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Fiji

Executive Summary

Fiji is a constitutional republic. In November 2018 the country held general elections, which international observers deemed free, transparent, and credible. Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s Fiji First party won 27 of 51 seats in parliament, and he began a second four-year term as prime minister.

The Fiji Police Force maintains internal security. The Republic of Fiji Military Force (RFMF) is responsible for external security but may also have some domestic-security responsibilities in specific circumstances. Both report to the Ministry of Defense and National Security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: restrictions on free expression, such as substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; and trafficking in persons.

The government investigated some security-force officials who committed abuses and prosecuted or punished officials who committed abuses elsewhere in the government; however, impunity was a problem in cases with political implications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; enforcing media standards; and regulating the conduct of media organizations. The POA also gives the government power to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace.” The authorities continue to use the wide provisions in this law to restrict freedom of expression. The law on media prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media.

Freedom of Expression: The law includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were somewhat active; however, journalists practiced self-censorship on sensitive political or communal topics because of restrictions in the law and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA). The opposition and other critics of the government accused the government of using state power to silence critics.

In July the appellate court reviewed an appeal brought by the prosecution in the case of three staff members of the Fiji Times, including the editor in chief, who were acquitted on sedition charges in May 2018; a decision on the appeal remains pending. Despite the journalists’ acquittal, media observers and human rights activists expressed concern the long investigation and trial had served to stifle free speech. The three staff were charged with sedition for the 2016 publication of a letter to the editor in the Fiji Times indigenous-language newspaper Nai Lalakai.

Violence and Harassment: On April 3, police detained three journalists from New Zealand’s Newsroom agency who were investigating allegations of environmental damage caused by a Chinese developer, Freesoul Real Estate, on Fiji’s Malolo Island. Police released the journalists 13 hours later, without charge. Prime Minister Bainimarama personally delivered a public apology for the officers’ actions, while Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho clarified in the media that the detention was “an isolated incident by a small group of rogue police officers.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media law authorizes the government to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication. Although the government ceased prior censorship in 2012, the law remains on the books, and journalists and media organizations continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship citing a fear of prosecution. Despite this, media published opinion articles by academics and commentators critical of the government.

By law, directors and 90 percent of shareholders in local media must be citizens and permanently reside in the country. MIDA is responsible for enforcing these provisions and has power to investigate media outlets for alleged violations, and the power to search facilities and seize equipment.

The code of ethics in the law requires that media publish balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or provide materials for publication. Journalists reported this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in past years.

The law on television requires television station operators to conform to the media law’s code of ethics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander and defamation are treated as civil matters under the law. The constitution, however, includes protecting the reputation of persons as a permissible limitation to freedom of expression, including of the press. Some measure of this constitutional provision was enacted via the 2018 Online Safety Act. Authorities have used this act and the commission established in January under this act to restrict public discussion, establishing a de facto form of criminal libel with imprisonment penalties (see Internet Freedom, below).

Court decisions on two separate 2018 defamation lawsuits, the first brought by the prime minister and attorney general and the second by supervisor of elections, charging opposition critics with posting defamatory remarks on social media remained pending at year’s end.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were some reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority.

The purpose of the 2018 Online Safety Act, according to the government, is to protect minors from offensive online behavior, cybercrime, and cyber bullying. The law penalized offenders with a maximum fine of FJD 20,000 ($9,140) and a maximum five years’ imprisonment for posting an electronic communication that causes harm to a person. Critics, however, including rights groups and youth and women’s organizations, warned it was a potential “trojan horse” for internet censorship and punishment of online dissent. Critics’ fears worsened when, on January 2, the first commissioner for online safety publicly told media: “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” After enacting the law, the government filed several defamation lawsuits against political opponents for posting comments critical of the government on social media.

In May the court sentenced former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry’s son, Rajendra Chaudhry, in absentia to 15 months’ imprisonment and a FJD 50,000 ($22,900) fine for contempt of court after he failed to appear for a civil defamation case brought against him by the attorney general, who claimed Chaudhry’s 2018 Facebook posts defamed the Fiji judicial system, chief justice and chief registrar, and undermined public confidence in the administration of justice in the country.

All telephone and internet users must register their personal details with telephone and internet providers, including name, birth date, home address, left thumbprint, and photographic identification. The law imposes a maximum fine of FJD 100,000 ($45,700) on providers who continued to provide services to unregistered users and a maximum fine of FJD 10,000 ($4,570) on users who did not update their registration information as required.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The constitution provides for academic freedom, although contract regulations of the University of the South Pacific effectively restricted most university employees from running for or holding public office or holding an official position with any political party. Persons who enter the country on tourist visas to conduct research must notify and seek permission from the government.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; however, the government restricted these freedoms in some cases.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly but allows the government to limit this right in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections. The constitution also allows the government to limit freedom of assembly to protect the rights of others and imposes restrictions on public officials’ rights to freedom of assembly.

The POA allows authorities to use whatever force necessary to prohibit or disperse public and private meetings after “due warning,” in order to preserve public order.

Although event organizers said authorities were sometimes very slow to issue permits, they granted permits for public rallies in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community and the 16 Days of Activism against Domestic Violence Campaign. Authorities, however, denied permits for public-service unions and the political opposition to protest.

Executive members of the Fijian Teachers Association (FTA), an affiliate member of FTUC, claimed police harassed and threatened them with “further action” over plans to hold a march during an Asian Development Bank (ADB) summit to be hosted by Fiji from May 1-5, and also if they failed to turn up for meetings at the police office. The Ministry of Education also threatened teachers with further reprisals, including legal action, if they participated in a planned May 3 nationwide strike (see section 7, below).

On June 17, police detained the president of the Fiji National Farmers Union (NFU), Surendra Lal, for questioning regarding alleged incitement and threatening to disrupt the harvesting of sugar cane. After two days Lal was released without being charged. According to an NFU statement, the detention came when growers were protesting low cane payments, a low forecast price for sugar, and the imposition of cane-cartage weight restrictions for trucks, which the union claimed would significantly add to transport costs.

