertake pretrial negotiations or mediation in an attempt to settle out of court, but this rarely occurred. When there were settlements, the government often lacked the funds to pay, resulting in a backlog of awards.

Jordan

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but legal experts and human rights lawyers’ allegations of nepotism and the influence of security services and special interests raised concerns about the judiciary’s independence. Additionally, judicial inefficiency and a large case backlog delayed the provision of justice. In August 2017, parliament passed a bill that provided further provisions for an independent judiciary and better qualitative performance of courts, which was implemented this year. This bill also included the specialization of prosecutors and judges, moving away from generalized prosecutors and judges who handle a full range of criminal cases, toward a system in which cases are referred to individuals with legal and subject matter expertise on the specific charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally sought to enforce this right. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. However, officials sometimes did not respect the right of defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them or to a fair and public trial without undue delay. According to the law, all civilian court trials and SSC trials are open to the public unless the court determines that the trial should be closed to protect the public interest. Authorities occasionally tried defendants in their absence. The country allows defendants to be tried in their absence, but it requires a retrial upon their return. The SSC has more restrictions than the other courts on conducting trials when the defendant is not present. Defendants are entitled to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent in cases involving the death penalty or life imprisonment, but only at the trial stage. Most criminal defendants lacked legal representation prior to and at trial. Frequently, defendants before the SSC met with their attorneys only one or two days before their trial began. Authorities did not accord defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Authorities did not uniformly provide foreign residents, especially foreign workers who often did not speak Arabic, with free translation and defense. The government at times prevented civil society organizations from providing legal aid to clients, despite lacking the capacity to address new cases or the current backlog.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence and may cross-examine witnesses presented against them. Defendants do not have the right to refuse to testify. Although the constitution prohibits the use of confessions extracted by torture, human rights activists noted that courts routinely accepted confessions allegedly extracted under torture or mistreatment. Defendants can appeal verdicts; appeals are automatic for cases involving the death penalty or a sentence of more than 10 years’ imprisonment. When defendants at trial recant their confessions obtained during the criminal investigation, those confessions are not used against the defendant; the trial then relies solely on the evidence collected and presented at trial.

In the SSC, defendants have the right to appeal their sentences to the Court of Cassation, which has the authority to review issues of both fact and law.

The government allowed international observers to visit the SSC and the Military and Police Courts to observe court proceedings throughout the year. For example, on July 1, officers of a foreign embassy observed a terrorism case being tried at the State Security Court.

Civil, criminal, and commercial courts accord equal weight to the testimony of men and women. In sharia courts, which have jurisdiction over Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance cases, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

The Juvenile Law places the age of criminal responsibility at 12 years. The law stipulates that juveniles charged with committing a crime along with an adult be tried in a juvenile court. There is one case pending at the SSC of a juvenile charged with terrorism-related offenses for involvement in the 2016 terrorist cell in Irbid. Juveniles tried at the SSC were held in juvenile detention centers. The law stipulates alternative penalties for juvenile offenders, including vocational training and community service.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, there were a few instances of the government detaining and imprisoning activists for political reasons including criticizing the government, criticizing the government’s foreign policy, publishing criticism of government officials and official bodies, criticizing foreign countries, and chanting slogans against the king. Citizens and NGOs alleged the government continued to detain other individuals for political reasons and that governors continued to use administrative detention for what appeared to be political reasons.

The GID detained Ayman Ajawi, the president of the Polytechnic College Student Union, for two weeks after he led protests in late February calling for basic services and campus infrastructure improvements. Ajawi’s father and lawyer told media that the GID prevented them from seeing him in detention. Members of parliament pressed the minister of higher education to intervene on Ajawi’s behalf, and more than 50 students from universities protested in front of the Ministry of Higher Education to demand his immediate release. In March, authorities released Ajawi on bail.

In March, the Jordan Bar Association accused the State Security Court of prosecuting political activists under the guise of upholding national security. In protest, they suspended their members from representing clients before the State Security Court. When they realized that clients would then have to appear in court without representation, they lifted the suspension.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may bring civil lawsuits related to human rights violations through domestic courts.

Kazakhstan

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. Prosecutors enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and have the authority to suspend court decisions.

Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process. Although judges were among the most highly paid government employees, lawyers and human rights monitors stated that judges, prosecutors, and other officials solicited bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in many criminal and civil cases.

Corruption in the judicial system was widespread. Bribes and irregular payments were regularly exchanged in order to obtain favorable court decisions. In many cases the courts were controlled by the interests of the ruling elite, according to Freedom House’s Nations in Transit report for 2018. According to the same report, the process is not public and open as “all participants in criminal processes sign a pledge of secrecy of investigation.” Recruitment of judges was plagued by corruption, and becoming a judge often required bribing various officials, according to the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index report for the year.

Business entities were reluctant to approach courts because foreign businesses have a historically poor record when challenging government regulations and contractual disputes within the local judicial system. Judicial outcomes were perceived as subject to political influence and interference due to a lack of independence. A dedicated investment dispute panel was established in 2016, yet investor concerns regarding the panel’s independence and strong bias in favor of government officials remained. Companies expressed reluctance to seek foreign arbitration because anecdotal evidence suggested the government looks unfavorably on cases involving foreign judicial entities.

Judges were punished for violations of judicial ethics. According to official statistics, during the first nine months of the year authorities convicted two judges for corruption crimes. On June 13, the court in Shymkent convicted Makhta-Aral District Court judge Abay Niazbekov for taking a bribe and sentenced him to 4.5 years of imprisonment and a life ban on working in government offices and state-owned enterprises. On January 30, authorities caught Niazbekov accepting a bribe of 500,000 tenge ($1,360) in his office.

Military courts have jurisdiction over civilian criminal defendants in cases allegedly connected to military personnel. Military courts use the same criminal code as civilian courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

All defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and by law are protected from self-incrimination. Trials are public except in instances that could compromise state secrets or when necessary to protect the private life or personal family concerns of a citizen.

Jury trials are held by a panel of 10 jurors and one judge and have jurisdiction over crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment, as well as grave crimes such as trafficking and engagement of minors in criminal activity. Activists criticized juries for a bias towards the prosecution as a result of the pressure that judges applied on jurors, experts, and witnesses.

Observers noted the juror selection process was inconsistent. Judges exerted pressure on jurors and could easily dissolve a panel of jurors for perceived disobedience of their orders. The law has no mechanism for holding judges liable for such actions.

Indigent defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel and a government-provided attorney. By law a defendant must be represented by an attorney when the defendant is a minor, has mental or physical disabilities, does not speak the language of the court, or faces 10 or more years of imprisonment. Defense attorneys, however, reportedly participated in only one half of criminal cases, in part because the government failed to pay them properly or on time. The law also provides defendants the rights to be present at their trials, to be heard in court, to confront witnesses against them, and to call witnesses for the defense. They have the right to appeal a decision to a higher court. According to observers, prosecutors dominated trials, and defense attorneys played a minor role.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported numerous problems in the judicial system, including lack of access to court proceedings, lack of access to government-held evidence, frequent procedural violations, denial of defense counsel motions, and failure of judges to investigate allegations that authorities extracted confessions through torture or duress.

Lack of due process remained a problem, particularly in a handful of politically motivated trials involving opposition activists and in cases in which there were allegations of improper political or financial influence.

Human rights and international observers noted investigative and prosecutorial practices that emphasized a confession of guilt regarding over collection of other evidence in building a criminal case against a defendant. Courts generally ignored allegations by defendants that officials obtained confessions by torture or duress.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The Open Dialog Foundation maintained a list of approximately 24 individuals it considered detained or imprisoned based on politically motivated charges, including land code activist Maks Bokayev and individuals connected to the opposition group Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, led by fugitive banker Mukhtar Ablyazov, and other individuals connected to Ablyazov. Convicted labor union leader Larisa Kharkova remained under restricted movement, unable to leave her home city without permission of authorities. Human rights organizations have access to prisoners through the framework of the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture.

Land code activist Maks Bokayev was sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison for organizing peaceful land reform protests. Although the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that his imprisonment was arbitrary, he remained in jail.

On October 22, a court in Almaty found businessman Iskander Yerimbetov guilty of fraud for illegally fixing prices in his aviation logistics company and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment. Human rights observers criticized numerous violations in the investigation and court proceedings, including allegations of physical mistreatment, and condemned the case as politically motivated. On December 11, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined his deprivation of liberty to be arbitrary. The Working Group was concerned by the lack of a warrant at the time of arrest, procedural violations during his detention and trial, and Yerimbetov’s well-being while in detention.

On August 17, authorities released Vadim Kuramshin, a human rights defender designated by civil society organizations as an individual imprisoned on politically motivated charges, on parole after six years in prison.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Economic and administrative court judges handle civil cases under a court structure that largely mirrors the criminal court structure. Although the law and constitution provide for judicial resolution of civil disputes, observers viewed civil courts as corrupt and unreliable.

Kenya

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although the government did not always respect judicial impartiality. The government sometimes undermined the independence of the judiciary. In April the minister of interior claimed the judiciary was “captured” by civil society with the intent to stall and embarrass the government.

Reform of the judiciary continued. In August the director of public prosecution directed anticorruption authorities to investigate the judiciary over allegations of misuse and loss of court funds. On August 28, authorities arrested the deputy chief justice for suspected corruption. She faces charges for abuse of office for personal gain, and undermining public integrity in the judiciary. The case against the deputy chief justice was ongoing as of year’s end. Authorities generally respected court orders, and the outcomes of trials did not appear to be predetermined.

In June parliament accused the judiciary of meddling in the legislative process, citing court orders against parliamentary procedures.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC)–a constitutionally mandated oversight body intended to insulate the judiciary from political pressure–provides the president with a list of nominees for judicial appointment. The president selects one of the nominees for parliamentary approval. The president appoints the chief justice and appellate and High Court judges through this process. The commission publicly reviews judicial appointees. As of October President Kenyatta had not formally installed JSC nominee Judge Mohammed Warsame, whom the JCS nominated in April.

In December 2017 the judiciary issued the State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report for 2016-17, which cited more than 60,000 cases pending in court for between five and 10 years. The judiciary improved its case clearance rate during the year and substantially reduced case backlog by increasing benches of judges sitting daily.

The constitution gives the judiciary authority to review appointments and decisions made by other branches of government. Parliament generally adhered to judicial decisions, with some exceptions.

For example, in August 2016 a High Court deadline expired for parliament to enact legislation to implement the constitutionally mandated two-thirds gender principle (see section 3). In 2017 a second High Court-ordered deadline for implementation expired, despite a promise by the National Assembly majority leader to bring it to a vote. The order remained under parliamentary review at year’s end. In May the High Court issued a ruling quashing the privileges of parliament that had insulated against legal redress on any decisions parliamentarians make. In June parliament slashed the judiciary budget allocation for the 2018-19 financial year in a perceived retaliatory move.

The law provides for “kadhi” courts, which adjudicate Muslim law on marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims. There were no other traditional courts. The national courts used the traditional law of an ethnic group as a guide in personal matters as long as it did not conflict with statutory law.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, although individuals may give some testimony in closed session; the independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, and defendants have the right to attend their trials, confront witnesses, and present witnesses and evidence in their defense. The law also provides defendants the right to receive prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary, including during trials; to be tried without undue delay; to have access to government-held evidence; and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities generally respected these rights, although they did not always promptly inform persons of the charges against them. During the year the judiciary completed disseminating Active Case Management Guidelines to several courts involved in a management pilot project. The judiciary implemented the pilot project in some high profile and complex cases, but had not done so on a regular basis. In January Chief Justice David Maraga launched the National Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms to coordinate justice sector reform. On September 22, Maraga inaugurated the Criminal Procedure Bench Book as part of ongoing judicial reforms.

Trial delays sometimes resulted because witnesses failed to present themselves, judges cancelled trial dates without notice, witnesses were not protected, or legal counsel failed to appear. Authorities generally respected a defendant’s right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants generally had adequate time to prepare a defense if they were capable of doing so. The government and courts generally respected these rights. There was no government-sponsored public defenders service, and courts continued to try the vast majority of defendants without representation because they could not afford legal counsel.

In May, 2,000 inmates at a regional prison declined to appear in court over processing and conclusion of their court cases. The inmates accused the justice system of detaining them without trial. The judiciary resolved the matter after three weeks by rotating additional judges to the court.

The Legal Aid Act enacted in 2016 established the National Legal Aid Service to facilitate access to justice, with the ultimate goal of providing pro-bono services for indigent defendants who cannot afford legal representation. Other pro-bono legal aid was available only in major cities where some human rights organizations, notably the Federation of Women Lawyers, an international NGO, provided it. The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) held the annual legal awareness week in September with the theme “Corruption: a crime against justice, democracy, development and prosperity.” During the week, LSK provided free legal aid at all High Courts nation-wide.

The ODPP significantly increased the number of trained prosecutors during the year. According to the ODPP, as of June 29, there were an estimated 627 state prosecutors, compared with 200 in 2013, as well as 402 support staff. The expansion of the prosecution service reduced delays in court proceedings. The ODPP suffered high staff turnover, largely due to the judiciary offering better pay. To fill the gap, the office increased recruiting efforts and brought in more than 90 new prosecutors during the year.

Discovery laws are not clearly defined, handicapping defense lawyers. Implementation of a High Court ruling requiring provision of written statements to the defense before trial remained inconsistent. Defense lawyers often did not have access to government-held evidence before a trial. There were reports the government sometimes invoked the Official Secrets Act as a basis for withholding evidence.

Defendants may appeal a verdict to a High Court and ultimately to the Court of Appeal and, for some matters, to the Supreme Court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While generally not an issue, there was one report of a political prisoner or detainee. Authorities detained opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna for several days following the January 30 ceremony swearing in Raila Odinga as “the people’s president.” Authorities failed to comply with a court order to produce Miguna and instead deported him, claiming that he had given up his Kenyan citizenship upon obtaining Canadian citizenship (see section 1.d).

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may use the civil court system to seek damages for violations of human rights and may appeal decisions to the Supreme Court as well as to the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. In 2016 the judiciary launched a program of Enhanced Service Delivery Initiatives to promote more efficient and affordable justice. The program introduced Performance Management Understandings as a method for measuring the performance of judicial staff, judges, and magistrates by work delivery. In 2017 Supreme Court Chief Justice Maraga launched a strategic blueprint for judicial reform, which included an Implementation and Monitoring Committee. In September the ODPP set up a task force to review the national prosecution policy and other guidelines. The task force was expected to develop guidelines on alternatives to prosecution, formulate ODPP charge sheet formats and information, develop standard guidelines on preparation of case files, and develop rules on the operationalization of a central intake of cases.

According to human rights NGOs, bribes, extortion, and political considerations influenced the outcomes in some civil cases. Court fees for filing and hearing civil cases effectively barred some from access to the courts.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

There is no single established system of land tenure in the country: private titles compete with customary land rights and community land, while public land is vulnerable to squatters or to unscrupulous developers. There is no clear legal framework for issuing title deeds or for adjudicating land disputes because of legal disputes between the National Land Commission, vested with powers of land adjudication through the constitution and 2012 implementing legislation, and the Ministry of Lands. Plots of land were sometimes allocated twice. The Community Land Act signed into law in 2016 allows communities to apply for land registrations as a single entity and put in train the adjudication process in which their applications will be considered alongside any competing claims. In June the government launched its first National Land Use Policy, calling for the issuance of titles based on approved physical development plans.