On October 8, police rejected a request from the opposition National Federation Party (NFP) for a permit to march in Suva on October 10, Fiji’s national day. The police claimed the party failed to fulfill filing requirements. The proposed march was to protest the delayed police investigation into an alleged assault on NFP President Pio Tikoduadua by Prime Minister Bainimarama on August 9 (see section 3, below).

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association but limits this right in the interests of national security, public order, and morality and also for the orderly conduct of elections. The government generally did not restrict membership in NGOs, professional associations, and other private organizations.

On May 2, police raided the FTUC’s headquarters without a warrant and confiscated documents, laptops, and other equipment belonging to the union.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

Under the POA, to enforce public order, the government may restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: There were no reports the government restricted any person’s in-country movement during the year.

Exile: The government used re-entry bans as a de facto means of exiling critics. As in past years, opposition parties called on the government to lift re-entry bans on all existing and former citizens, including historian and former citizen Brij Lal, a critic of the government living in Australia. The Immigration Department has stated Lal could reapply for re-entry into the country; however, the ban reportedly remained in place as of November. Lal was deported from Fiji in 2009 by the interim government for activities “prejudicial to the peace, defense, and public security of the Government of Fiji.” Lal’s wife, Padma, also an academic, was stopped from re-entering the country in 2010.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides assistance to officials to undertake refugee-status determination procedures.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In November 2018 voters elected 51 members of parliament. The governing Fiji First party won 27 seats, and Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama was sworn in as prime minister for a second four-year term. In presenting its conclusions, the Australian- and Indonesian-led Multinational Observer Group stated: “Conditions supported Fijians exercising their right to vote freely. The 2018 process was transparent and credible overall, and the outcome broadly represented the will of Fijian voters.”

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for the right to form and join political parties, to campaign for political parties or a cause, to register as a voter, to vote by secret ballot in elections or referendums, to run for public office, and to hold that office. Nevertheless, the government may prescribe eligibility requirements for voters, candidates, political party officials, and holders of public office.

The POA requires permits for political meetings in both public and private venues, and these were granted in an open, nonpartisan, fair way.

The law requires that parties submit applications, which must include 5,000 members’ signatures, for registration. The law allows deregistration of political parties for any election offense and requires trade union leaders to resign their positions before running as candidates.

The electoral law restricts any person, entity, or organization from receiving funding from foreign governments, intergovernmental organizations, or NGOs, and forbids multilateral agencies from conducting or participating in any campaign, including meetings, debates, panel discussions, interviews, publication of materials, or any public forum discussing the elections. Maximum penalties for violations of the law include 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of JD 50,000 ($22,900), or both. The law allows universities to hold panel discussions and organize inclusive public forums.

The law also reduces the opposition’s power and ability to introduce petitions in parliament. Any petition tabled in parliament requires the support of a minimum of 20 parliamentarians (40 percent) before members may present it for debate.

Opposition National Federation Party parliamentarian Pio Tikoduadua claimed the prime minister had assaulted him on August 9 outside parliament. Video footage of the incident, widely viewed on the internet, showed Prime Minister Bainimarama briefly grabbing Tikoduadua by the lapel and shoving him. A parliamentary privileges committee cleared the prime minister of assault in September but found that the two men breached parliamentary rules by insulting each other and ordered they apologize or face a six-month suspension from parliament. Prime Minister Bainimarama apologized, but Tikoduadua refused and was suspended from parliament for six months on September 6. A police investigation into the alleged assault by the prime minister continued at year’s end.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No law limits participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural attitudes about gender roles restricted political participation by most indigenous women. Indo-Fijians, who accounted for 36 percent of the population, were underrepresented in government and the military, although they held six of 13 cabinet minister positions and six of 10 assistant-minister positions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption (FICAC) reports directly to the president and investigates public agencies and officials, including police. Government measures to combat corruption within the bureaucracy, including FICAC public-service announcements encouraging citizens to report corrupt government activities, had some effect on systemic corruption. Media published articles on FICAC investigations of abuse of office, and anonymous blogs reported on some government corruption.

The government adequately funded FICAC, but some observers questioned its independence and viewed some of its high-profile prosecutions as politically motivated.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions charged two police officers with fraud.

Corruption cases often proceeded slowly. In October the trial of former corrections chief lieutenant colonel Ifereimi Vasu began. Authorities dismissed him in 2015 for abuse of office related to his alleged misuse of a prison minimart.

Financial Disclosure: No law requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. The law, however, requires financial disclosures by candidates running for election and party officials. In May 2018 FICAC charged Sitiveni Rabuka, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, with making a false declaration of his assets, income, and liabilities. The court acquitted Rabuka of all charges in October 2018. The appellate court dismissed a FICAC appeal of the ruling a week later.

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

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

The law constrained NGO operations in several ways. For example, the law includes criticism of the government in its definition of sedition.

A women’s advocate publicly alleged police called her repeatedly before a planned meeting for civil society organizations with visiting UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, demanding she reveal what she would discuss with Guterres and asking who else would attend the meeting.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution establishes the FHRADC, and it continued to receive reports of human rights violations lodged by citizens. 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. While the FHRADC routinely worked with the government to improve certain human rights matters (such as prisoner treatment), observers reported it generally declined to address politically sensitive human rights matters and typically took the government’s side in public statements, leading observers to assess the FHRADC as progovernment.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law recognizes rape, including spousal rape, as a crime and provides for a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for rape. The law recognizes spousal rape as a specific offense. Rape (including spousal rape), domestic abuse, incest, and sexual harassment were significant problems. As of June, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center recorded 295 domestic-violence cases; the center reported that eight women died in domestic-violence incidents as of September.

The law defines domestic violence as a specific offense. Police practice a “no-drop” policy, whereby they are required to pursue investigations of domestic violence cases even if a victim later withdraws the accusation. Nonetheless, women’s organizations reported police did not consistently follow this policy. Courts dismissed some cases of domestic abuse and incest or gave perpetrators light sentences. Traditional and religious practices of reconciliation between aggrieved parties in both indigenous and Indo-Fijian communities were sometimes utilized to mitigate sentences for domestic violence. In some cases, authorities released offenders without a conviction on condition they maintained good behavior.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, and the government used criminal law against “indecent assaults on females,” which prohibits offending the modesty of women, to prosecute sexual harassment cases. Sexual harassment was a significant problem.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women have full rights of inheritance and property ownership by law, but local authorities often excluded them from the decision-making process on disposition of indigenous communal land, which constituted more than 80 percent of all land. Women have the right to a share in the distribution of indigenous land lease proceeds, but authorities seldom recognized this right. Women have the same rights and status as men under family law and in the judicial system. Nonetheless, women and children had difficulty obtaining protection orders, and police enforcement of them, in domestic-violence cases.

Although the law prohibits gender-based discrimination and requires equal pay for equal work, employers generally paid women less than men for similar work (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both from birth within the country and through one’s parents. Parents generally registered births promptly.

Education: Education is compulsory until age 15, but the law does not provide for free education. The government nonetheless as a matter of policy provides for free education.

Child Abuse: Corporal punishment was common in schools, despite a Ministry of Education policy forbidding it in the classroom. Increasing urbanization, overcrowding, and the breakdown of traditional community and extended-family structures put children at risk for abuse and appeared to be contributing factors to a child’s chance of exploitation for commercial sex. Reports indicated the number of child-abuse cases in the country increased and more children sought shelter at state-funded homes. The government continued its public-awareness campaign against child abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. Some NGOs reported that, especially in rural areas, girls often married at or before age 18, preventing them from completing their secondary-school education. In indigenous villages, girls younger than age 18 who became pregnant could live as common-law wives with their child’s father after the man presented a traditional apology to the girl’s family, thereby avoiding the filing of a complaint to police by the family. The girls frequently married the fathers as soon as legally permissible.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Commercial sexual exploitation of children continued. It is an offense for any person to buy or hire a child younger than age 18 for sex, exploitation in prostitution, or other unlawful purpose; the offense is punishable by a maximum 12 years’ imprisonment. No prosecutions or convictions for trafficking of children occurred during the year.

It is an offense for a householder or innkeeper to allow commercial sexual exploitation of children in his or her premises. There were no known prosecutions or convictions for such offenses during the year.

Some high-school-age children and homeless and jobless youth were trafficked for commercial sex during the year, and there were reports of child sex tourism in tourist centers, such as Nadi and Savusavu. Commercial sexual exploitation of children was perpetuated by family members, taxi drivers, foreign tourists, businessmen, and crew members on foreign fishing vessels. The NGO Pacific Dialogue and the International Labor Organization claimed to have received reports of children engaging in organized prostitution, including being advertised online.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The court of appeals has ruled that 10 years is the minimum appropriate sentence for child rape, but police often charged defendants with “defilement” rather than rape because defilement was easier to prove in court. Defilement or unlawful carnal knowledge of a child younger than age 13 has a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for defilement of a child ages 13 to 15, or of a person with intellectual disabilities, is 10 years’ imprisonment.

Child pornography is illegal. The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, a fine of FJD 25,000 ($11,400), or both for a first offense; and life imprisonment, a maximum fine of FJD 50,000 ($22,900), or both for a repeat offense, and the confiscation of any equipment used in the commission of the crime.

The law requires mandatory reporting to police by teachers and health and social-welfare workers of any incident of child abuse.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was a small Jewish community composed primarily of foreign residents. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Discrimination against persons with disabilities is illegal. The constitution or laws address the right of persons with disabilities to reasonable access to all places, public transport, and information, as well as the rights to use braille or sign language and to reasonable access to accommodative materials and devices related to the disability; the law, however, does not further define “reasonable.” Moreover, the constitution provides that the law may limit these rights “as necessary.” Public-health regulations provide penalties for noncompliance, but there was minimal enabling legislation on accessibility for persons with disabilities, and there was little or no enforcement of laws protecting them.

Building regulations require new public buildings to be accessible to persons with disabilities, but only a few buildings met this requirement. By law all new office spaces must be accessible to persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities continued to face employment discrimination (see section 7.d.). There were no government programs to improve access to information and communications for persons with disabilities, and persons with disabilities, in particular those with hearing or vision disabilities, had difficulty accessing public information. Parliament continued to televise its sessions in sign language to improve access for persons with hearing disabilities.

There were a number of separate schools offering primary education for persons with physical, intellectual, and sensory disabilities; however, cost and location limited access. Some students attended mainstream primary schools, and the nongovernmental Early Intervention Center monitored them. Opportunities were very limited for secondary school or higher education for persons with disabilities.

The law stipulates that the community, public-health, and general-health systems provide treatment for persons with mental and intellectual disabilities, although families generally supported persons with such disabilities at home. Institutionalization of persons with more significant mental disabilities was in a single, underfunded public facility in Suva.

The Fijian Elections Office continued to maintain a website accessible to the disability community, including text-to-speech capability, large type, and an inverted color scheme. The Fiji National Council for Disabled Persons, a government-funded statutory body, worked to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The office implemented new procedures to facilitate the voting process for the November 2018 election for voters with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Tension between indigenous Fijians and the Indo-Fijian minority was a longstanding problem. As of July 2017 indigenous Fijians comprised an estimated 58 percent of the population, Indo-Fijians 36 percent, and the remaining 6 percent was composed of Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans, and other Pacific-Islander communities. The government publicly stated its opposition to policies that provide “paramountcy” to the interests of indigenous Fijians and Rotumans, which it characterized as racist, and called for the elimination of discriminatory laws and practices that favor one race over another. Indo-Fijians dominated the commercial sector, indigenous Fijians dominate the security forces.

Land tenure remained highly sensitive and politicized. Indigenous Fijians communally held approximately 87 percent of all land; the government, 4 percent; and the remainder was freehold land held by private individuals or companies. Most cash-crop farmers were Indo-Fijians, the majority of whom were descendants of indentured laborers who came to the country during the British colonial era. Almost all Indo-Fijian farmers must lease land from ethnic Fijian landowners. Many Indo-Fijians believed that their dependence on leased land constituted de facto discrimination against them. Many indigenous Fijian landowners believed the rental formulas prescribed in national land tenure legislation discriminated against them as the resource owners.

By law all indigenous Fijians are automatically registered upon birth into an official register of native landowners, the Vola ni Kawa Bula. The register also verifies access for those in it to indigenous communally owned lands and justifies titleholders within indigenous communities.