A report by the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) established in the aftermath of the 2007-08 postelection violence identified land reform, including titling, as a key issue, and issued recommendations, which were largely not implemented. NGOs and media reported progress had been uneven. For example, according to the daily Standard newspaper, in January 2017 a branch of the High Court ruled that more than three million land title deeds issued by the government since 2013 had been irregularly processed and were therefore invalid, but could be corrected. The judgment was based on the parliament’s failure to approve regulations required to implement the Land Registration Act.

There is no established system for restitution or compensation for those declared to be squatters and ordered to vacate land. Both private and communal clashes were common because of land disputes. The government used forced eviction and demolition to restore what it claimed was illegally occupied public land. For example, in July authorities demolished buildings in the Nairobi informal settlement Kibera, including seven schools, and the residences of more than 10,000 persons. Despite promises to complete a resettlement plan and restitution manifest prior to the demolition, authorities failed to do so.

Evictions also continued in the Mau forest in southwest Kenya. In July authorities forcefully evicted approximately 2,000 persons considered squatters without legal right to live on public land. This led to increased intercommunity clashes in the area in August and September.

In May 2017 the African Union Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights found in favor of the indigenous Ogiek community evicted in 2009 from the Mau Forest. The court ruled the government’s actions had violated seven articles of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which the country is a signatory. The ruling gave the government until November 2017 to implement the required remedies, but at year’s end, the attorney general had taken no action.

Kuwait

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law and the constitution provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Supreme Judicial Council nominates all prosecutors and judges and submits nominations to the emir for approval. Judges who were citizens received lifetime appointments until they reached mandatory retirement age; judges who were noncitizens held one to three-year renewable contracts. The Supreme Judicial Council may remove judges for cause. Noncitizen residents involved in legal disputes with citizens frequently alleged the courts showed bias in favor of citizens. Cases existed in which legal residency holders were detained and deported without recourse to the courts.

Under the law questions of citizenship or residency status are not subject to judicial review, so noncitizens arrested for unlawful residency, or those whose lawful residency is canceled due to an arrest, have no access to the courts. The clause that allows government authorities to administratively deport a person without judicial review requires a person to be a threat to the national security or harmful to the state’s interests. The law is broadly used and subjects noncitizens charged with noncriminal offenses, including some residency and traffic violations, to administrative deportations that cannot be challenged in court; however, noncitizens charged in criminal cases face legal deportations, which can be challenged in court.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law forbids physical and psychological abuse of the accused. Under the law defendants also enjoy the right to be present at their trial, as well as the provision of prompt, detailed information on charges against them. There were cases where non-Arabic speaking defendants did not understand the charges against them due to language barriers and restrictions on communication between lawyers and their clients. Defendants were not always provided with interpreters as required by law. Criminal trials are public unless a court decides the “maintenance of public order” or the “preservation of public morals” necessitates closed proceedings. The bar association is obligated upon court request to appoint an attorney without charge for indigent defendants in civil, commercial, and criminal cases, and defendants used these services. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The public did not have access to most court documents. The Ministry of Justice is required to provide defendants with an interpreter for the entire judicial process, but in practice, this did not always occur.

Defendants have the right to confront their accusers, to confront witnesses against them, and to present their own witnesses, although these rights were not always respected in practice. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal verdicts to a higher court, and many persons exercised this right.

Under the domestic labor law, domestic workers are exempted from litigation fees. If foreign workers had no legal representation, the public prosecutor arranged for it on their behalf, but with little or no involvement by the workers or their families. When workers received third-party assistance to bring a case, the cases were often resolved when the employer paid a monetary settlement to avoid a trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were many instances of persons detained for their political views. Throughout the year the government arrested 12 individuals on charges such as insulting the emir, insulting leaders of neighboring countries, or insulting the judiciary. One defendant was acquitted, while others received jail sentences or were kept in remand pending a final verdict. During the year sentences for insulting or speaking out against the emir or other leaders on social media ranged from a few months in prison to up to 70 years for multiple offenses. Political activist Sagar al-Hashash, who is out of the country on self-imposed exile, has been convicted multiple times (including twice during the year) on various charges that included defaming the emir, speaking out against the judiciary, or insulting neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates.

The government actively monitors social media and incarcerates bloggers and political activists for expressing antigovernment opinions and ideas. The media reported between two-to-four such convictions per month. In July the Court of Cassation upheld a verdict sentencing two current lawmakers and six former MPs, all of them leading opposition figures, to seven-to-nine years in jail for “storming the National Assembly building” in 2012. The defendants claimed they were peacefully assembled to ask the then prime minister to step down and face corruption charges. The defendants’ attorneys argued in court that the protestors were attacked by security forces trying to break up the rally, forcing them to run into parliament’s building for shelter. The verdict also sentenced more than 60 other political activists charged in the same case. Half of those sentenced were in country and have begun serving their sentences.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary and trial for individuals or organizations in civil matters regarding human rights violations, but authorities occasionally did not enforce such rulings for political reasons. Authorities also occasionally used administrative punishments in civil matters, such as instituting travel bans or deportations. In the majority of cases of human rights or labor law violations, victims can go to the Public Authority for Manpower (PAM) or the Domestic Labor Department (DLD) to reach a negotiated settlement outside of court. If that is unsuccessful, individuals can pursue their cases in court. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions.

Laos

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and judges acting with impunity continued to be problems. Some judges reportedly accepted bribes. The legal framework provides for defense counsel, evidentiary review, and the presumption of innocence. Despite these provisions, the country was still developing a formal justice system. Judges usually decided guilt or innocence in advance of trials, basing their decisions on police or prosecutorial investigation reports. The preferred and widely used policy for resolving disputes continued to be the “Harmonious Village Policy” or “No Case Village Policy,” which discouraged villages from referring cases to the formal justice system and provided incentives to village leaders to resolve legal disputes within village mediation units. Village leaders are not lawyers or judges and do not receive legal training. Most defendants chose not to have attorneys or trained representatives due to the general perception that attorneys cannot influence court decisions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although the judiciary did not always uphold this right. The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence. Most trials, including criminal trials, were primarily pro forma examinations of the accused and reviews of the evidence. Defendants do not have a legal right to know promptly and in detail the charges against them, but the law requires authorities to inform persons of their rights. Trials are public, except for those involving certain types of family law or related to national security, state secrets, or children younger than age 16.

The law provides defendants the right to defend themselves with the assistance of a lawyer or other persons, but there remained a lack of qualified lawyers. Lawyers sometimes were unwilling to defend sensitive cases due to fear of retaliation by local authorities. A defense attorney may be present during a trial, but his role is passive, such as asking the court for leniency in sentencing or appealing a technical matter, not arguing the merits of the case, challenging evidence, or mounting a true defense for the client. Authorities provided defense attorneys at government expense only in cases involving children, cases likely to result in life imprisonment or the death penalty, and cases considered particularly complicated, such as ones involving foreigners. There is no legal right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

The government allows interpreters to provide explanations of laws and defendant’s rights to ethnic minority citizens and foreigners who cannot communicate in the Lao language. Interpreters receive payment based on the court fee system, which the court passes on to the defendant.

Defendants may have someone assist them in preparing written cases and accompany them at trial, but only the defendant may present oral arguments at a criminal trial. Defendants may question, present witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may refuse to testify, although authorities sometimes imposed harsher penalties on defendants who did not cooperate. Defendants have the right to object to charges brought against them but do not have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no government statistics or reliable estimates available regarding the number of political prisoners, but civil society organizations and international media reported on three political prisoners. The criminal court convicted Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad, and Lodkham Thammavong in March 2017 to 20, 16, and 12 years’ imprisonment, respectively, on multiple charges including treason, propaganda against the state, and gatherings aimed at causing social disorder.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for judicial independence in civil matters, but enforcement of court orders remained a problem. A person may seek a judicial remedy for violations of civil or political rights in a criminal court or pursue an administrative remedy from the National Assembly. Individuals may seek redress for violations of social and cultural rights in a civil court.

Lebanon

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, authorities subjected the judiciary to political pressure, particularly in the appointment of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. Persons involved in routine civil and criminal proceedings sometimes solicited the assistance of prominent individuals to influence the outcome of their cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be promptly informed of the charges against them. Trials are generally public, but judges have the discretion to order a closed court session. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and to question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation; however, interpreters were rarely available. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; they have the right of appeal.

The Military Court has a permanent tribunal and a cassation tribunal. The latter, composed of civilian judges, hears appeals from the former. The Military Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the military and police, as well as those involving civilians accused of espionage, treason, weapons possession, and draft evasion. It also may try civilians on security charges or for violations of the military code of justice, which also applies to civilians. Defendants on trial under the military tribunal have the same procedural rights as defendants in ordinary courts. While civilian courts may try military personnel, the Military Court often hears these cases, including for charges unrelated to official military duty. Human rights activists raised concerns that such proceedings created the potential for impunity. Although the military and civilian courts follow the same appellate procedures, human rights groups expressed concerns that Military Court proceedings were opaque, lacked sufficient due process assurances, and afforded inadequate review of court decisions.

Governance and justice in the Palestinian camps varied greatly, with most camps under the control of joint Palestinian security forces representing multiple factions, while local militia strongmen heavily influenced others. Essentially, Palestinian groups in refugee camps operated an autonomous system of justice mostly invisible to outsiders and beyond the control of the state. For example, local popular committees in the camps attempted to resolve disputes through informal mediation methods but occasionally transferred those accused of more serious offenses (for example, murder and terrorism) to state authorities for trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but plaintiffs seldom submitted civil lawsuits seeking damages for government human rights violations to it. During the year there were no examples of a civil court awarding a person compensation for such violations. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions. The country has reservations on individual complaints under any human rights treaty, body, or special procedure. Appeals to international human rights bodies are accessible only after exhausting all domestic remedies.

Mongolia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but NGOs and private businesses reported that judicial corruption and third-party influence continued. Courts rarely entered not guilty verdicts or dismissed criminal charges over the objection of prosecutors, even when full trials had produced no substantial evidence of guilt. Courts often returned criminal cases to prosecutors when acquittal appeared more appropriate. Consequently, some serious criminal cases cycled for years between prosecutors and the courts without resolution.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed of the charges against them. Courts provide free interpretation services as needed, including sign language interpretation, unless a court decides to recover procedural expenses from a defendant found guilty. The law also extends to all defendants the right to be present at their own trial in the court of first instance (but not during appeals); to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to confront witnesses; to present one’s own witnesses and evidence; to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and to appeal. NGOs and observers reported that authorities sometimes did not observe these rights and that bribery of judges, prosecutors, and expert witnesses sometimes contributed to unwarranted convictions, dismissals, or reductions of sentences.

Procedural due process errors and inconsistencies often plagued trials. Although the number of government-provided defense lawyers was adequate, their quality and experience were inconsistent and many defendants lacked adequate legal representation. Judges often relied on confessions with little corroborating evidence. Furthermore, NGOs reported witness intimidation by government authorities and police, limited public access to trials (often due to lack of space), a lack of transparency in courts’ decision-making processes, and a low level of awareness regarding new criminal and procedural laws.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Administrative and judicial remedies are available for alleged human rights violations. The government sometimes failed to enforce court orders pertaining to human rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

According to Amnesty International, seminomadic herders reported some private and government-owned mining interests interfered with their access to traditional pasturelands. Some herders reported they were forced to relocate after their pastureland was sold and mining companies denied them access to water wells.

Montenegro

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but some NGOs, international organizations, and legal experts asserted that political pressure and corruption influenced prosecutors and judges. The process of appointing judges and prosecutors remained somewhat politicized, although the law provides for a prosecutorial council to select prosecutors. This included the election of a Special State Prosecutor, who opened several high-level corruption cases, including a case for abuse of office against former Podgorica mayor Miomir Mugosa, whose trial started on May 29. Inadequate funding and a lack of organization continued to hamper the effectiveness of the courts. The law provides for plea bargaining, which is available for all crimes except war crimes and those related to terrorism.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial. By law, defendants are presumed innocent. Authorities are required to inform detained persons of the grounds for their detention. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay and to be present at their trial. Courts may close certain sessions during the testimony of government-protected or other sensitive witnesses. Authorities also close juvenile trials. Defendants have the right to consult an attorney in a timely manner in pretrial and trial proceedings. The law requires authorities to provide an attorney at public expense when a defendant is a person with disabilities or is already in detention, destitute, facing a charge carrying a possible sentence of more than 10 years, being tried in absentia, or engaged in a plea-bargaining process. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution witnesses, present their own witnesses and evidence, and remain silent. Both the defense and the prosecution have the right of appeal.

While the judiciary endeavored to hold criminal trials publicly, it often did not do so due to a shortage of proper facilities. The shortage also affected the timeliness of trials. Systemic weaknesses, such as political influence and prolonged procedures, diminished public confidence in the efficiency and impartiality of the judiciary.

Courts may try defendants in absentia, but by law must repeat the trial if the convicted individuals are later apprehended.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, and citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for violations of constitutionally recognized human rights. Although parties brought suits alleging human rights violations and at times prevailed, perceptions that the system was subject to nepotism, corruption, and political influence led to widespread public distrust. According to NGOs, courts in most cases either rejected civil cases involving claims of human rights violations or proceeded on them slowly. When domestic courts issued decisions pertaining to human rights, the government generally complied with them.

Upon exhausting all other available effective legal remedies, citizens may appeal perceived violations of human rights to the Constitutional Court. A large number of cases filed with the court involved such complaints. The Constitutional Court has the authority to review all alleged constitutional and human rights violations. If it finds a violation, it vacates the lower court’s decision and refers the case to an appropriate court or other authority to rectify the deficiency.

There were also administrative remedies for violations of constitutionally protected human rights. In cases of police abuses, citizens can address complaints to the Council for Civilian Control of Police Operations, which may then make recommendations for action to the chief of police or the interior minister. The ombudsman’s office noted that the long duration of trials, especially those that were deemed a high priority, eroded citizens’ trust in the court system. This was particularly pronounced in disputes dealing with the establishment or termination of employment or the right to earnings and other wages. The office was also empowered to act in certain individual cases.

Once national remedies are exhausted, individuals, regardless of citizenship, may appeal cases alleging government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

While the government is responsible for Holocaust restitution issues and has laws and mechanisms in place, the pre-World War II Jewish population was estimated to have been only about 30 individuals with no identified synagogue or communal property. According to representatives for the Jewish community, there were no claims for restitution regarding Holocaust-era properties from the country’s Jewish population.

The country’s restitution law was most recently amended in 2007, and the country has not passed any laws dealing with restitution following the endorsement of the Terezin Declaration in 2009, nor did it make any special provisions for heirless property from the Holocaust era. The passage of a law on the restitution of religious or communal properties would have minimal impact on the Jewish community, given its small size and the absence of identified prewar Jewish communal property. Any such legislation would mainly apply to properties confiscated from the Serbian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches during the communist era. According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, the government has not returned two houses in Montenegro purchased by the women’s organization of the Jewish community in Belgrade prior to World War II. The properties were used as a summer resort. The Jewish Community in Belgrade and the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia (SAVEZ) continued to seek restitution of these properties.

A large number of restitution claims for private and religious properties confiscated during the communist era remained unresolved. Both private individuals and organizations criticized the government for delays in addressing this problem.