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

The constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity and expression. The law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation. Nevertheless, the FHRADC reported complaints of discrimination against LGBTI persons in such areas as employment, housing, or access to health care.

The case against Saula Temo, arrested in November 2018 for the death of a transgender woman in a suspected hate crime in May 2018, continued at year’s end.

Police continued investigations into the 2017 murder of another transgender woman, Iosefo Magnus.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides all workers the right to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and strike.

The law prohibits some forms of antiunion discrimination, including victimizing workers or firing a worker for union membership.

The law limits who may be an officer of a trade union, prohibiting noncitizens, for example, from serving as officers. The constitution prohibits union officers from becoming members of parliament. The law also limits the ability of union officers to form or join political parties and exercise other political rights.

All unions must register with the government, which has discretionary power to refuse to register any union with a name that is “offensive or racially or ethnically discriminatory.” By law the government may cancel registration of existing unions in exceptional cases.

By law any trade union with seven or more members in an industry not designated as essential may enter into collective bargaining with an employer.

Unions may conduct secret strike ballots upon 14 days’ notice to the Registrar of Trade Unions and the strike may begin if 50 percent of all members who are entitled to vote approve the strike. Workers in essential services may strike but must also notify the Arbitration Court; and provide the category of workers who propose to strike, the starting date, and location of the strike. The law designates “essential service and industries” to include corporations engaged in finance, telecommunications, public-sector employees, mining, transport, and the airline industry. The definition of essential services and industries also includes all state-owned enterprises, statutory authorities, and local government authorities.

The law permits the minister of employment to declare a strike unlawful and refer the dispute to the Arbitration Court. If authorities refer the matter to the court, workers and strike leaders could face criminal charges if they persist in strike action.

The government did not enforce these rights. Penalties under law for violations of freedom of association and of collective bargaining agreements include fines and imprisonment; observers considered them sufficient to deter violations. Individuals, employers, and unions (on behalf of their members) may submit employment disputes and grievances alleging discrimination, unfair dismissal, sexual harassment, or certain other unfair labor practices to the Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations (MEPIR).

Relations between the government and the two trade union umbrella bodies, the FTUC and the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions remained strained. The government took a number of steps against union officials and workers planning strikes and protest marches. In April, authorities harassed officials of the FTUC who planned to hold a May 3 nationwide strike and a May 4 protest in Nadi, the site of an ADB summit to be hosted by Fiji on May 1-5. Authorities denied permits for the protests and deployed approximately 400 police officers to cover the summit, warning the union to desist from “causing any major incidents to undermine Fiji’s reputation.” On May 1, police arrested several workers of the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) for breaching the POA after they had gathered to protest the termination of many WAF employees. Also arrested were FTUC General Secretary Felix Anthony, the secretaries of the FTA and nurses’ union, and an officer of the National Union of Workers. Anthony was held for 48 hours under the POA for organizing “unlawful gatherings” about the WAF dispute. On June 28, police again arrested Anthony, charging him with breach of the POA for false statements regarding the expiry of employment contracts for the WAF workers and other infractions. Anthony was later released on bail, but charges remain pending.

Trade unions reported additional antiunion government action, including unilateral voiding of collective-bargaining agreements with civil servants; lockouts and threats of retaliation in order to prevent unions from voting on industrial action; dismissal of union members; and a pattern of systematic harassment and intimidation.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The Office of Labour Inspectorate, police, and Department of Immigration are responsible for enforcing the law, depending on the circumstances of the case. The government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes penalties which were sufficient to deter violations.

There were reports forced labor occurred, including forced labor of children (see section 7.c.). Forced labor and trafficking of children occurred in the field of domestic work. Southeast Asians were subject to forced labor in manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Education is compulsory until age 15; the Employment Relations Promulgation specifies that children ages 13 to 15 may be employed on a daily-wage basis in nonindustrial “light” work not involving machinery, provided they return to their parents or guardian every night. The law sets a limit of eight hours per day that a child can work but does not include a list of permissible activities. Children ages 15 to 17 may be employed, but they must have specified hours and rest breaks. They may not be employed in hazardous occupations and activities, including those involving heavy machinery, hazardous materials, mining, or heavy physical labor, the care of children, or work within security services.

MEPIR deployed inspectors countrywide to enforce compliance with the law, including law covering child labor. The government effectively enforced applicable law, and penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. The law provides for imprisonment, fines, or both, for companies that violate these provisions. MEPIR maintains a database on child labor. Unannounced inspections are permitted within the informal sector, but inspectors must first seek the business owners’ permission before conducting the inspection. If there is reasonable cause to believe that prior notification of an inspection will prejudice the performance of the inspector’s duties, a police officer must accompany the inspector during the inspection.

Poverty continued to influence children to migrate to urban areas for work, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation, and to work as casual laborers, often with no safeguards against abuse or injury. Child labor continued in the informal sector and in hazardous work, including work as wheelbarrow boys and casual laborers. Children engaged in hazardous work in agriculture and fishing. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred (see section 6, Children). Some children worked in relatives’ homes and were vulnerable to involuntary domestic servitude or forced to engage in sexual activity in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, or school fees.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination and stipulates that every employer pay male and female workers equal pay for work of equal value. The law prohibits women working underground but places no other legal limitations on the employment of women. Workers may file legal complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The government did not provide data on the enforcement of antidiscrimination provisions. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines and imprisonment and were, when enforced, sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination in employment and wages occurred against women and persons with disabilities. Women generally received less pay than men for similar work. The nongovernmental Fiji Disabled People’s Association reported most persons with disabilities were unemployed due in significant part to discrimination by employers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage did not typically provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The regulations stipulate all employers must display a written national minimum wage notice in their workplace to inform employees of their rights.

MEPIR’s Office of Labour Inspectorate is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, but the inspectorate lacked capacity to enforce the law effectively. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court adjudicate cases of violations of minimum-wage orders. Convictions for a breach of the minimum-wage law result in a fine, imprisonment, or both.

There is no single countrywide limitation on maximum working hours for adults, but there are restrictions and overtime provisions in certain sectors. The government establishes workplace safety laws and regulations.

The Occupational Health and Safety Inspectorate monitored workplaces and equipment and investigated complaints from workers. Government enforcement of safety standards suffered from a lack of trained personnel and delays in compensation hearings and rulings. Although the law excludes mines from general workplace health and safety laws, it empowers the director of mines to inspect all mines to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of employees. The Employment Relations Tribunal and the Employment Court decides compensation claims filed by the inspectorate on behalf of workers.

Unions generally monitored safety standards in organized workplaces, but many work areas did not meet standards, and the ministry did not monitor all workplaces for compliance. Workers in some industries, notably security, transportation, and shipping, worked excessive hours.

Palau

Executive Summary

Palau is a constitutional republic with the national government consisting of executive, legislative, and judicial branches that are independent of each other. Voters elect the president, vice president, and members of the legislature for four-year terms. In 2016 voters re-elected President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. for a four-year term in a generally free and fair election.

The national police and marine police are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order; both report to the Ministry of Justice. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights issues.

The government took steps to investigate and prosecute officials who committed abuses such as corruption.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there no credible reports that the government monitored private online communication without the appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2016 voters re-elected President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. as president and elected Raynold Oilouch vice president in a generally free and fair election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prohibit or limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process and they did participate. In 2016 two women were elected to the 13-member Senate, and two women were elected to the 16-seat House of Delegates. There were two women in the seven-member cabinet, the ministers of state and of community and cultural affairs.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Government corruption was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The Office of the Special Prosecutor, an independent entity, is authorized to prosecute any corruption in the government.

Corruption: As of November the special prosecutor has three continuing investigations into cases of government corruption. In July the governor of Ngiwal State, Ellender Ngirameketii (son-in-law of former interim president Thomas Remengesau Sr.), was arrested and charged with misconduct in office and falsifying financial disclosure statements, understating payments for security services provided by his company to the government.

Financial Disclosure: The government requires elected and some appointed public officials to file annual financial disclosure statements; candidates for office must file a similar statement with the Ethics Commission. These statements are available for public inspection. There are administrative and criminal sanctions for noncompliance.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the President has an Office of the Ombudsman to which any citizen may complain. The government held numerous meetings and training sessions on human rights topics during the year. The special prosecutor held outreach sessions in hamlets throughout the country to inform community members of their right to complain to her office anonymously. She also created a web site for citizens to lodge complaints, which has received complaints that have been investigated.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by a maximum of 25 years’ imprisonment, a fine of $50,000 (the country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency), or both. Domestic violence is a criminal offense. The law is enforced when police respond to calls of domestic violence; however, many persons are reluctant to call police in these situations due to societal pressure. A nongovernmental organization (NGO), “Semesemel Klengeakel Organizations” (Strengthening Family) helped families at high risk of domestic violence with counselling sessions and services, working closely with the Ministries of Justice and Health.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal and punishable by a maximum of one year’s imprisonment, a $1,000 fine, or both.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. The inheritance of property and of traditional rank, however, is matrilineal. There were no reports of unequal pay for equal work or gender-related job discrimination. The government generally enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: At least one parent must be a citizen of the country in order to transmit citizenship to a child. Birth registration occurs immediately, and there were no reports of failure to register. Authorities register a child born to foreign national parents as a citizen of the parents’ countries.

Early and Forced Marriage: There is no minimum age for marriage between two citizens. The minimum age for marriage between a citizen and a noncitizen is 18 for a man and 16 for a woman, and women younger than 18 must obtain parental permission. Underage marriage was not common.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not explicitly prohibit child pornography, but it does prohibit the commercial sexual exploitation of children, and the law was enforced. The age of consensual sex is 17. Sexual assault of a minor younger than age 15 is a felony and is subject to a maximum imprisonment of 25 years, a $50,000 fine, or both. Child sexual abuse is a felony with fines up to $50,000, imprisonment for up to 25 years, or both.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were reportedly fewer than 20 persons in the Jewish community. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. The law covers persons with mental and physical disabilities, and the government enforced these acts. The law includes a provision for limited access to government buildings for persons with disabilities, and the government generally enforced this provision. Most public schools had programs to address the education needs of students with disabilities that included mainstreaming them with other students.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits noncitizens from purchasing land, and there are no provisions for naturalization. Some foreign nationals experienced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.), pay, housing, education, and access to social services, although the law prohibits such discrimination. Authorities did not pursue or prosecute crimes committed against noncitizens with the same vigor as crimes against citizens.

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

No laws addressed sexual orientation and gender identity. There were no reports of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of all persons to assemble peacefully and to associate with others for any lawful purpose, including to join and organize labor unions and to bargain collectively; no laws regulate trade union organization. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike, and the government has not addressed this issue. There is no law concerning antiunion discrimination. The government enforced the laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

There were no active labor unions or other employee organizations. The majority of businesses were small-scale, family-run enterprises employing relatives and friends.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced labor offenses include imprisonment and fines, which were sufficient to deter violations. The Office of the Attorney General, the Bureau of Public Safety, and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources (all within the Ministry of Justice) are responsible for enforcing the law. The government did not effectively enforce the law.

There were reports employers forced some foreign workers, particularly domestic helpers, unskilled construction laborers, and workers in the tourism industry, to accept jobs different from those for which they had signed contracts and to accept less pay than stipulated in the contract. There were also reports of fraudulent recruitment onto fishing boats, with fishermen subsequently facing conditions indicative of forced labor. Employers sometimes verbally threatened, or withheld passports and return tickets from, foreign workers seeking to leave unfavorable work situations.

Abuses most commonly reported included misrepresentation of contract terms and conditions of employment, withholding of pay or benefits, and substandard food and housing. There were also complaints of physical abuse. In several cases local authorities took corrective action when alerted by social service and religious organizations.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The minimum age of employment for citizens is 16, and the minimum age for noncitizens is 21, excluding entertainers applying for temporary identification certificates. The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law requires the government to protect children from exploitation. The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and regulations. The government effectively enforced the law, and the penalties were adequate to deter violations.

There were no reports children worked in the formal economy, but some assisted their families with fishing, agriculture, and small-scale family enterprises.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on race, sex, marital status, place of origin, religion, disabilities, or political grounds. The law protects women from job discrimination and provides for equal pay for equal work. The Bureau of Aging and Gender, under the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, promotes workplace gender equality. The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation based on sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV or other communicable disease status. There were no formal or documented reports of employment discrimination.