Morocco

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and, as in previous years, NGOs asserted that corruption and extrajudicial influence weakened judicial independence. The Supreme Judicial Council, mandated by the 2011 constitution, manages the courts and day-to-day judicial affairs in place of the Ministry of Justice. The president of the Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals) chairs the 20-member body. Additional members include the president of the First Chamber of the Court of Cassation; the prosecutor general (equivalent of the attorney general); the mediator (national ombudsman); the president of the CNDH; 10 members elected by the country’s judges; and five members appointed by the king. In October the Supreme Judicial Council established its internal mechanisms and began the process of taking over day-to-day management and oversight from the Ministry of Justice, although the activities of the Supreme Judicial Council experienced delays due to administrative and legal impediments. While the government stated the aim of creating the council was to improve judicial independence, its effect on judicial independence was not clear. According to media reports and human rights activists, outcomes of trials in which the government had a strong interest, such as those touching on Islam as it related to political life and national security, the legitimacy of the monarchy, and Western Sahara, sometimes appeared predetermined.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, but this did not always occur. The law presumes that defendants are innocent. Defendants are informed promptly of potential charges after the initial arrest and investigation period. Defendants are then informed of final charges at the conclusion of the full investigatory period, which may last several months. Trials are conducted in Arabic, and foreigners have the right to request interpretation if they do not speak Arabic.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult in a timely manner with an attorney. Defendants have the right to refuse to participate in their trial, and a judge may decide to continue the proceedings in the defendant’s absence while providing a detailed summary to the defendant. Authorities often denied lawyers timely access to their clients and, in the some cases, lawyers met their clients only at the first hearing before the judge. Authorities are required to provide attorneys in cases where the potential sentence is greater than five years, if the defendant is unable to afford one. Publicly provided defense attorneys were often poorly paid and neither properly trained in matters pertaining to juveniles nor provided to defendants in a timely fashion. The appointment process for public defenders was lengthy, often resulting in a defendant arriving to trial before a court-appointed attorney was designated. In these cases the judge may ask any attorney present to represent the defendant. This practice often resulted in inadequate representation. Many NGOs provided attorneys for vulnerable individuals (minors, refugees, victims of domestic violence), who frequently did not have the means to pay. Such resources were limited and specific to larger cities. The law permits defense attorneys to question witnesses. Despite the provisions of the law, some judges reportedly denied defense requests to question witnesses or to present mitigating witnesses or evidence.

The law forbids judges from admitting confessions made under duress. NGOs reported that the judicial system often relied on confessions for the prosecution of criminal cases, and authorities pressured investigators to obtain a confession from suspects in order for prosecution to proceed. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and local NGOs charged that judges, at their discretion, sometimes decided cases based on forced confessions.

The courts were moving away from a confession-based system to an evidence-based system. Since 2016 the National Police have had evidence preservation centers throughout the country to secure evidence collected at crime scenes and to ensure compliance with chain of custody procedures. According to the Ministry of Justice, legal clerks manage the evidence preservation centers and coordinate the court’s and the defense’s access to evidence. The Kenitra Royal Police Institute has trained 23,280 police officers in crime scene management and preservation since 2014. Police were working with the courts to demonstrate the utility of evidence preservation rooms as a means to increase judges’ confidence in evidence presented at trials and decrease the pressure on investigators to obtain confessions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The law does not define or recognize the concept of a political prisoner. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners and stated that it had charged or convicted all individuals in prison under criminal law. Criminal law covers nonviolent advocacy and dissent, such as insulting police in songs or “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” by denouncing the king and regime during a public demonstration. NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and Sahrawi organizations, asserted that the government imprisoned persons for political activities or beliefs under the cover of criminal charges.

Some NGOs alleged that a group of 24 Sahrawis, convicted in 2017 in connection with the deaths of 11 members of Moroccan security forces during the 2010 dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik protest camp and subsequent violence in Laayoune, Western Sahara, were political prisoners. In November 2017 the CNDH published a report on the 2017 trial hearings and determined that the trial met the conditions of a fair trial as provided in the country’s Constitution and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. For more information see the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights for Western Sahara.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Although individuals have access to civil courts for lawsuits relating to human rights violations and have filed lawsuits, such lawsuits were frequently unsuccessful due to the courts’ lack of independence on politically sensitive cases or lack of impartiality stemming from extrajudicial influence and corruption. The Supreme Judicial Council is tasked with ensuring ethical behavior by judicial personnel (see section 4). There are administrative as well as judicial remedies for alleged wrongs. Authorities sometimes failed to respect court orders in a timely manner.

The Institution of the Mediator (national ombudsman) helped to resolve civil matters that did not clear the threshold to merit involvement of the judiciary. Although it faced backlogs, it gradually expanded the scope of its activities and subjected complaints to in-depth investigation. The mediator retransmitted to the CNDH for resolution cases specifically related to allegations of human rights abuses by authorities. The CNDH continued to be a conduit through which citizens expressed complaints regarding human rights abuses and violations.

Mozambique

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality in nonpolitical matters. Some civil society groups asserted, however, that the executive branch and ruling Frelimo party exerted influence on an understaffed and inadequately trained judiciary.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Courts presume accused persons innocent, and the law provides the right to legal counsel and appeal. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Defendants enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, and the law specifically provides for public defenders for all defendants, although this did not always happen. While defendants have adequate time to prepare a defense, they often do not have adequate facilities to do so.

By law only judges or lawyers may confront or question witnesses. A defendant may present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The government upheld such rights during the year. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants also have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. The law extends the foregoing rights to all defendants; the government did not deny any persons these rights.

Persons accused of crimes against the government, including treason or threatening national security are tried publicly in civilian courts according to standard criminal judicial procedures. Members of media and the general public attended trials throughout the year. A judge may order a trial closed to media in the interest of national security, to protect the privacy of the plaintiff in a sexual assault case, or to prevent interested parties outside the court from destroying evidence.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While the law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, some citizens believed the judiciary was subject to political interference. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. By law citizens may file lawsuits through the Office of the Ombudsman, the CNDH, and the Mozambican Bar Association seeking cessation of human rights abuses, damages for abuses, or both. The country is a signatory to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the court; however, the government has not recognized the court’s competency to accept cases from NGOs and individuals.

The Office of the Ombudsman is constitutionally designated as guarantor of citizens’ legal rights in dealings with the government. Citizens may file complaints with the Ombudsman’s Office. Each complaint is reviewed and an investigation initiated if the Ombudsman’s Office judges it legitimate.

Namibia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the courts acted independently at times, making judgments and rulings critical of the government. Inefficiency and lack of resources, however, hampered the judicial system.

Customary courts hear many civil and petty criminal cases in rural areas. The law delineates the offenses the customary system may handle. Customary courts deal with infractions of local customary law among members of the same ethnic group. The law defines the role, duties, and powers of traditional leaders and states customary law inconsistent with the constitution is invalid. Cases resolved in customary courts were sometimes tried a second time in civil courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, but long delays in courts hearing cases and the uneven application of constitutional protections in the customary system compromised this right. Defendants are presumed innocent. The law provides for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, in a language they understand, and of their right to a public trial.

All defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. Defendants receive free interpretation as necessary from their first court appearance through all appeals. Although indigent defendants are entitled to a lawyer provided by the state in criminal and civil cases, this sometimes did not occur due to an insufficient number of public defenders, insufficient state funds to pay private lawyers to represent indigent defendants, or because the LAD did not accept the application for representation from an accused.

Defendants may confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, and have the right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens. The courts provided defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right not to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for access to a court to file lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of human rights violations. The constitution provides for administrative procedures to correct, as well as judicial remedies to redress, wrongs. Civil court orders were mostly well enforced.

North Macedonia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for “autonomous and independent” courts, supported by an independent and autonomous Judicial Council. The government demonstrated greater respect for judicial independence and impartiality compared to previous years. Limited judicial independence, politicization of the judicial oversight body, and inadequate funding of the judiciary, however, continued to hamper court operations and effectiveness.

According to the EC’s April 17 report, the country’s judicial system made some progress in improving judicial independence. The country adopted a credible new judicial reform strategy, and key pieces of legislation were amended in line with recommendations from the Venice Commission and the EU’s “Urgent Reform Priorities.” The Special Prosecutor’s Office faced less obstruction from the courts. The EC report also concluded that sustained efforts would be required in order to address outstanding recommendations and to ensure the judiciary could function without undue influence.

On March 28, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev launched a new Judicial Reform Implementation Monitoring Council, which included the minister of justice, the chief public prosecutor, the special prosecutor, and other judges, government officials, private attorneys, and academics. The purpose of the Council is to monitor implementation of judicial reforms under the government reform plan.

According to the ombudsman’s annual report for 2017, the greatest number of citizen complaints (576 or 17 percent) concerned the judicial system. Almost half of the complaints related to the rights of citizens in enforcement procedures. Between January and August, the greatest number of complaints (432 or 19 percent) related to the judiciary. The report stated citizens complained about long trials, bias, selective justice, and undue pressure on judges. The report indicated court decisions were sometimes considerably delayed due to administrative deficiencies or judges exceeding the legally prescribed deadlines for issuing written judgments.

While there were strict rules regulating the assignment of cases to judges that were implemented through an electronic case management system, in September the Skopje Public Prosecution Office summoned several persons for interviews after a 2017 audit revealed that the system to assign judges to handle specific cases had been manipulated. Media outlets reported that prosecutors summoned former “presiding judge” of the Skopje Criminal Court, Vladimir Pancevski, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Jovo Vangelovski. On September 14, the Special Prosecutor’s Office submitted a Special Report on Judges Implicated in the 2008-2015 Unlawful Wiretaps. The report stated that, between 2011 and 2015, four judges were involved in “flagrant violation of integrity, independence, competence, and malpractice.” The report detailed alleged actions in 2011 and 2012 under the former government, specifically that Supreme Court Chief Justice Jovo Vangelovski shared key information regarding active cases with politicians and pressured peers during adjudication. In addition it stated that former Judicial Council president Aleksandra Zafirovska consulted senior government officials to select politically loyal or “favorable” judges, that criminal trial judge Sofija Lalichich followed senior UBK orders and severely violated the judges’ ethical code, and that administrative judge Svetlana Kostova simultaneously worked as a judge and as a UBK staffer.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary). Trials were generally open to the public. The ombudsman’s 2017 annual report noted continuing problems regarding the right to trial in a reasonable time. According to the report, protracted civil and administrative court cases, as well as insufficient civil enforcement practices, resulted in violations of citizens’ rights. In high-profile cases, it was common for defense attorneys to request a “strategic delay” to proceedings.

For certain criminal and civil cases, judicial panels of three to five individuals, led by a professional judge, are used. Authorities did not always grant defendants adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. In particular, Special Prosecution Office (SPO) defendants have complained that the court did not always grant adequate time to prepare a sufficient defense. Free assistance of an interpreter is provided. Defendants may communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense for those who are indigent. Defendants may question witnesses and present evidence on their own behalf. Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or confess guilt. Both the prosecution and defendants have the right to appeal verdicts.

On August 22, The Skopje Criminal Court began the trial of 33 persons charged with “terrorist endangerment of the constitutional order” for their actions in the April 2017 violent attacks in parliament. Four opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) party members of parliament, one Socialist Party member, and the former interior minister were among those charged. In opening arguments the prosecution stated the criminal attacks were well organized and that one of the defendants was tasked with assassinating Zoran Zaev, who became prime minister a month after the attacks. The trial continued at year’s end. On December 18, parliament adopted an Amnesty Law that provides amnesty for some participants in the attacks but not for those who committed violence, carried weapons, or organized the incident.

On November 16, the Constitutional Court declared a 2015 law on sentencing guidelines designed to address inconsistent sentencing among different courts unconstitutional. Legal analysts had expressed concern the law seriously hampered judicial discretion to decide sentences according to the facts in individual cases and provided too much power to prosecutors to influence sentences.

On January 11, parliament abolished the Council for Determining Facts and amended the Law on Judicial Council to restore the Judicial Council’s responsibilities regarding discipline and dismissal of judges, in line with the 2015 Venice Commission opinion. On May 2, parliament amended the Law on Courts and the Law on the Judicial Council to introduce harsher disciplinary grounds, limit Judicial Council members’ eligibility for more senior judicial positions while serving on the Council, and allow for the removal of a Judicial Council member indicted for a crime. On May 15, the Judges’ Association stated that the amendments to the Laws on Courts and the Judicial Council failed to meet judges’ expectations for effective reform, including disciplinary liability and removal grounds. The association’s board concluded the amendments were not in line with the government’s 2017-22 Judicial Reform Strategy and called on the government and opposition to make changes that would provide judicial independence.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There was one report of political detainees. The opposition party VMRO-DPMNE claimed that the charges brought against 33 defendants, including five members of parliament, in the April 2017 parliamentary violence case were politically motivated and inflated (see Trial Procedures, above). There was no evidence the government denied access to these detainees by human rights or humanitarian organizations. The trial continued as of November 21.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had access to courts to submit lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals may file human rights cases in the criminal, civil, or administrative courts, and the Constitutional Court, depending upon the type of human rights violation in question and its alleged perpetrator. Individuals also may appeal adverse decisions. The law provides the right to timely adjudication of cases and a legal basis for appealing excessive judicial delays to the Supreme Court. The government generally complied with civil decisions of domestic courts. Individuals may appeal cases involving alleged state violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting all domestic legal options.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, for citizens of the country. The government has no laws or mechanisms in place related to the resolution of Holocaust-era claims by foreign citizens. Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue in the country, particularly after the 2000 Denationalization Law and 2007 compensation agreement.

The 2000 Denationalization Law accorded the right to denationalization of property seized after August 1944 to former owners and their successors, in accordance with the provisions related to the right to inherit. It required claimants to have citizenship of the country at the time of the law entering force.

The 2007 Compensation Agreement among the government, the Holocaust Fund, and the Jewish Community allowed for the payment of 21.1 million euros ($24.2 million) between June 2009 and June. One of the agreement’s major results was the construction of the Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia, which officially opened in 2011. In June the government paid the last installment of 5.6 million euros ($6.4 million) to the fund, completing the process of denationalizing of Jewish properties.

Advocacy groups reported that some foreign citizens, not covered by the 2000 law, still sought restitution. Foreign citizens may apply for restitution in civil proceedings. The country is party to the 2009 Terezin Declaration.

Oman

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the sultan may act as a Court of Final Appeal and exercise his power of pardon as chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s highest legal body, which is empowered to review all judicial decisions. Principles of sharia (Islamic law) inform the civil, commercial, and criminal codes. The law allows women to serve as judges. Civilian or military courts try all cases. There were no reports judicial officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys faced intimidation or engaged in corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair trial and stipulates the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Citizens and legally resident noncitizens have the right to a public trial, except when the court decides to hold a session in private in the interest of public order or morals; the judiciary generally enforced this right. The government reserved the right to close sensitive cases to the public. The government did not uniformly provide language interpretation for non-Arabic speakers.

Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. The law guarantees defendants the right to be informed promptly of charges. There is no guarantee for adequate time for defense attorneys to prepare, but in practice most court dates provide ample time. There is no guarantee for free interpretation. Courts provide public attorneys to indigent detainees and offer legal defense for defendants facing prison terms of three years or more. The prosecution and defense counsel direct questions to witnesses through the judge. Defendants have the right to be present, submit evidence, and confront witnesses at their trials. There is no known systemic use of forced confession or compulsion to self-incriminate during trial proceedings in the country. Those convicted in any court have one opportunity to appeal a jail sentence longer than three months and fines of more than 480 rials ($1,250) to the appellate courts. The judiciary enforced these rights for all citizens; some foreign embassies claimed these rights were not always uniformly enforced for noncitizens, particularly migrant workers.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The number of political prisoners was unknown. Previously, the government has publicly acknowledged that it holds a “small number” of political prisoners, and human rights organizations reported that several individuals were detained during the year for their use of social media. Political prisoners were usually detained for short periods of time and without being formally charged with a crime. Political prisoners were afforded the same rights as other prisoners, and could ask to speak with representatives from the Oman Human Rights Commission or the ICRC.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil laws govern civil cases. Citizens and foreign residents could file cases, including lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but no known filings occurred during the year. The Administrative Court reviews complaints about the misuse of governmental authority. It has the power to reverse decisions by government bodies and to award compensation.

Appointments to this court are subject to the approval of the Administrative Affairs Council. The court’s president and deputy president are appointed by royal decree based on the council’s nomination. Citizens and foreign workers may file complaints regarding working conditions with the Ministry of Manpower for alternative dispute resolution. The ministry may refer cases to the courts if it is unable to negotiate a solution.

Pakistan

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but according to NGOs and legal experts, the judiciary often was subject to external influences, such as fear of reprisal from extremist elements in terrorism or blasphemy cases and public politicization of high-profile cases. Civil society organizations reported judges were reluctant to exonerate individuals accused of blasphemy, fearing vigilante violence. The media and the public generally considered the high courts and the Supreme Court credible.

Extensive case backlogs in the lower and superior courts undermined the right to effective remedy and to a fair and public hearing. Antiquated procedural rules, unfilled judgeships, poor case management, and weak legal education caused delays in civil and criminal cases. The Lahore High Court took steps to improve judicial efficiency. In 2017 the court’s chief justice introduced legal reforms intended to reduce strikes and formalized an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) system. ADR centers received 16,010 cases as of October 12, and had resolved 4,885.

The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the high courts does not extend to several areas that operated under separate judicial systems. For example, Azad Kashmir area (AK) has its own elected president, prime minister, legislature, and court system. Gilgit-Baltistan also has a separate judicial system.

Many lower courts remained corrupt, inefficient, and subject to pressure from wealthy persons and influential religious or political figures.

There were incidents of unknown persons threatening or killing witnesses, prosecutors, or investigating police officers in high-level cases. On April 14, three Balochistan police officials were arrested for pressuring a rape victim to withdraw her allegations, after a medical examination corroborated the victim’s allegations.

The use of informal justice systems that lacked institutionalized legal protections continued, especially in rural areas, and often resulted in human rights abuses. Large landholders and other community leaders in Sindh and Punjab and tribal leaders in Pashtun and Baloch areas sometimes held local council meetings (panchayats or jirgas) outside the established legal system. Such councils settled feuds and imposed tribal penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and sometimes the death penalty. These councils often sentenced women to violent punishment or death for so-called honor-related crimes. In the former FATA, such councils were held under FIGR or FCR guidelines. Assistant commissioners (previously known as assistant political agents), supported by tribal elders of their choosing, are legally responsible for justice in the former FATA and conducted hearings according to their interpretation of Islamic law and tribal custom.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The civil, criminal, and family court systems provide for a fair trial and due process, presumption of innocence, cross-examination, and appeal. There are no trials by jury. Although defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, courts must appoint attorneys for indigents only in capital cases. Defendants generally bear the cost of legal representation in lower courts, but a lawyer may be provided at public expense in appellate courts. Defendants may confront or question prosecution witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Due to the limited number of judges, a heavy backlog of cases, lengthy court procedures, frequent adjournment, and political pressure, cases routinely lasted for years, and defendants made frequent court appearances.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child noted that police lacked training to properly handle child delinquency, and cited reports of police brutality against juveniles. Many juveniles spent long periods behind bars because they could not afford bail.

In May, Parliament passed the Juvenile Justice System Act, replacing the 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance. The new law mandates the creation of juvenile courts and “juvenile justice committees,” intended to expedite the administration of justice for minors by resolving cases that involve minor offenses without resorting to formal judicial proceedings. Despite a directive that these courts and committees be established within three months of the law’s passage, as of November 28, the government had not done so.

Both the new law and the previous 2000 Juvenile Justice System Ordinance ban the use of the death penalty for minors, yet children were sentenced to death under the Antiterrorism Act. Furthermore, lack of documentation made determining the ages of possible minors problematic.

There were instances of lack of transparency in court cases, particularly if the case involved high-profile or sensitive issues such as blasphemy. NGOs reported the government often located such trials in jails due to concerns for the safety of defendants, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. Although these safety concerns were well-founded, NGOs expressed concerns about both transparency issues and the lack of privacy for defendants to consult with their lawyers during jail trials.

The Antiterrorism Act allows the government to use special, streamlined antiterrorism courts (ATCs) to try persons charged with terrorist activities and sectarian violence. In other courts, suspects must appear within seven working days of their arrest, but ATCs are free to extend that period. Human rights activists criticized this parallel system, charging it was more vulnerable to political manipulation. According to a February report by the Research Society of International Law, when authorities were under political and media pressure to expedite cases they often referred them ATCs, even if they had no terrorism nexus. The frequent use of ATCs for nonterrorism cases led to significant backlogs, and despite being comparatively faster than the regular court system, ATCs often failed to meet speedy trial standards.

The government continued to utilize military courts to try civilians on terrorism and related charges. Trials in military courts are not public (see section 1.d.).

The Federal Shariat Court typically reviewed cases prosecuted under the Hudood Ordinance, a law enacted in 1979 by military leader Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq to implement a strict interpretation of Islamic law by punishing extramarital sex, false accusations of extramarital sex, theft, and alcohol consumption. Should a provincial high court decide to hear an appeal in a Hudood case, the Shariat Court lacks authority to review the provincial high court’s decision. The Supreme Court may bypass the Shariat Appellate Bench and assume jurisdiction in such appellate cases. The Federal Shariat Court may overturn legislation judged inconsistent with Islamic tenets, but such decisions may be appealed to the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court and ultimately may be heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court.

Courts routinely failed to protect the rights of religious minorities. Courts discriminatorily used laws prohibiting blasphemy against Shia, Christians, Ahmadis, and members of other religious minority groups. Lower courts often did not require adequate evidence in blasphemy cases, and some convicted persons spent years in jail before higher courts eventually overturned their convictions or ordered their release.

In a landmark case, On October 31, the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. In the wake of widespread protests by antiblasphemy groups following the decision, the government agreed not to oppose a petition seeking additional review of her case, further postponing final resolution of the case. Bibi was released from prison, but as of December 3 was widely believed to remain in government custody for her own protection, and the judicial review was pending.

In some cases, police arrested individuals after acts of vigilantism related to blasphemy or religious discrimination. In February an ATC convicted 31 individuals for their role in the 2017 mob lynching of university student Mashal Khan for allegedly committing blasphemy. The ATC sentenced the primary shooter to death, sentenced five others to life in prison, and 25 individuals to four years’ imprisonment, although the Peshawar High Court later suspended the sentences and released on bail the 25 individuals.

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Some Sindhi and Baloch nationalist groups claimed that authorities detained their members based on political affiliation or beliefs. Under the 2009 Aghaz-e-Haqooq (“beginning of the rights”) Balochistan legislative package of reforms (intended to address the province’s political, social, and economic problems), the government announced a general amnesty for all Baloch political prisoners, leaders, and activists in exile as well as those allegedly involved in “antistate” activities. In 2015 the federal and Balochistan provincial governments jointly announced a new peace package called “Pur Aman Balochistan” (“peaceful Balochistan”), intended to offer cash and other incentives for “militants” who wished to rejoin mainstream society. Despite the amnesty offers, illegal detention of Baloch leaders and the disappearance of private Baloch citizens continued. During an August 15 National Assembly session Akhtar Mengal, leader of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, raised the issue of disappearances in Balochistan, claiming there were five thousand missing citizens in his province.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may petition the courts to seek redress for various human rights violations, and courts often took such actions. Individuals may seek redress in civil courts against government officials, including on grounds of denial of human rights. Observers reported that civil courts seldom issued official judgments in such cases, and most cases were settled out of court. Although there were no official procedures for administrative redress, informal reparations were common. Individuals and organizations could not appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, although some NGOs submitted human rights “shadow reports” to the United Nations and other international actors.

Panama

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption as well as internal and external influence, and it faced allegations of manipulation by the executive branch. In August a judge dismissed corruption charges against 22 government officials. Among the accused were individuals who had considerable influence in the community.

Court proceedings for cases in process under the inquisitorial system were not publicly available, while accusatory system cases were. As a result nonparties to the inquisitorial case proceedings did not have access to these proceedings until a verdict was reached. Under the inquisitorial system, judges could decide to hold private hearings and did so in high-profile cases. Consequently the judiciary sometimes faced accusations, particularly in high-profile cases, of procedural irregularities. Since most of these cases had not reached conclusion, however, the records remained under seal. Interested parties generally did not face gag orders, but because of this mechanism, it was difficult to verify facts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

During the year new criminal cases were tried under the accusatory system. Under this system, trials were open to the public. All trials must be completed in less than 18 months. Judges may order the presence of pretrial detainees for providing or expanding upon statements or for confronting witnesses. Trials are conducted based on evidence presented by the public prosecutor. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, along with the right to enter into a plea deal. Defendants may confront or question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants have a right of appeal. The judiciary generally enforced these rights.

The judiciary complained that many hearings were canceled due to inmates’ failure to appear, especially those involving inmates processed under the old inquisitorial system. This was usually due to administrative shortcomings, such as a dearth of PNP agents to transfer the inmates to the courts. Authorities were also aware that available correctional officers and PNP agents focused more on inmates tried under the new accusatory system because the law fines police and correctional officers 100 balboas (one balboa is equal to one U.S. dollar) for failing to deliver an inmate to a hearing.

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

The 2016 Community Justice System, which provides another path for citizens to seek redress for human rights violations, entered into effect in January. Although peace judges were appointed, lack of municipal funds throughout the country prevented the assignment of professional-level salaries for the judges as well as the relocation of the facilities for administrative or community justice to be served. The peace judges replaced the 679 corregidores under the 77 mayors nationwide. The corregidor system, a leftover of the military regime, was considered for years an unfair process that violated human rights through unjustified imprisonment imposed by unqualified, politically influenced “judges.” Training for National Police agents and Judicial Investigative agents on the new system was also insufficient.

Papua New Guinea

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for individuals and organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The national court established a mechanism to fast-track cases of alleged human rights abuses. Through this process the national court may award civil remedies in cases of human rights abuses. District courts may order “good behavior bonds,” commonly called “protection orders,” in addition to ordering that compensation be paid for violations of human rights. Courts had difficulty enforcing judgments. In addition, largely unregulated village courts adjudicated many human rights matters. Village and district courts often hesitated to interfere directly in domestic matters. Village courts regularly ordered payment of compensation to an abused spouse’s family in cases of domestic abuse rather than issuing an order to detain and potentially charge the alleged offender.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

Paraguay

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Undue external influence, however, often compromised the judiciary’s independence. Interested parties, including politicians, routinely attempted to influence investigations and pressure judges and prosecutors. Judicial selection and disciplinary review board processes were often politicized. The law requires that specific seats on the board be allocated to congressional representatives, who were reportedly the greatest source of corrupt pressure and influence.

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, which the judiciary nominally provided, albeit through a lengthy trial process exacerbated by legal defense tactics that remove or suspend judges and prosecutors working on cases. Impunity was common due to politicization of and corruption within the judiciary and regular manipulation of the judicial process by defense attorneys who pushed statutes of limitations to expire before trials reached conclusion.

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

Defendants have the right to access free interpretation services as necessary, including translation to Guarani–the country’s second official language. Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay, although trials were often protracted, as well as the right to be present at the trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or one provided at public expense. Defendants have the right to a reasonable amount of time to prepare their defense and to access their legal files. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt and may choose to remain silent.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

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

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

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

The dispute between Brazilian-Paraguayan families claiming title to 555,436 acres of land and farming families occupying 222,965 acres of the disputed land in Colonia Guahory, Caaguazu Department, continued throughout the year. Police attempted to conduct several eviction operations, but the farming families remained in place. Legal counsel for the small-scale farming families alleged the Brazilian-Paraguayan families illegally purchased titles to the land. The case was pending as of October 15.

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

Rwanda

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reports of direct government interference in the judiciary, and authorities generally respected court orders. Domestic and international observers noted, however, that outcomes in high-profile genocide, security, and politically sensitive cases appeared predetermined.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for a presumption of innocence and requires defendants be informed promptly and in detail of the charges in a language they comprehend.

Defendants have the right to a trial without undue delay. Despite the National Public Prosecution Authority’s assertion that its prosecutors handled all cases without significant undue delay, defense lawyers reported there were an insufficient number of prosecutors, judges, and courtrooms to hold trials within a reasonable time.

By law detainees are allowed access to lawyers. The expense and scarcity of lawyers and most lawyers’ reluctance to take on cases they considered sensitive for political or state security reasons, however, limited access to legal representation. Some lawyers working on politically sensitive cases reported harassment and threats by government officials, including monitoring of their communications and denial of access to evidence against their clients.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice, although many defendants could not afford private counsel. The law provides for legal representation of minors. The Rwandan Bar Association and 36 other member organizations of the Legal Aid Forum provided legal assistance to some indigent defendants but lacked the resources to provide defense counsel to all in need. Legal aid organizations noted that the requirement that defendants present a certificate of indigence signed by their district authorities made it difficult to qualify for pro bono representation.

The law requires that defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, and judges routinely granted requests to extend preparation time. The law provides for a right to free interpretation, but domestic human rights organizations noted that officials did not always enforce this right, particularly in cases of deaf and hard-of-hearing defendants requiring sign language interpreters. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, confront witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Judges generally respected the law during trial. The law provides for the right to appeal, and authorities respected this provision.

The SSF continued to coerce suspects into confessing guilt in security-related cases. Judges tended to accept confessions obtained through torture despite defendants’ protests and failed to order investigations when defendants alleged torture during their trial. The judiciary sometimes held security-related, terrorism, and high-profile political trials in closed chambers. Some defense attorneys in these cases reported irregularities and complained judges tended to disregard the rights of the accused when hearings were not held publicly.

The RDF routinely tried military offenders, as well as civilians who previously served in the RDF, before military tribunals that handed down penalties of fines, imprisonment, or both for those convicted. Military courts provided defendants with similar rights as civilian courts, including the right of appeal. Defendants often appeared before military tribunals without legal counsel due to the cost of hiring private attorneys and the unwillingness of most attorneys to defend individuals accused of crimes against state security. The law stipulates military courts may try civilian accomplices of soldiers accused of crimes.

In 2012 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda transferred its remaining genocide cases to the MICT. It continued to pursue eight genocide fugitives subject to tribunal indictments.

On September 3, authorities arrested five individuals wanted by the MICT for contempt of court and transferred them to the MICT offices in Tanzania.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were numerous reports that local officials and the SSF detained some individuals who disagreed publicly with government decisions or policies. Some opposition leaders and government critics faced indictment under broadly applied charges of genocide incitement, genocide denial, inciting insurrection or rebellion, or attempting to overthrow the government. Political detainees were afforded the same protections, including visitation rights, access to lawyers and doctors, and access to family members, as other detainees. Occasionally authorities held politically sensitive detainees in individual cells–even in facilities with severe overcrowding–to ensure they would not be mistreated while in detention. Numerous individuals identified by international and domestic human rights groups as political prisoners remained in prison, including Deo Mushayidi and Theoneste Niyitegeka.