The government effectively enforced these laws. The Office of the Attorney General and the Bureau of Labor and Human Resources handle cases of workplace discrimination against foreign workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage (which applies only to citizens) is above the poverty line. The minimum wage does not apply to the informal sector, including, for example, domestic service, some categories of agricultural labor, and NGO work. It also does not apply to foreign workers, employees who are students, or temporary or probationary work by students and persons younger than 21.

The Bureau of Labor and Human Resources has established some regulations about conditions of employment for foreign workers, who are entitled to one day off per week, consisting of 10 continuous hours without working between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The bureau may inspect the conditions of the workplace and employer-provided housing on the specific complaint of an employee, but enforcement was inconsistent, and working conditions varied. There were continuing reports of the mistreatment of foreign workers by their employers. The foreign workers most likely to be abused were those who worked under contracts as domestic helpers, farmers, waitresses, cashiers, beauticians, hostesses in karaoke bars and massage parlors, construction workers, and other semiskilled workers, the majority of whom were from the Philippines, China, Bangladesh, Japan, and the Republic of Korea.

Although the law states that employers shall adopt reasonable and adequate occupational safety and health rules, no law protects workers who file complaints about hazardous conditions. Foreign workers may self-censor complaints due to fear they could lose their job if they removed themselves from situations that endangered health or safety.

The Division of Labor had seven labor inspectors responsible for enforcing minimum wage laws, regulations regarding working conditions of foreign employees, and safety standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. According to the law, employers are subject to a civil penalty for noncompliance with minimum wage requirements, in addition to the amount of taxes, social security contributions, and interest on unpaid wages. Penalties for violations of acceptable conditions of work rules include a range of monetary fines per violation and imprisonment, which were not sufficient to deter violations.

Investigations by an Immigration and Labor Monitoring Task Force resulted in the departure of some workers who had overstayed their visas, were working without permits, or were involved in unsolvable disagreements with their employer. The Division of Labor established an amnesty period for foreign workers lacking proper documentation to come forward and receive appropriate documentation. Approximately 50 workers took advantage of this option during the year.

Panama

Executive Summary

Panama is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In May voters chose Laurentino Cortizo Cohen as president in national elections that international and domestic observers considered generally free and fair.

The country has no military forces. The Panama National Police (PNP) is principally responsible for internal law enforcement and public order, while additional security forces are responsible for border control and aero naval security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh prison conditions; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including through censorship and criminal libel lawsuits; and forced child labor.

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government generally respected this right, but journalists and media outlets noted an increase in criminal and civil libel/slander lawsuits, which they considered a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: In July under the Cortizo administration, security guards from the National Assembly expelled a known television personality from the National Assembly media balcony to prevent her from covering a migration bill. Two days later the National Assembly budget committee met behind closed doors to avoid press coverage, which was not standard practice. Both actions resulted in complaints from opposition deputies and civil society leaders.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to local media, former president Ricardo Martinelli submitted 50 libel/slander lawsuits against local media, 26 of which were issued after he was declared not guilty on August 9 of illegal wiretapping. Reports stated Martinelli’s civil lawsuits against daily newspapers El Siglo, La Prensa, and Mi Diario included media employees whose work was not related to judicial or political reporting (editorial cartoonists and graphic designers).

In May Corprensa (which owns La Prensa and Mi Diario) was found guilty in a libel/slander lawsuit filed by former first lady Marta de Martinelli. The corporation was sentenced to pay $25,000 balboas ($25,000) in damages and 6,000 balboas ($6,000) to cover legal expenses.

On September 2, Martinelli filed a civil lawsuit against TVN Information vice president and television host Sabrina Bacal, seeking one million balboas (one million dollars) in damages for calling him a thief during a public interview.

Following these legal actions, on September 3, media associations Journalism National Council and the Journalists Forum for Freedom of Expression and Information issued a joint statement requesting the Judicial Branch and Public Ministry keep “vigilant” regarding the “growing trend to abuse the justice system, using it as a censorship, intimidation, and persecution tool against journalists and media.”

Media organizations and media leaders claimed these lawsuits hindered reporting on specific cases and individuals and were likely intended to financially damage media corporations.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Panamanian National Office for Refugees (ONPAR) had a backlog of more than 15,000 cases and usually approved only 1 percent of asylum requests. ONPAR processed asylum applications and then referred applications to the National Commission for Refugees, an interagency committee that decides the final status of every case. The process of obtaining refugee status currently takes two to three years, during which only asylum seekers admitted into the process had the right to work. The current asylum application process can take up to one year for applicants to even be admitted into the system, which was not a guarantee of asylum approval.

The government approved and implemented the protocol for identification, referral, and attention for minors requiring international protection; however, the institutional protocol for protecting minors who migrate was pending implementation approval.

The government continued to manage camps in the Darien region to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance to migrants. At least one camp in the Darien did not have regular access to potable water and at times presented unsanitary conditions, especially when dealing with high volumes of migrants. The government reported continued migrations of persons from Cuba, Haiti, South Asia, India, and Africa.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its NGO implementing partners, thousands of persons living in the country were possibly in need of international protection. These included persons in the refugee process, persons denied refugee status, and persons who did not apply for refugee status due to lack of knowledge or fear of deportation.

Employment: Refugees recognized by authorities have the right to work, but recognized refugees complained that they faced discriminatory hiring practices. In an effort to prevent this discriminatory practice, ONPAR removed the word “refugee” from recognized refugees’ identification cards. By law individuals in the process of applying for asylum do not have the right to work; however, beginning in May those who had been formally admitted into the asylum process could request a one-year work permit that could be renewed as many times as needed.

Access to Basic Services: Education authorities sometimes denied refugees access to education and refused to issue diplomas to others if they could not present school records from their country of origin. The Ministry of Education continued to enforce the government’s 2015 decree requiring schools to accept students in the asylum process at the grade level commensurate with the applicants’ prior studies. As a result of the long wait times to be entered into the asylum system, many applicants encountered difficulties accessing basic services such as health care, financial services, and appropriate housing.

Durable Solutions: The law allows persons legally recognized as refugees or with asylum status who have lived in the country for more than three years to seek permanent residency.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on universal and equal suffrage. Naturalized citizens may not hold specified categories of elective office, such as the presidency.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May voters chose Laurentino Cortizo Cohen as president in national elections that independent observers considered generally free and fair. Elected at the same time were 71 national legislators, 81 mayors, 679 local representatives, and nine council members. A group of international observers from the Organization of American States, the EU, electoral NGOs, regional electoral authorities, and members of the diplomatic corps considered the elections fair and transparent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires new political parties to meet strict membership and organizational standards to gain official recognition and participate in national campaigns. Political parties must obtain the equivalent of 2 percent of the total votes cast to maintain legal standing.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. The government used anticorruption mechanisms such as asset forfeiture, whistleblower and witness protection, plea bargaining, and professional conflict-of-interest rules to address corrupt practices among government employees and security forces. Nevertheless, corruption remained a problem in the executive, judicial and legislative branches as well as in the security forces.

Corruption: The Public Ministry continued investigations into allegations of corruption against public officials but many have not resulted in convictions, and in one high-profile case, a court order denied requests for extensions of the legal timelines for more investigations. In a March hearing, an anticorruption prosecutor asked a criminal judge to convict six penitentiary system employees for corruption and six individuals are under fraud charges. Corruption and a lack of accountability among police continued to be a problem. The new administration that took office in July made personnel changes in all public forces agencies. Agents were dismissed on grounds of corruption and were under investigation by the Public Ministry. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption in the security forces remain centralized and opaque. The government rarely made cases of police abuse or corruption public, and the National Criminal Statistics Directorate was unable to provide strong data on police internal affairs.

As of September the Public Ministry continued the investigations of the Comptroller General’s Office’s 2018 audits of transactions between 2009 and 2014 by elected local representatives. The comptroller alleged a misuse of public funds through irregular contracts carried out by the Martinelli administration’s National Assistance Program. No charges were filed during the year.

The 2018 corruption cases filed by the Comptroller General’s Office before the Supreme Court against deputies from all political parties represented in the National Assembly were still under investigation by the court as of September.

The case continued against former minister of the presidency Demetrio “Jimmy” Papadimitriu and former minister of public works Jaime Ford, both in the Martinelli administration, detained in 2018 for alleged links to bribes paid by Brazilian multinational construction company Odebrecht. Both individuals faced money laundering and corruption charges. They were released on bail but could not leave the country without a court order. The cases remained under the inquisitorial system. Papadimitriu’s mother, Maria Bagatelas, a private citizen also involved in the Odebrecht case, was under house arrest, but in August the Supreme Court changed the measure and issued an order forbidding her from departing the country without a court’s approval.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires certain executive and judiciary officials to submit a financial disclosure statement to the Comptroller General’s Office. The information is not made public unless the official explicitly gives permission.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman, elected by the National Assembly, has moral but not legal authority. The Ombudsman’s Office received government cooperation and operated without government or party interference; it referred cases to the proper investigating authorities.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, with prison terms of five to 10 years. Rapes continued to constitute the majority of sexual crimes investigated by the National Police Directorate of Judicial Investigation. Eighty percent of the victims were women and 63 percent of those were younger than 17.

The law against gender violence stipulates stiff penalties for harassment and both physical and emotional abuse. The law states that sentencing for femicide is a mandatory 25 to 30 years in prison. Officials and civil society organizations agreed that domestic violence continued to be a serious crime. The PNP Specialized Unit for Domestic and Gender Violence created in 2018 continued to have 190 agents trained to work these cases. In June, Roberto Moreno Grajales was convicted and sentenced to 30 years prison for the 2016 killing of his former girlfriend, Diosila Martinez. He had originally fled to Costa Rica after the killing but was extradited in 2018 to Panama.

The Ombudsman’s Office continued its program Mujer Conoce tus Derechos (Woman, Know Your Rights), which included a wide distribution of flyers. In May the National Institute for Women’s Affairs (INAMU) established 24/7 hotline 182 to give legal guidance to victims of domestic violence. If the caller was at risk during the call, the operator would make a connection with the police.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in cases of employer-employee relations in the public and private sectors and in teacher-student relations. Violators face a maximum three-year prison sentence. The extent of the problem was difficult to determine, because convictions for sexual harassment were rare, pre-employment sexual harassment was not actionable, and there was a lack of formal reports. During the year the Ministry of Labor, UN Development Program, and NGO SUMARSE began to develop a protocol for private sector employers on how to investigate and deal with labor and sexual harassment within companies.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, and women enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. The law recognizes joint property in marriages. The law mandates equal pay for men and women in equivalent jobs. Although an illegal hiring practice, some employers continued to request pregnancy tests. There were two cases reported in the countryside of temporary workers who terminated their pregnancies once the condition became obvious, presumably due to fear of being fired.

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides citizenship for all persons born in the country, but parents of children born in remote areas sometimes had difficulty obtaining birth registration certificates.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal. The law has several articles pertaining to child abuse and its penalties, which depend on the type of abuse and range from six months to 20 years’ imprisonment if the abuse falls under a crime that carries a higher penalty. Public Ministry statistics as of August reported that 2,090 children were victims of different types of abuse; the Public Ministry believed this figure was underreported. The Ministry of Social Development maintained a free hotline for children and adults to report child abuse and advertised it widely. The ministry provided funding to children’s shelters operated by NGOs and continued a program that used pamphlets in schools to sensitize teachers, children, and parents about mistreatment and sexual abuse of children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. The government prohibits early marriage even with parental permission.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, and offering for prostitution of children, in addition to child pornography. Officials from the Ministry for Public Security continued to prosecute cases of sexual abuse of children, including within indigenous communities. Ministry officials believed that commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred, including in tourist areas in Panama City and in beach communities, although they did not keep separate statistics. In September, seven Panamanians were detained for their connections to an international child pornography ring based in Brazil. For two and one-half months, Panama and Brazil worked together with authorities in El Salvador, Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador, and other foreign countries to capture and imprison the individuals responsible for this child pornography ring as part of Operation Luz de la Infancia.

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

Anti-Semitism

Jewish community leaders estimated there were 15,000 Jews in the country. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination based on physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities; however, the constitution permits the denial of naturalization to persons with mental or physical disabilities. The law mandates access to new or remodeled public buildings for persons with disabilities and requires that schools integrate children with disabilities. Despite provisions of the law, persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in a number of these areas.