On September 15, the government released FDU-Inkingi president and former 2010 presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire from prison after President Kagame commuted the remainder of her sentence. Ingabire had been convicted and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in 2012 in what was considered a flawed trial based on politically motivated charges; in 2013 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and increased her sentence from eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. The FDU-Inkingi issued a statement saying the party hoped Ingabire’s release represented a sincere democratic opening. Minister of Justice Busingye, on the other hand, told press there was nothing political about her release since there was nothing political about her imprisonment. On October 9, the RIB summoned Ingabire for questioning and informed her that she could face legal action if she continued to characterize her conviction as political and to refer to other political prisoners. As of September 13, the government had not responded to a November 2017 ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights that the government violated Ingabire’s right to freedom of expression and that her 2012 conviction in a flawed judicial process violated her right to defense. The court ordered the government to take all necessary measures to restore Ingabire’s rights and to submit to the court a report on the measures taken within six months.

In addition to Ingabire, on September 14, the government granted early release to 2,139 other prisoners. Among them was Kizito Mihigo, a popular musician who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for conviction of conspiracy to kill President Kagame and other government officials.

On December 6, a court acquitted presidential aspirant and vocal Kagame critic Diane Rwigara of forgery and inciting insurrection after ruling that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges, which human rights organizations described as politically motivated. Diane Rwigara’s mother, Adeline Rwigara, arrested at the same time, was also acquitted of all charges. The two women were detained for more than one year before they were released on bail on October 5. Associates of Diane Rwigara also reportedly experienced harassment during the year, with some denied diplomas, fired from jobs, or taken into police custody for days at a time before being released. Rwigara’s sister, Anne Rwigara, was released in 2017.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was generally independent and impartial in civil matters. Mechanisms exist for citizens to file lawsuits in civil matters, including for violations of human rights. The Office of the Ombudsman processed claims of judicial wrongdoing on an administrative basis. Individuals may submit cases to the East African Court of Justice after exhausting domestic appeals.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Reports of expropriation of land for the construction of roads, government buildings, and other infrastructure projects were common, and complainants frequently cited government failure to provide adequate and timely compensation. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) investigated some of these cases and advocated on citizens’ behalf with relevant local and national authorities but was unable to effect restitution in a majority of the cases. In one instance residents refused to vacate their land and took the government to court to contest the expropriation. The case was pending at year’s end.

The government continued harassment of the family of Assinapol Rwigara whose death, the family claimed, was a politically motivated killing by SSF members via an automobile accident in 2015. After Assinapol’s daughter, Diane, was disqualified from running in the 2017 presidential election, the government initiated criminal proceedings against the family for alleged nonpayment of taxes. In March, June, and October, authorities auctioned off assets belonging to the Rwigaras worth 2.2 billion Rwandan francs ($2.5 million) because of the alleged arrears.

San Marino

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law provides for the presumption of innocence and requires authorities to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants have the right to a fair, public trial without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney during every stage of the investigation. Indigent defendants have the right to an attorney provided at public expense. A single judge presides over trials. Defendants have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense. Free language interpretation is provided throughout the legal process. Defendants may question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Authorities may not compel defendants to testify or to confess guilt. Defendants have the right to two levels of appeal. The law extends these rights to all persons, and no groups were denied these rights.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Administrative as well as judicial remedies exist for alleged wrongdoings, including human rights violations. Citizens may appeal cases involving alleged violations by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights after they have exhausted all routes for appeal in the domestic courts.

Saudi Arabia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides that judges are independent and not subject to any authority other than the provisions of sharia and the laws in force. Nevertheless, the judiciary, PPO, and SSP were not independent entities, as they were required to coordinate their decisions with executive authorities, with the king and crown prince as arbiters. Although public allegations of interference with judicial independence were rare, the judiciary reportedly was subject to influence, particularly in the case of legal decisions rendered by specialized judicial bodies, such as the SCC, which rarely acquitted suspects. Human rights activists reported that SCC judges received implicit instructions to issue harsh sentences against human rights activists, reformers, journalists, and dissidents not engaged in violent activities. Activists also reported that judicial and prosecutorial authorities ignored due process-related complaints, including lack of access by lawyers to their clients at critical stages of the judicial process, particularly during the pretrial/investigation phase.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In the judicial system, there traditionally was no published case law on criminal matters, no uniform criminal code, no presumption of innocence, and no doctrine of stare decisis that binds judges to follow legal precedent. The Justice Ministry is expanding a project first started in 2007 to encapsulate and distribute model judicial decisions to ensure more uniformity of legal application. The law states that defendants should be treated equally in accordance with sharia. The Council of Senior Scholars (CSS), or the ulema, an autonomous advisory body, issues religious opinions (fatwas) that guide how judges interpret sharia.

In the absence of a formalized penal code that details all criminal offenses and punishments, judges in the courts determine many of these penalties through their interpretations of sharia, which varied according to the judge and the circumstances of the case. Because judges have considerable discretion in decision making, rulings and sentences diverged widely from case to case.

Several laws, however, provide sentencing requirements for crimes including terrorism, cybercrimes, trafficking in persons, and domestic abuse. In 2016 the Ministry of Justice issued its first compilation of previous decisions that judges could refer to as a point of reference in making rulings and assigning sentences.

Appeals courts cannot independently reverse lower court judgments; they are limited to affirming judgments or returning them to a lower court for modification. Even when judges did not affirm judgments, appeals judges in some cases remanded the judgment to the judge who originally authored the opinion. This procedure sometimes made it difficult for parties to receive a ruling that differed from the original judgment in cases where judges hesitated to admit error. While judges may base their decisions on any of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, all of which are represented in the CSS, the Hanbali school predominates and forms the basis for the country’s law and legal interpretations of sharia. Shia citizens use their legal traditions to adjudicate family law cases between Shia parties, although either party can decide to adjudicate a case in state courts, which apply Sunni legal traditions.

While the law states that court hearings shall be public, courts may be closed at the judge’s discretion. As a result, many trials during the year were closed. Through mid-October foreign diplomatic missions were able to obtain permission to attend some nonconsular court proceedings (cases to which neither the host country nor any of its nationals were a party; diplomatic missions are generally allowed to attend consular proceedings of their own nationals). To attend, authorities required diplomats to obtain advance written approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suspended diplomatic access to court proceedings. Authorities sometimes did not permit entry to such trials to individuals other than diplomats who were not the legal agents or family members of the accused. SCC officials sometimes banned female relatives or diplomats from attending due to the absence of women officers to conduct security inspections of the women upon entry to the courtroom. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities may close a trial depending on the sensitivity of the case to national security, the reputation of the defendant, or the safety of witnesses. Representatives of the HRC sometimes attended trials at the SCC.

Amendments to the law of criminal procedure in 2013 strengthened provisions stating that authorities will offer defendants a lawyer at government expense. In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice stated that defendants “enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the ministry pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Activists, however, reported the process for applying for a court-appointed lawyer was difficult and cumbersome. Many said they were not able or allowed to retain an attorney or consult with their attorneys during critical stages of the investigatory and trial proceedings. Detained human rights activists often did not trust the courts to appoint lawyers for them due to concerns of lawyer bias.

The law provides defendants the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney during the trial. The counterterrorism law, however, authorizes the attorney general to limit the right of defendants accused of terrorism to access legal representation while under investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” There is no right to discovery, nor can defendants view their own file or the minutes from their interrogation. Defendants have the right to call and cross-examine witnesses under the law; however, activists reported SCC judges could decide to restrict this right in “the interests of the case.” The law provides that a PPO-appointed investigator questions the witnesses called by the defendant during the investigation phase before the initiation of a trial. The investigator may also hear testimony of additional witnesses he deems necessary to determine the facts. Authorities may not subject a defendant to any coercive measures or compel the taking of an oath. The court must inform convicted persons of their right to appeal rulings.

The law does not provide for a right against self-incrimination.

The law does not provide free interpretation services, although services were often provided in practice. The law of criminal procedure provides that “the court should seek the assistance of interpreters,” but it does not obligate the court to do so from the moment the defendant is charged, nor does the law specify that the state will bear the costs of such services.

While sharia as interpreted by the government applies to all citizens and noncitizens, the law in practice discriminates against women, noncitizens, nonpracticing Sunni, Shia, and persons of other religions. Although exceptions exist, a woman’s testimony before a court counts as only half that of a man’s. Judges may discount the testimony of nonpracticing Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, or persons of other religions; sources reported judges sometimes completely disregarded or refused to hear testimony by Shia.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government maintained there were no political prisoners, including detainees who reportedly remained in prolonged detention without charge, while local activists and human rights organizations claimed there were “hundreds” or “thousands.” Credible reporting by advocacy groups and press suggested that authorities detained persons for peaceful activism or political opposition, including nonviolent religious figures, imams deemed to have strayed from the official religious line, Shia activists, women’s rights defenders, other activists, and bloggers who the government claimed posted offensive or antigovernment comments on websites.

In many cases it was impossible to determine the legal basis for incarceration and whether the detention complied with international norms and standards. Those who remained imprisoned after trial, including persons who were political activists openly critical of the government, were often convicted of terrorism-related crimes. During the year the SCC tried political and human rights activists for nonviolent actions unrelated to terrorism, violence, or espionage against the state.

International NGOs, the United Nations, and others criticized the government for abusing its antiterrorism prerogatives to detain or arrest some dissidents or critics of the government or royal family on security-related grounds who had not espoused or committed violence. Authorities restricted attorneys’ access to all detainees, and no international humanitarian organizations had access to them.

On May 25, authorities arrested ACPRA founding member Mohammed al-Bajadi, along with almost a dozen women rights defenders, some of whom were later released. Al-Bajadi was previously released from prison in 2016 after serving a four-year prison sentence on charges stemming from his work with ACPRA. Among other rights defenders arrested in May was lawyer Ibrahim al-Mudaimeegh, who previously represented activists including Waleed Abu al-Khair and Lujain al-Hathloul. Al-Mudaimeegh was reportedly released on December 21.

At least 120 persons remained in detention for activism, criticism of government leaders, impugning Islam or religious leaders, or “offensive” internet postings, including prominent activists such as Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Hatoon al-Fassi, Raif Badawi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Samar Badawi, and clerics including former Grand Mosque Imam Salih al-Talib, Sahwa movement figures Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar, and others.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Complainants claiming human rights violations generally sought assistance from the HRC or the NSHR, which either advocated on their behalf or provided courts with opinions on their cases. The HRC generally responded to complaints and could refer cases to the PPO; domestic violence cases were the most common. Individuals or organizations may petition directly for damages or government action to end human rights violations before the Board of Grievances, except in compensation cases related to state security, where the SCC handles remediation. The counterterrorism law contains a provision allowing detainees in Mabahith-run prisons to request financial compensation from the Ministry of Interior/SSP for wrongful detention beyond their prison terms. In some cases the government did not carry out judicially ordered compensation for unlawful detentions in a timely manner.

In August 2017 the Ministry of Justice issued a press release stating that “…the accused enjoy all judicial guarantees they are entitled to, including the right to seek the assistance of lawyers of their choosing to defend them, while the Ministry [of Justice] pays the lawyer’s fees when the accused is not able to settle them.” Security detainees held in accordance with the 2017 Counterterrorism Law are entitled “to seek the assistance of a lawyer or legal agent,” but the Public Prosecutor may restrict this right during the investigation “whenever the interests of the investigation so require.” The United Nations and international NGOs reported security detainees were denied access to legal counsel during pretrial detention during the year.

Senegal

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was subject to corruption and government influence. Magistrates noted overwhelming caseloads, lack of adequate space and office equipment, and inadequate transportation, and they openly questioned the government’s commitment to judicial independence. According to Freedom in the World 2016, “inadequate pay and lack of tenure expose judges to external influences and prevent the courts from providing a proper check on the other branches of government. The president controls appointments to the Constitutional Council.” Authorities did not always respect court orders.

On several occasions the Union of Senegalese Judges and Prosecutors complained about the influence of the executive over the judiciary, in particular through the presence of the president and the minister of justice in the High Council of Magistrates, which manages the careers of judges and prosecutors. In response Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall defended existing systems, including the High Council of Magistrates, and stated the executive did not interfere in judicial affairs. To address the complaints, however, in February President Sall instructed the minister to propose changes to strengthen judicial independence, taking the union’s recommendations into account. No proposed changes had been adopted by year’s end.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for all defendants to have the right to a fair and public trial, and for an independent judiciary to enforce this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present in court during their trial and to have an attorney (at public expense if needed) in felony cases, and they have the right to appeal. They also have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense, and to receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to confront and present witnesses and to present their own witnesses and evidence.

While defendants cannot be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt, the country’s long-standing practice is for defendants to provide information to investigators and testify during trials. In addition, case backlogs, lack of legal counsel (especially in regions outside of Dakar), judicial inefficiency and corruption, and lengthy pretrial detention undermined many of the rights of defendants.

Evidentiary hearings may be closed to the public and press. Although a defendant and counsel may introduce evidence before an investigating judge who decides whether to refer a case for trial, police or prosecutors may limit their access to evidence against the defendant prior to trial. A panel of judges presides over ordinary courts in civil and criminal cases.

The right of appeal exists in all courts, except for the High Court of Justice. These rights extend to all citizens.

In March 2017 authorities in Dakar arrested the city’s then mayor Khalifa Sall (no relation to President Sall), an opposition leader, on charges of fraudulent use of public funds. Sall was elected to the National Assembly in July 2017 while still in custody and has since remained in custody. On March 30, Sall was convicted of fraudulent use of public funds and forgery of administrative documents and sentenced to five years in prison. Opposition figures and human rights advocates alleged Sall’s arrest and conviction, despite his election and subsequent parliamentary immunity, were politically motivated. On June 29, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice agreed the government had violated Sall’s rights, including his parliamentary immunity, by not releasing him upon his election to the legislature. The ECOWAS court ordered the government to pay damages to Sall and his codefendants. Despite these irregularities, on August 30, an appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision, and on August 31, President Sall issued a decree formally removing Khalifa Sall as the mayor of Dakar.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek cessation of and reparation for human rights violations in regular administrative or judicial courts. Citizens may also seek administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the ombudsman, an independent authority. Corruption and lack of independence hampered judicial and administrative handling of these cases. At times prosecutors refused to prosecute security officials, and violators often went unpunished. In matters related to human rights, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Serbia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the courts remained susceptible to corruption and political influence.

The European Commission (EC) staff’s working document Serbia 2018 Report, released on April 17, stated that, even though there was some progress, the scope for political influence over the judiciary remained a concern. The report stated that the current constitutional and legislative framework still leaves room for undue political influence over the judiciary. This has been an ongoing concern in several EU progress reports.

Regional cooperation on war crimes prosecutions remained a problem for all the states involved in the conflicts of the 1990s. The country’s full cooperation with the current Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals is an issue of serious concern. The EC’s Serbia 2018 Report working document stated that, while the country’s technical cooperation on requests for assistance from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) remained satisfactory, cooperation on the lawful arrest of individuals indicted for contempt of court was unsatisfactory.

The implementation of the 2016 National Strategy for the Processing of War Crimes was delayed and had not been implemented expeditiously. The Humanitarian Law Center reported that there had been no tangible progress with respect to war crimes prosecutions since the adoption of the strategy. Of the 12 indictments issued since the adoption of the national strategy, only one was the result of an investigation conducted by the War Crimes Prosecutor’s Office (WCPO) in Serbia; the other 11 were transferred directly from the WCPO of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Trials within the Special Court that adjudicates war crime prosecutions continued to be unnecessarily protracted. The procedural rights of victims had not been strengthened, and the resolution of missing persons cases proceeded at a slower pace than predicted in the national strategy.

Another problem of serious concern was that the position of chief war crimes prosecutor was filled by a deputy war crimes prosecutor from January 2016 to May 2017. The deputy prosecutor lacked formal authorization to do the work, and the defense counsel used the prosecutor’s lack of authority to contest the validity of several prosecution and investigative acts taken during this period. In seven cases the indictments were dismissed, requiring that one indictment be resubmitted and the prosecution file a request to resume proceedings in the remaining six cases. Five of these resumption requests were granted. These issues further delayed already protracted war crimes trials.

The lack of appointments of war crimes prosecutors delayed court proceedings.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

The constitution and laws grant defendants the presumption of innocence. Authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free translation throughout criminal proceedings if necessary. Defendants have a right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, although authorities may close a trial if the trial judge determines it is warranted for the protection of morals, public order, national security, the interests of a minor, the privacy of a participant, or during the testimony of a state-protected witness.

Lay judges sit on the trial benches in all cases except those handled by the organized crime and war crimes authorities. Defendants also have the right to have an attorney represent them, at public expense, when a defendant lacks resources to acquire representation and one of two conditions is met: either the crime is punishable for three or more years of imprisonment or a defense attorney is mandatory under the law. Defendants and attorneys are generally given ample time and sufficient facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their own trials, to access government evidence, to question witnesses, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Both the defense and the prosecution have the right to appeal a verdict.

The government generally respected these rights; some defendants complained about not being able to present evidence at court and not being able to depose their witnesses. Poorer defendants struggled to get legal representation, as the country does not have a functional system of free legal aid for all situations. Free legal aid was granted only in serious cases, where the law mandates representation.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution grants individuals the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding an alleged violation of human rights. In addition to ruling whether a violation occurred, the court can also issue a decision that can serve as grounds for seeking restitution. The government generally respected decisions rendered by the Constitutional Court. Once all avenues for remedy in the domestic courts are exhausted, citizens may appeal cases involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and/or mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.

In accordance with the country’s participation in the Terezin Declaration, in 2016 parliament adopted a law on the restitution of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property seized during the Holocaust. This law allows the Jewish community to file restitution claims based on these seizures, without restricting the rights of future claimants. The law defines “heirless property” as any property that was not the subject of a legitimate claim for restitution under the General Restitution Law. The community must prove the former owner of the property was a member of the Jewish community, and that the property was confiscated during the Holocaust. The law also stipulates financial support from the state budget for the Jewish community. This financial support is 950,000 euros ($1.1 million) per year for a 25-year period; the government made the second payment during the year.

The Serbian Agency for Restitution received 239 claims from the Jewish Communities of Serbia and returned nine heirless apartments, 29 commercial real estate parcels, 39 buildings, and 250 acres of agricultural land to the Jewish community from the beginning of the year through November.

The government appointed a new representative to the supervisory board, created under the 2016 Holocaust-era Heirless Property Restitution Law, designed to provide for accountability in the use of restituted property and financial compensation to Serbian Jewish communities.

Seychelles

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were reports of improved court processes with both civil and criminal cases expedited quicker than in previous years. Case backlogs also were reduced during the year.

Supreme Court, Appeals Court, and magistrate court justices were mostly Seychellois by birth, with a few either naturalized Seychellois or citizens of other Commonwealth countries. Judges were generally impartial. Special tribunals were investigating two Supreme Court justices, Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey, and Justice Durai Karunakaran. In October a tribunal of inquiry composed of three Commonwealth jurists exonerated Chief Justice Twomey. Complaints against the chief justice were brought by Judge Durai Karunakaran, a senior member of the bench in Seychelles, stemming from Karunakaran’s prior suspension. There were several unconfirmed reports that Chief Justice Twomey was selectively strict with certain attorneys and certain cases. At least two lawyers reported the chief justice to the Constitutional Appointments Authority, the authority that appoints judges. Results of a 2016 case, whereby Supreme Court Justice Karunakaran, a naturalized citizen, was reported to the Constitutional Appointments Authority at the request of the chief justice and investigated for malpractice, were made not made public at year’s end.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be present at their trials and to appeal. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the first court appearance through all appeals. Only cases involving charges of murder or treason use juries. The constitution makes provision for defendants to present evidence and witnesses and to cross-examine witnesses in court. The law provides the right of defendants to consult with an attorney of choice or to have one provided at public expense in a timely manner and to be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right not to confess guilt, not to testify, nor to enter a plea. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. A commission established in 2017 to investigate claims of forced land acquisitions since the 1977 military takeover and to settle all claims did not meet during the year. On March 29, the Seychelles News Agency reported that President Faure publicly apologized to the Jeannie family for the death of Berard Jeannie, a police officer killed on the day of the 1977 coup. Individuals may also appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

Sri Lanka

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. All criminal trials are public. Authorities inform defendants of the charges against them, and they have the right to counsel and the right to appeal. The government provided counsel for indigent persons tried on criminal charges in the High Court and the courts of appeal but not in cases before lower courts. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence.

The law requires court proceedings and other legislation to be available in English, Sinhala, and Tamil. Most courts outside the northern and eastern parts of the country conducted business in English or Sinhala. Trials and hearings in the north and east were in Tamil and English. A shortage of court-appointed interpreters limited the right of Tamil-speaking defendants to free interpretation as necessary. In several instances courts tried criminal cases originating in the Tamil-speaking north and east in Sinhala-speaking areas, which exacerbated the language difference and increased the difficulty in presenting witnesses who needed to travel. Few legal textbooks were available in Tamil. Defendants have the right to be present in court during trial and have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants also have the right not to testify or admit guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Some Tamil politicians and local human rights activists referred to alleged former LTTE combatants accused of terrorism-related violent crimes as “political prisoners,” and the CHRD reported that more than 130 such prisoners remained in detention. The government did not acknowledge any political prisoners and claimed the prisoners in question were detained for violent criminal acts. The government permitted access to prisoners on a regular basis by the HRCSL, magistrates, and the Board of Prison Visits, and it allowed the ICRC access to monitor prison conditions. Authorities granted irregular access to those providing local legal counsel.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may seek civil remedies for alleged human rights violations through domestic courts up to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Land ownership disputes continued between private individuals in former war zones, and between citizens and the government.

The military seized significant amounts of land during the war to create security buffer zones around military bases and other high-value targets, known as high security zones (HSZs). According to the 1950 Land Acquisition Act, the government may acquire private property for a “public purpose,” but the law requires posting acquisition notices publicly and providing proper compensation to owners. The former government frequently posted acquisition notices for HSZ land that were inaccessible to property owners, many of whom initiated court cases, including fundamental rights cases before the Supreme Court, to challenge these acquisitions. According to the acquisition notices, most of the land acquired was for use as army camps and bases, but among the purposes listed on certain notices were the establishment of a hotel, a factory, and a farm. Throughout the year lawsuits, including a 2016 Supreme Court fundamental rights case and numerous writ applications filed with High Courts, remained stalled. Although HSZs had no legal framework following the lapse of emergency regulations in 2011, they still existed and remained off limits to civilians. During the year the government returned approximately 2,300 acres of land. Since 2009 the government reported that it had released more than 83,000 acres of land, representing more than 80 percent of all land occupied during the war.

With the amount of remaining land in dispute, many of those affected by the HSZs complained that the pace at which the government demilitarized land was too slow and that the military held lands it viewed as economically valuable. Some Hindu and Muslim groups reported they had difficulty officially claiming land they had long inhabited after Buddhist monks placed a statue of Buddha or a bodhi tree on their property.

Suriname

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The dependence of the courts on the Ministry of Justice and Police and Ministry of Finance, both executive agencies, for funding was a threat to judicial independence. Some progress was reportedly made towards financial independence of the Court of Justice, when the two agreed to allow the court to manage a budget of its own for smaller expenditures.

Human rights activists complained that there was no effective remedy for constitutional violations, as a succession of governments failed to install a constitutional court as mandated by the constitution.

According to the interim president of the Court of Justice, the country had only 19 of the 40 judges needed for the proper functioning of the judicial system. The government approved the appointment of seven new judges, who were to be sworn in in January 2019. Despite the shortage of judges, the court made significant progress in processing of cases, including appeals cases.

The judiciary hired additional court clerks and administrative staff to improve its administrative functioning. In January a newly renovated court building opened, and all three court buildings were operating at full capacity. The court launched an automation project intended to include the digitizing of all rulings and the launch of a website for educational purposes and publishing rulings. The Attorney General’s Office launched a training course for additional assistant prosecutors during the year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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

Defendants have the right to trial without undue delay and the right to counsel. There were court-assigned attorneys for both the civil and penal systems. All trials are public except for indecency offenses and offenses involving children. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to appeal. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants’ attorneys may question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on the defendant’s behalf. The courts assign private-sector lawyers to defend indigent detainees. If necessary, free interpretation is also provided. The law protects the names of the accused, and authorities do not release those names to the public or media prior to conviction.

Legal assistance to indigent detainees continued to come under pressure as lawyers threatened to cease legal assistance due to lack of payment by the government. Cases concerning non-Dutch-speaking detainees continued to experience delays on numerous occasions as interpreters suspended their services to the court due to a backlog in payments by the government. Cases requiring psychological or psychiatric evaluations were also repeatedly postponed as this group of experts also ceased court services during the year due to the government’s failure to pay them. There was no notable progress during the year to alleviate these problems.

There are parallel military and civilian court systems, and military personnel generally are not subject to civilian criminal law. The military courts follow the same rules of procedure as the civil courts. There is no appeal from the military to the civil system.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations in local courts. Individuals and organizations have the right to appeal decisions to regional human rights bodies; most cases are brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The IACHR ruled against the country in several cases, but the government only sporadically enforced court rulings or took no action (see section 6, Indigenous People).

Tajikistan

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive branch exerted pressure on prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges. Corruption and inefficiency were significant problems.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants legally are afforded a presumption of innocence, but the presumption did not exist in practice. The courts found nearly all defendants guilty.

Although the law requires that defendants be informed of the criminal charges against them within 10 days, in practice they were not always promptly informed or granted a trial without undue delay. Courts generally allowed defendants to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during trials but often denied defendants the right to an attorney during the pretrial and investigatory periods, particularly in politically sensitive cases. Authorities continued to level politically motivated criminal charges against some defense lawyers to obstruct detained political opposition figures’ access to legal counsel and dissuade other lawyers from taking the cases.

The government provided attorneys at public expense when requested, but defendants and civil society complained the government sometimes appointed attorneys as a means to deny defendants’ access to the legal counsel of their choice. Defendants and private attorneys said government-appointed attorneys often provided a poor and counterproductive defense. Moreover, the government abolished a grandfather clause allowing experienced lawyers to continue to practice after a 2016 law required all lawyers to retake the bar exam to renew their licenses. As a result, the number of lawyers accepting criminal defense cases in the country shrank significantly. International observers of court cases stated there were criminal cases in which defendants did not have legal representation. Although criminal defendants enjoy the right to adequate time to prepare a defense, they were often not granted adequate facilities to do so.

Defendants may present witnesses and evidence at trial with the consent of the judge. Defendants and attorneys have the right to confront and question witnesses and to present evidence and testimony. An interpreter is provided for defendants who do not speak Tajik, the official language used for court hearings. No groups are barred from testifying and, in principle, all testimony receives equal consideration. Courts, however, generally give prosecutorial testimony far greater consideration than defense testimony. Tajik legislation allows criminal defendants not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants also enjoy the right to appeal.

Low wages for judges and prosecutors left them vulnerable to bribery, a common practice. Government officials subjected judges to political influence.

Although most trials are public, the law also provides for secret trials when there is a national security concern. Civil society members faced difficulties in gaining access to high-profile public cases, which the government often declared secret. Three trials involving human rights attorney Buzurgmehr Yorov, the defense attorney for members of the banned IRPT, were closed to the public because they were classified “secret.” Major international human rights organizations raised concerns over Yorov’s court hearings, which they alleged failed to ensure due process protections. He was convicted in 2016 of issuing public calls for the overthrow of the government and inciting social unrest and was initially sentenced to 23 years in prison. In January 2017 the court prolonged the same sentence by three years and sentenced him to two additional years in a subsequent closed-door trial for contempt of court and insulting a government official.

On August 22, the Sughd Regional Court did not allow media and other observers to attend the public appeal hearing for imprisoned journalist Khayrullo Mirsaidov, a whistleblower case that garnered international attention. Mirsaidov’s family members, the media, and civil society and international community representatives gathered in front of the courthouse but were not allowed to enter the courtroom. The court did not provide any explanation for its actions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While authorities claimed there were no political prisoners or politically motivated arrests, opposition parties and local and international observers reported the government selectively arrested and prosecuted political opponents. Although there was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners, the government reported 239 prisoners who were members of banned political parties or movements.

In December 2017 local prosecutors in Rasht District arrested Farhod Khudoyorov, head of the Social Democratic Party branch office in Rasht Valley. Khudoyorov was charged with insulting and threatening authorities and in January was sentenced to 15 days of imprisonment for allegedly using coarse language with local officials. Khudoyorov did not admit his guilt and said he merely sent several SMS messages to the Rasht District head complaining about local problems.

On August 24, human rights lawyer Shukrat Khudratov was released after more than four years in jail. Khudratov was sentenced in 2015 to nine years in prison following a trial regarded by the human rights community as politically motivated.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Civil cases are heard in general civil courts, economic courts, and military courts. Judges may order monetary compensation for victims in criminal cases. No separate juvenile justice system exists, although there were some courts that provide a separate room for children linked to the courtroom by video camera. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms.

Tanzania

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but many components of the judiciary remained underfunded, corrupt, inefficient (especially in the lower courts), and subject to executive influence. Judges and senior court officers are all political appointees of the president. The need to travel long distances to courts imposes logistical and financial constraints that limit access to justice for persons in rural areas. There were fewer than two judges per million persons. Court clerks reportedly continued to take bribes to open cases or hide or misdirect the files of those accused of crimes. Magistrates of lower courts occasionally accepted bribes to determine the outcome of cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, but a weak judiciary often failed to protect this right.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. In most cases authorities informed detainees in detail of the charges against them once they had been brought to the police station. Charges were generally presented in Kiswahili or English with needed interpretation provided when possible. With some exceptions criminal trials were open to the public and the press. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial. Courts that hold closed proceedings (for example, in drug trafficking cases and sexual offenses involving juveniles) generally are required to provide reasons for closing the proceedings. In cases involving terrorism, the law provides that everyone, except the interested parties, may be excluded from court proceedings and witnesses may be heard under special arrangements for their protection.

The law requires legal aid in serious criminal cases, although in practice only those accused of murder and treason were provided with free representation. Most other defendants could not afford legal representation and represented themselves in court. Defendants in criminal matters are entitled to legal representation of their choice. In practice legal representation was unavailable to defendants without the means to pay. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) represented some indigent defendants in large cities, such as Dar es Salaam and Arusha. In Zanzibar the government sometimes provided public defenders in manslaughter cases. The law prohibits lawyers from appearing or defending clients in primary-level courts whose presiding officers are not degree-holding magistrates. Human rights groups criticized reported cases where lawyers attempting to represent clients in sensitive cases were themselves threatened with arrest.

Authorities did not always allow detainees sufficient time to prepare their defense, and access to adequate facilities was limited. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants or their lawyers have the right to confront prosecution witnesses and the right to present evidence and witnesses on the defendant’s behalf. Defendants were not compelled to testify or confess guilt.

All defendants charged with civil or criminal matters, except parties appearing before Zanzibari qadi courts (traditional Muslim courts that settle issues of divorce and inheritance), could appeal decisions to the respective mainland and Zanzibari high courts. All defendants can appeal decisions to the union Court of Appeal.

Judicial experts criticized the practice of police acting as prosecutors because of the risk police might manipulate evidence in criminal cases. The mainland Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs continued hiring and training state prosecutors to handle the entire mainland caseload, although staffing shortages continued.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Several opposition politicians and individuals critical of the government were arrested or detained during the year. Such individuals were usually charged with sedition, incitement, or unlawful assembly. For example, in February two opposition leaders, one a lawmaker, were sentenced to five months in prison for insulting President Magufuli in a move Freedom House said was “aimed at intimidating critics of the government.”

On October 31, opposition ACT-Wazalendo member of parliament (MP) Zitto Kabwe was arrested after publicly alleging that clashes between police and herdsmen in Kigoma had killed more than 100 persons. Kabwe was charged two days later with sedition and inciting hatred and released on a 10 million Tanzanian Shillings (TZS) ($4,400) bond. A preliminary hearing was set for December 13.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons may bring civil lawsuits seeking damages for or the cessation of human rights violations and can appeal those rulings to the Court of Appeal on the mainland and other regional courts. Civil judicial procedures, however, were often slow, inefficient, and corrupt. Individuals and organizations with observer status have the right to bring complaints to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Between July and December 2017, the government demolished 2,000 houses along the Kimara-Kiluvya Road in Dar es Salaam without providing sufficient compensation, contending that the distance between the structures and the road did not meet setback standards required by law. During a June budget session in parliament, MP Saed Kubenea requested that the government compensate the affected persons, who had filed an unsuccessful injunction in court against the demolition before it occurred.

The Bahamas

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, sitting judges are not granted tenure, and some law professionals asserted that judges were incapable of rendering completely independent decisions due to lack of job security. Procedural shortcomings and trial delays were problems. The courts were unable to keep pace with the rise in criminal cases, and there was a growing backlog.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to a fair and free public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free assistance of an interpreter, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. Although defendants generally have the right to confront adverse witnesses, in some cases the law allows witnesses to testify anonymously against accused perpetrators in order to protect themselves from intimidation or retribution. Authorities frequently dismissed serious charges because witnesses either refused to testify or could not be located. Defendants also have a right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and to appeal.

Defendants may hire an attorney of their choice. The government provided legal representation only to destitute suspects charged with capital crimes, leaving large numbers of defendants without adequate legal representation. Lack of representation contributed to excessive pretrial detention, as some accused lacked the means to advance their cases toward trial.

Numerous juvenile offenders appear in court with an individual who is court-appointed to protect the juvenile’s interests (guardian ad litem). A conflict arises when the magistrate requests “information” about a child’s background and requests that the same social worker prepare a probation report. The Department of Social Services prepares the report, which includes a recommendation on the eventual sentence for the child. In essence the government-assigned social worker tasked with safeguarding the welfare of the child is the same individual tasked with recommending an appropriate punishment for the child.

A significant backlog of cases were awaiting trial. Delays reportedly lasted years, although the government increased the number of criminal courts and continued working to clear the backlog. Once cases went to trial, they were often further delayed due to poor case and court management, such as inaccurate handling or presentation of evidence and inaccurate scheduling of witnesses, jury members, and accused persons for testimony. Shaquille “Kellie” Rashad Demeritte Kelly was killed in 2013, and despite national coverage of the killing and a government commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice, the trial dates were continually postponed.

Local legal professionals also attributed delays to a variety of longstanding systemic problems, such as slow and limited police investigations, insufficient forensic capacity, lengthy legal procedures, and staff shortages in the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and there is access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.

Trinidad and Tobago

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Although the judicial process was generally fair, it was slow due to backlogs and inefficiencies. Prosecutors and judges stated that witness and jury intimidation remained a problem.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides all defendants with the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Magistrates try both minor and more serious offenses, but in the latter cases, the magistrate must conduct a preliminary inquiry. Defendants have the right to be present, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and to appeal. Authorities inform them promptly and in detail of all charges. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Authorities provide an attorney at public expense to defendants facing serious criminal charges, and the law requires provision of an attorney to any person accused of murder. Although the courts may appoint attorneys for indigent persons charged with serious crimes, an indigent person may refuse to accept an assigned attorney for cause and may obtain a replacement. Defendants can confront or question adverse witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The government provides free foreign language interpreters as well as sign-language interpreters as necessary in court cases.

Both civil and criminal appeals may be filed with the Court of Appeal and ultimately with the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations are free to file lawsuits against civil breaches of human rights in both the High Court and petty civil court. The High Court may review the decisions of lower courts, order parties to cease and desist from particular actions, compel parties to take specific actions, and award damages to aggrieved parties. Court cases may be appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Tunisia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although defendants complained authorities did not consistently follow the law on trial procedures. In civilian courts, defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They also have the right to consult with an attorney or to have one provided at public expense, to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and to appeal verdicts against them. The law stipulates defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation if necessary. They must also be given adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense and not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

The 2015 counterterrorism law stipulates that in cases involving terrorism, judges may close hearings to the public. Judges may also keep information on witnesses, victims, and any other relevant persons confidential, including from the accused and his or her legal counsel. The counterterrorism law also extends the amount of time that a suspect may be held without access to legal counsel from five to 15 days, with a judicial review required after each five-day period. Human rights organizations objected to the law for its vague definition of terrorism and the broad leeway it gives to judges to admit testimony by anonymous witnesses.

Military courts fall under the Ministry of Defense. Military tribunals have authority to try cases involving military personnel and civilians accused of national security crimes. A defendant may appeal a military tribunal’s verdict. A first appeal can be made to the military court of appeal, and a second appeal to the civilian second court of appeal. Human rights advocates argued that national security crimes are too broadly defined but acknowledged that, following the 2011 reform of military courts, defendants in military courts have the same rights as those in civilian courts. These include the right to choose legal representation, access case files and evidence, conduct cross-examinations, call witnesses, and appeal court judgments. There is no specialized code for military courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts; however, military courts handle claims for civil remedies for alleged security force abuses in civil disturbances during the revolution. Civilian courts heard cases involving alleged abuse by security forces during the year. Some cases did not move forward because security force officials, and occasionally civilian judges, failed to cooperate in the investigations. According to HRW, the lack of provisions criminalizing command dereliction, which would hold senior officers liable for crimes committed by subordinates with explicit or tacit approval, contributed to military courts’ light sentences for security force members.

Ukraine

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.

Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the Prosecutor General’s Office, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings.

The National Bar Association reported numerous cases of intimidation and attacks against lawyers, especially those representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “pro-Russia-led forces.” For example on July 27, representatives of nationalist hate group C14 attacked lawyer Valentyn Rybin, who was representing a citizen charged with separatism at the Kyiv City Appeals Court. Police opened an investigation into the incident.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.

The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial, to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal.

Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.

Russia-led forces terminated Ukrainian court system functions on territories under their control in 2014. The so-called “DPR” and “LPR” did not have an independent judiciary, and the right to a fair trial was systematically restricted. The HRMMU reported that in many cases individuals were not provided with any judicial review of their detention, and were detained indefinitely without any charges or trial. In cases of suspected espionage or when individuals were suspected of having links to the Ukrainian government, closed-door trials by military tribunals were held. There were nearly no opportunities to appeal the verdicts of these tribunals. According to the HRMMU, “accounts by conflict-related detainees suggest that their degree of culpability in the imputed ‘crime’ was already considered established at the time of their ‘arrest,’ amounting to a presumption of guilt. Subsequent ‘investigations’ and ‘trials’ seemed to serve merely to create a veneer of legality to the ‘prosecution’ of individuals believed to be associated with Ukrainian military or security forces.” The HRMMU reported that de facto authorities generally impede private lawyers from accessing clients and that court-appointed defense lawyers generally made no efforts to provide an effective defense, and participated in efforts to coerce guilty pleas.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of a small number of individuals that some human rights groups considered to be political prisoners.

As of October the trial of Zhytomyr journalist Vasyl Muravytsky, was ongoing. Muravytsky was charged with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements deemed pro-Russian. He could face up to 15 years of prison. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for his release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.

On February 20, the Dolyna court returned an indictment against Ruslan Kotsaba, a blogger from Ivano-Frankivsk, to the prosecutor’s office for lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. Kotsaba was not incarcerated at the time and had been released in 2016 following his 2015 arrest on charges of impeding the work of the armed forces by calling on Ukrainians to ignore the draft. During the period of his arrest, human rights groups had deemed him a political prisoner.

According to the SBU, Russia-led forces kept an estimated 113 hostages in Donbas.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsman at any time and to the ECHR after exhausting domestic legal remedies.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration but has not passed any laws dealing with the restitution of private or communal property, although the latter has been dealt with partly through regulations and decrees. In recent years most successful cases of restitution have taken place as a result of tacit and behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Jewish groups.

Ukraine (Crimea)

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under the Russian occupation regime, the “judiciary” was neither independent nor impartial. Judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys were subject to political directives from occupation authorities, and the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government interference. The HRMMU documented 39 cases between September 2017 and June where due process and fair trial guarantees were disregarded by Crimea occupation authorities, including judges, prosecutors, investigators, police, and FSB officers.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities interfered with defendants’ ability to access an attorney. For example on May 4, FSB officers detained five crewmen of a Ukrainian fishing boat near the coast of Crimea for a month and a half under inhuman conditions at the FSB border control facility in Balaklava. During their detention, the men did not have access to a Ukrainian consul or lawyers. FSB officers psychologically pressured and intimidated the men during interrogations. The crew did not have access to lawyers. The vessel’s captain, Viktor Novitsky, was charged with “illegal extraction of marine biological resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian federation.” No charges were filed against the other members of the crew. On September 30, they were released and left Crimea.

According to the HRMMU defendants facing terrorism or extremism-related charges were often pressured into dismissing their privately hired lawyers in exchange for promised leniency. For example the HRMMU’s September report on Crimea described three Crimean Tatar defendants who cancelled a contract with their lawyers after being prompted to do so by FSB officers and warned, through their family members, that having “pro-Ukrainian” lawyers would damage their defense.

Occupation authorities retroactively applied Russian Federation laws to actions that took place before the occupation began. The HRMMU documented at least 10 such cases since September 2017, including sentences imposed for years-old social media posts and for taking part in protest actions that occurred before the occupation began.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Human Rights advocates estimated there were more than 60 political prisoners in occupied Crimea; the Crimean Tatar Mejlis organization claimed that by the end of the year Russia held 96 Ukrainian citizen political prisoners, of whom 63 were Crimean Tatar. Charges of extremism, terrorism, or violation of territorial integrity were particularly applied to opponents of the occupation, such as Crimean Tatars, independent journalists, and individuals expressing dissent on social media. The HRMMU noted that justifications underpinning the arrests of alleged members of “terrorist” or “extremist” groups often provided little evidence that the suspect posed an actual threat to society by planning or undertaking concrete actions.

Russian occupation authorities also transferred Crimean cases to Russia’s legal system and changed the venue of prosecution for some detainees.

On July 5, an occupation “court” in Crimea sentenced Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh to five years in a penal colony and imposed a fine of 10,000 rubles ($170). The five-year sentence was the combination of a previous three year, five month sentence imposed on him in January for supposed “weapons possession,” plus additional time for allegedly “disrupting the activities of a detention center.” The January conviction resulted from a retrial after his October 2017 conviction on the same charges was overturned. Both charges were seen as retaliation for Balukh’s pro-Ukrainian views, which he displayed by hanging a plaque and Ukrainian flag in the courtyard of his house. The FSB initially detained Balukh in 2016, claiming it found ammunition and explosives in the attic of his house. Human rights defenders asserted that the material was planted. Balukh had been repeatedly threatened by authorities to remove pro-Ukrainian symbols or face prosecution. On March 19, Balukh went on a hunger strike, during which prison authorities denied him a medical examination, despite indications that his health was deteriorating. He ended his hunger strike on October 9, after being notified that he was to be transferred to the Russian Federation to serve his sentence.

On July 13, the “supreme court” of Crimea convicted Ukrainian citizen Yevhen Panov of plotting sabotage against Crimea’s military facilities and critical infrastructure. He was sentenced to eight years in a high-security penal colony. Occupation authorities arrested Panov in August 2016. According to human rights groups, the case against Panov bore signs of political motivation, including indications that Panov had been subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture in an attempt to coerce his confession and a lack of other evidence against him.

United Arab Emirates

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, court decisions remained subject to review by the political leadership. Authorities often treated noncitizens differently from citizens. The judiciary consisted largely of contracted foreign nationals subject to potential deportation, further compromising its independence from the government.

A diplomatic observer reported that in Abu Dhabi a doctor, without receiving notification of a trial, was charged and convicted in his absence of criminal medical malpractice before police attempted arrest. The doctor was sentenced to one year in prison, ordered to pay 200,000 AED ($54,447) in diya or compensation to the victim’s family, and 300,000 AED ($81,670) in fines.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

The law presumes all defendants innocent until proven guilty. By law a defendant enjoys the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. The law requires all court proceedings be conducted in Arabic. Despite the defendant’s procedural right to an interpreter, there were reports authorities did not always provide an interpreter or that quality was sometimes poor. In June the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department began issuing court summons in Arabic, English, and Urdu.

Defendants’ rights were circumscribed in national security cases or cases the judge deemed harmful to public morality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and have a right to legal counsel in court for cases that carry punishment other than a fine. While awaiting a decision on official charges at a police station or the prosecutor’s office, a defendant is not entitled to legal counsel. In cases involving a capital crime or possible life imprisonment, the defendant has a right to government-provided counsel after charges have been filed. The government may also provide counsel, at its discretion, to indigent defendants charged with felonies punishable by provisional imprisonment. The law provides prosecutors discretion to bar defense counsel from any investigation. Defendants and their attorneys may present witnesses and question witnesses against them. Defendants may not to be compelled to testify or confess. Some defendants said they did not have adequate time to prepare a defense, sometimes due to limited phone access, and requested additional time. Diplomatic observers noted cases where the time defendants spent waiting for a court date surpassed the maximum sentence for the crime. Verdicts were announced in open court, even if the case was heard in a closed session.

Both local and federal courts have an appeals process; cases under local jurisdiction are appealed to the Court of Cassation and federal cases to the Federal Supreme Court. Dubai has its own Court of Cassation. With the additional exception of Ras al-Khaimah, appeals in all other emirates are heard before the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. Convicted defendants may also appeal death sentences to the ruler of the emirate in which the offense was committed or to the president of the federation. In murder cases the victim’s family must consent to commute a death sentence. The government normally negotiated with victims’ families for the defendant to offer diya payment, compensation in accordance with sharia, in exchange for forgiveness and a commuted death sentence. The prosecutor may appeal acquittals and provide new or additional evidence to a higher court. An appellate court must reach unanimous agreement to overturn an acquittal.

In May Dubai Courts announced a judicial reform aimed at reducing overall trial duration and curbing jail overcrowding. Under the C3 Court initiative, Dubai’s courts of first instance, appeal, and cassation will all be integrated into one court with three departments, each with a judge.

State security cases are heard at the Federal Court of Appeal and may be appealed to the higher Federal Supreme Court.

On November 25, president Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan issued a pardon for British academic Matthew Hedges, who was released the following day and returned to the United Kingdom. Authorities arrested Hedges on May 5 at the Dubai airport on suspicion of spying for the UK government, and a court sentenced him to life in prison on November 21. Hedges said he was in the country doing academic research on the UAE security sector. Advocates for Hedges said he was not allowed access to a lawyer and was mistreated in detention. The government denied the allegations and stated he was treated in accordance with the law.

When authorities suspected a foreigner of crimes of “moral turpitude,” authorities sometimes deported the individual without recourse to the criminal justice system. At the judge’s discretion, foreigners charged with crimes may be permitted to defend themselves while on bail.

The penal code also requires all individuals to pay diya to victims’ families in cases where accidents or crimes caused the death of another person, and media reported multiple cases of courts imposing this punishment. Diya was granted by the judge in criminal cases at the time of sentencing. Standard diya for the death of a man was 200,000 AED ($54,500) and 100,000 AED ($27,225) for the death of a woman. In some cases sharia courts imposed more severe penalties during the month of Ramadan.

Women faced legal discrimination because of the government’s interpretation of sharia (see section 6).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year there were reports of persons held incommunicado and without charge because of their political views or affiliations, which often involved alleged links to Islamist organizations. Since 2011 the government has restricted the activities of organizations and individuals allegedly associated with al-Islah, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate and government-designated terrorist organization, and others critical of the government. Similar restrictions were placed on Osama al-Najjar (see section 1.d.).

As part of its security and counterterrorism efforts, the government issued or updated restrictive laws–such as the 2014 antiterrorism law and the 2012 cybercrimes law–and monitored and blocked activities, including the use of the internet and social media. Numerous observers criticized these laws as extending beyond security concerns by also outlawing activities and speech of a political nature.

In March security officers reportedly pulled over Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi women’s rights activist, while she was driving in Abu Dhabi. She was subsequently extradited to Saudi Arabia.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and noncitizens had access to the courts to seek damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. The civil courts, like all courts, lacked full independence. In some cases courts delayed proceedings.

Venezuela

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and generally judged in favor of the government at all levels. There were credible allegations of corruption and political influence throughout the judiciary. According to reports from the International Commission of Jurists, 66 to 80 percent of all judges had provisional appointments and were subject to removal at will by the TSJ Judicial Committee. Provisional and temporary judges, who legally have the same rights and authorities as permanent judges, allegedly were subjected to political influence from various ministries and the newly appointed attorney general to make progovernment determinations. There was a general lack of transparency and stability in the assignments of district attorneys to cases and a lack of technical criteria for assigning district attorneys to criminal investigations. These deficiencies hindered the possibility of bringing offenders to justice and resulted in a 90 percent rate of impunity for common crimes and a higher percentage of impunity for cases of alleged human rights violations.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with oral proceedings for all individuals. By law defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. The law requires that detainees be informed promptly of the charges against them, but the requirement was often ignored and, even when respected, involved dubious allegations, according to human rights organizations. Defendants have the right to consult with an attorney. According to the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, there were approximately 1,500 public defenders in 2017, but indigent defendants’ right to free counsel was often not respected because of attorney shortages. Free interpretation was often not available to defendants. Some NGOs provided pro bono counsel to defendants.

Defendants may request no fewer than 30 days and no more than 45 days to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to question adverse witnesses and present their own witnesses. By law defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants and plaintiffs have the right of appeal.

Trial delays were common. Trials “in absentia” are permitted in certain circumstances, although opponents of the procedure claimed the constitution prohibits such trials. The law also states that, in the absence of the defense attorney, a trial may proceed with a public defender that the court designates. The law gives judges the discretion to hold trials behind closed doors if a public trial could “disturb the normal development of the trial.”

At the January 31 hearing of Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, the judge did not set a date for the next phase of her trial, when it was expected a verdict would be announced. Afiuni was accused of corruption and abuse of authority for her 2009 decision conditionally to release a businessman who had been held in pretrial detention beyond the maximum time prescribed by law. Afiuni continued to be subjected to protective measures in place since her release to house arrest in 2011 that mandate she may not leave the country, talk to media, or use social media, although the law states such measures may not last more than two years.

The law mandates that municipal courts handle “less serious” crimes, i.e., those carrying maximum penalties of imprisonment of less than eight years. Municipal courts may levy penalties that include three to eight months of community service. Besides diverting some “less serious” crimes to the municipal courts, this diversion also permits individuals accused of “lesser crimes” to ask the courts to suspend their trials conditionally in exchange for their admission of responsibility, commitment to provide restitution “in a material or symbolic form,” community service, or any other condition imposed by the court.

The law provides that trials for military personnel charged with human rights abuses after 1999 be held in civilian rather than military courts. In addition, under the Organic Code of Military Justice, an individual may be tried in the military justice system for “insulting, offending, or disparaging the national armed forces or any related entities.” NGOs and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern with the government’s practice of trying civilians under the military justice system for protests and other actions not under military jurisdiction. According to Foro Penal, military courts processed at least 35 civilians between January 1 and August 1.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute individuals critical of government policies or actions. The regime reportedly continued the policy it began in 2012 of denying the ICRC access to prisons. Foro Penal reported 286 political prisoners in government custody as of November 18, down from 676 political prisoners reported at the height of 2017’s wave of political protests but well above averages recorded in 2015 and 2016. The government routinely held political prisoners in SEBIN installations or the Ramo Verde military prison without an explanation of why they were not being held in civilian detention facilities.

On June 2, the government provisionally released opposition coalition leader Roberto Picon and former San Cristobal mayor Daniel Ceballos. The two, like many others released immediately following the May 20 elections, were prohibited from leaving the country or speaking to media, and they were required to appear before a judge on a monthly basis. Ceballos was released from the Ramo Verde military detention facility, where prison authorities routinely held him in solitary confinement and denied him visitation. Picon was released from house arrest, which the government granted in December 2017, as part of a larger “good will” pardon. According to media reports and NGO representatives, SEBIN arrested Picon in June 2017 without an arrest warrant. At a military hearing on charges of rebellion and theft of items belonging to the military, NGO representatives claimed the prosecution entered evidence that included a paperweight and a reference to the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

The government increased its attack against civil liberties after an alleged failed presidential assassination attempt on August 4. On August 7, masked men abducted National Assembly Deputy Juan Requesens from his home during a nationally televised presidential address in which Maduro accused Requesens of involvement in the alleged August 4 attack. On August 9, the government released a video of a disheveled Requesens admitting he had information on one of the assassination plotters. On August 10, a second video appeared on social media showing Requesens, visibly weak and naked aside from his notably soiled underwear. Despite daily requests from his lawyer and family members, government authorities granted Requesens only two visits–September 21 and October 7–following his detention on August 7. According to reports, Requesens was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. As of December 6, his detention conditions had improved slightly under new SEBIN leadership. Nevertheless, Requesens was not receiving medical attention in a timely fashion, and due process had yet to be afforded in his case.

As of October 1, jailed opposition party leader and former Chacao municipality mayor Leopoldo Lopez remained under house arrest and barred from communicating with individuals outside his home.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

While there are separate civil courts that permit citizens to bring lawsuits seeking damages, there are no procedures for individuals or organizations to seek civil remedies for human rights violations.

Vietnam

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary and lay assessors, but the judiciary was effectively under the control of the CPV, exercised through the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). During the year there were credible reports that political influence, endemic corruption, bribery, and inefficiency strongly distorted the judicial system. Most if not all judges were members of the CPV and underwent screening by the CPV and local officials during their selection process to determine their suitability for the bench. Judges are reappointed every five years, following review by party officials. The party’s authority was particularly notable in high-profile cases and other instances in which authorities charged a person with corruption, challenging or harming the party or state, or both. Defense lawyers routinely complained that, in many cases, it appeared judges made a determination of guilt prior to the trial.

There continued to be credible reports that authorities pressured defense lawyers not to take religious or democracy activists as clients and questioned their motivations for so doing. Authorities also restricted, harassed, and disbarred, human rights attorneys who represented political activists. While the new penal code maintained the requirement for attorneys to violate attorney client privilege in cases relating to “national security,” or other “serious crimes,” it did away with such requirements for other, less “serious” offenses.

On March 12, the Ho Chi Minh City bar association disbarred lawyer Pham Cong Ut, who frequently defended human rights activists and “victims of injustice,” in many cases at no charge. The bar association said he had violated its code of ethics. State media accused him of failing to fully refund a legal consulting fee, while social media stated that such claims were spurious and the disbarment was instead related to his defense of “victims of injustice.”

By law authorities must request the local bar association, legal aid center, or the VFF appoint an attorney for criminal cases involving juveniles, individuals with mental or physical disabilities, and persons formally charged with capital crimes. In many such cases, however, authorities did not provide attorneys access to their clients until immediately before the case went to trial, depriving them of adequate time to prepare cases. In August authorities informed lawyer Nguyen Kha Thanh of the appeal trial of his client, Nguyen Viet Dung, only 24 hours in advance. Thanh said he did not have sufficient time to travel to attend the trial, and the court denied his request for a delay. Dung was not represented by an attorney. The court upheld his conviction for “conducting propaganda against the state” but reduced his seven-year sentence by one year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, this right was not evenly enforced. The law states that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to prompt, detailed information of the charges levied against them, but defendants rarely experienced such treatment. Defendants have the right to a timely trial, and public trials generally were open to the public, but in sensitive cases, judges closed trials or strictly limited attendance.

Authorities generally upheld the rights of defendants to be present at their trial. The court sometimes denied the suspect the right to his/her own choice of attorney and assigned one. The new CPC modified the courtroom setting to have defendants seated adjacent their defense attorney. Defendants have the right to communicate with a lawyer at trial for a criminal charge that could result in a 15-year or longer sentence, although not necessarily with the lawyer of their choice.

Although the defense has the right to cross-examine witnesses, there were multiple instances in which neither defendants nor their lawyers knew which witnesses would be called, nor were they allowed to cross-examine witnesses or challenge statements against them. In political trials neither defendants nor their attorneys were allowed to examine or review evidence relied upon by the prosecution. A defendant has the right to present a defense, but the law does not expressly state that the defendant has the right to call witnesses. Judges presiding over politically sensitive trials often did not permit defense lawyers and defendants to exercise their legal rights.

Police and prosecutors attempted to coerce confessions by offering lighter sentences in some sensitive cases. On January 31, Vu Quang Thuan stated at trial that investigators told him while he was in pretrial detention that he would receive only 16 months in prison if he cooperated with the investigation. He was charged with antistate propaganda, convicted, and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.

The law stipulates that the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings is Vietnamese, but the state provides interpretation if participants in a criminal procedure use another spoken or written language. The law did not specify whether such services are free of charge.

The court uses an inquisitorial system, in which the judge plays the primary role of asking questions and ascertaining facts in a trial. Authorities permitted foreign diplomats to observe via closed circuit television four high-profile cases and one regular criminal trial during the year, including three involving individuals charged under national security articles. In most of those trials, defense attorneys were given time to address the court and question their clients, but they were not permitted to call official witnesses or examine evidence used to prosecute the defendants. The Hanoi appellate court permitted a defendant to answer only questions posed by his attorneys rather than the judges. In other cases involving individuals charged under national security articles, judges occasionally silenced defense lawyers who were making arguments on behalf of their clients in court. Convicted persons have the right to at least one appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

According to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs, more than 100 persons were in prison in the country for political or religious reasons in 2018. One NGO stated that as of September 22, courts had convicted 36 “activists and bloggers” for exercising internationally recognized human rights, including freedom of expression and association.

Between April 4 and September 12, courts sentenced nine members of the Brotherhood for Democracy to lengthy prison terms for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” Nguyen Trung Truc and Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton both received 12-year sentences, and land and religious freedom activist Nguyen Bac Truyen, was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment. Hoang Duc Binh, an environmental and labor activist, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, and activist Le Dinh Luong received a 20-year sentence for “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties,” “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” and “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides that any person illegally arrested and detained, charged with a criminal offense, investigated, prosecuted, brought to trial, or subjected to judgment enforcement illegally has the right to compensation for material and mental damages and restoration of honor. The law provides a mechanism for pursuing a civil action to redress or remedy abuses committed by authorities. Administrative and civil courts heard civil suits, with legal procedures being similar to criminal cases and using members of the same body of judges and people’s assessors to adjudicate the cases. Administrative and civil courts continued to be vulnerable to corruption and outside influence, lack of independence, and inexperience. Very few victims of government abuse sought or successfully received redress or compensation through the court system.

The government continued to prohibit class action lawsuits against government ministries, thus rendering ineffective joint complaints from land rights petitioners.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

By law all land belongs to the government (“all the people of Vietnam”) which has granted considerable decision-making authority for land pricing, allocation, and reclamation to local people’s committees and people’s councils, which has contributed to unfair business practices and corruption.

There were numerous reports of clashes between local residents and authorities at land expropriation sites during the year. Disputes regarding land expropriation for development projects remained a significant source of public grievance. Many whose land the government forcibly seized protested at government offices for failure to address their complaints. Some coercive land seizures resulted in violence and injury to state officials and residents. There were also reports of suspected plainclothes police officers and “thugs” hired by development companies to enforce government seizures by intimidating and threatening residents or breaking into their homes. Authorities arrested and convicted multiple land rights protesters on charges of “resisting persons on duty” or “causing public disorder.”

Zambia

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. While the government largely refrained from direct interference, judicial independence was limited by control of its budget through the Ministry of Justice and public comments from officials directed at the courts. For example, in November 2017 President Lungu warned judges against being “adventurous” in deciding political cases. The remarks were seen as a threat to Constitutional Court judges against making an adverse ruling in the impending judgment on his eligibility to stand for a third time as president in 2021. “I have information that some judges want to be adventurous and emulate those in Kenya. Don’t be copy-cats and think you will be a hero by plunging the nation into chaos. I am not intimidating you, but I am simply warning you,” the president said at a public gathering. On December 7, just over a year after the case was initially filed, the court ruled President Lungu’s January 2015 to September 2016 first term in office does not constitute a full term; as such the president is eligible to seek election for a third time in 2021.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judicial system was open to influence by the ruling party in cases in which it has an interest. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly of charges against them, and to be present at a fair and timely trial. Nevertheless, defendants were not always informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and trials were usually delayed. Defendants enjoy the right to consult with an attorney of their choice, to have adequate time to prepare a defense, to present their own witnesses, and to confront or question witnesses against them. Indigent defendants were rarely provided an attorney at state expense. Interpretation services in local languages were available in most cases. There were no reports defendants were compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants had the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While there were cases of politically motivated arrests and detentions, there were no new reports of political prisoners or detainees during the year.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Complainants may seek redress for human rights abuses from the High Court. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and appeal court decisions to the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. In 2015 a group of Barotse activists appealed to the court, seeking to compel the government to respond to a legal argument for the region’s independence. The appeal remained pending at year’s end.