Most of Panama City’s bus fleet remained wheelchair inaccessible. Media reports in August noted again that Metro elevators were frequently locked and could not be used. A lack of ramps further limited access to the old stations, although the newly inaugurated Metro Line 2 had ramp access. Most businesses had wheelchair ramps and accessible parking spaces to avoid fines, but in many cases they did not meet the government’s size specifications.

In September the National Secretariat for People with Disabilities began a free shuttle service from the city’s largest bus terminal for individuals with disabilities that needed to visit their offices, which were located in a residential neighborhood with limited public transportation.

Some public schools admitted children with mental and physical disabilities, but most did not have adequate facilities for children with disabilities. Few private schools admitted children with disabilities, as they are not legally required to do so. The high cost of hiring professional tutors to accompany children to private schools–a requirement of all private schools–precluded many students with disabilities from attending.

The government-sponsored Guardian Angel program continued to provide a monthly subsidy of 80 balboas ($80) for children with significant physical disabilities living in poor conditions.

As of September, 1,440 individuals with disabilities were hired by local companies per Ministry of Labor statistics. This was an increase from the yearly average number of individuals with disabilities hired between 2014 and 2018. The law stipulates that employers who hire individuals with disabilities receive tax breaks at the end of the fiscal year.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Minority groups were generally integrated into mainstream society. Prejudice was directed, however, at recent legal immigrants, the Afro-Panamanian community, and indigenous Panamanians. Cultural and language differences and immigration status hindered the integration of immigrant and first-generation individuals from China, India, and the Middle East into mainstream society. Additionally, some members of these communities were reluctant to integrate.

The Afro-Panamanian community was underrepresented in positions of political and economic power. Areas where they lived lagged in terms of government services and social investment. The government’s National Secretariat for the Development of Afro-Panamanians focused on the socioeconomic advancement of this community. The secretariat was not supportive of the joint work between government entities and NGOs to ensure an accurate count of the Afro-Panamanian population in the upcoming 2020 census.

The law prohibits discrimination in access to public accommodations such as restaurants, stores, and other privately owned establishments; no complaints were filed. The Ombudsman’s Office intervened in several cases before students with Rastafarian braids were permitted entry into public school classrooms.

There were reports of racial discrimination against various ethnic groups in the workplace. Lighter-skinned persons continued to be overrepresented in management positions and jobs that required dealing with the public, such as bank tellers and receptionists. A July report by the UN Development Program and the National Institute on Women stated that Afro-Panamanian women were 10 times more susceptible to discrimination in the workplace than women from other races.

Indigenous People

The law affords indigenous persons the same political and legal rights as other citizens, protects their ethnic identity and native languages, and requires the government to provide bilingual literacy programs in indigenous communities. Indigenous individuals have the legal right to take part in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation and exploitation of natural resources. Nevertheless, they continued to be marginalized in mainstream society. Traditional community leaders governed comarcas (legally designated semiautonomous areas) for five of the country’s seven indigenous groups. The government also unofficially recognized eight other traditional indigenous government authorities. Government institutions recognized these eight regions were traditionally organized indigenous settlements and territories not included when the original comarcas were created.

Government officers continued to meet with traditional organized authorities from the indigenous community, and many requested recognition of their land via collective titles. No collective land titles were granted during the year, however, and land conflicts continued to arise. In March the bill for Naso Comarca was sent to the Supreme Court of Justice to decide if it is constitutional after a veto by the president in December.

The Ngabe and Bugle continued to oppose the Barro Blanco dam project, which became operational in 2017. There were no plans by the government to halt dam operations. The Ngabe-Bugle and the government continued to negotiate details of the dam’s operation.

Although the law is the ultimate authority in indigenous comarcas, many indigenous persons had not received sufficient information to understand their rights and, due to the inadequate system of education available in the comarcas, failed to use available legal channels.

In February the government established the Governing Committee for the National Indigenous Peoples Development Plan, with three representatives of the indigenous groups and government entities to ensure the implementation of the plan.

Societal and employment discrimination against indigenous persons was widespread. Employers frequently denied indigenous workers basic rights provided by law, such as a minimum wage, social security benefits, termination pay, and job security. Laborers on the country’s agricultural plantations (the majority of whom were indigenous persons) continued to work in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The Ministry of Labor conducted limited oversight of working conditions in remote areas.

Deficiencies in the educational system continued in the comarcas, especially beyond the primary grades. There were not enough teachers in these remote and inaccessible areas, with many schools poorly constructed and lacking running water. Teachers and students in remote areas of the comarcas continued to sporadically protest poor road and school conditions. Access to health care was a significant problem in the indigenous comarcas, despite government investment in more health infrastructure and staff. This was reflected in high rates of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, and an increase in HIV rates. The government continued to execute the Indigenous Development Plan jointly developed with indigenous leaders in 2013.

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

The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. There was societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which often led to denial of employment opportunities.

The PNP’s internal regulations describe consensual same-sex sexual conduct by its employees as against policy and potentially grounds for dismissal. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) human rights organizations reported harassment of LGBTI persons by security forces as a source of serious concern. On July 5, the new PNP director general stated in a national news interview that members of the LGBTI community can be members of the police force as long as they do not conduct actions that could damage the image of the institution. According to LGBTI NGOs, no changes had been made to internal police policies prohibiting LGBTI persons from serving in the force.

LGBTI NGOs reported hospital personnel refused to provide medical services to a transgender individual in a public hospital in Changuinola, province of Bocas del Toro, early in the year. In June, after attending the Pride Parade, a young man was raped by two men after they saw a rainbow flag in his backpack. The victim sought support from a local NGO and filed a criminal complaint with the Public Ministry. As of November there had been no progress in the case.

As of September the 2016 class-action lawsuit before the Supreme Court of Justice requesting Article 26 of the Family Code, which refers to marriage as “the union of a man and a woman” and thus forbids same-sex legal unions, be declared unconstitutional, was still unresolved.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS in employment and education. Discrimination, however, continued to be common due to ignorance of the law and a lack of mechanisms for ensuring compliance. LGBTI individuals reported mistreatment by health-care workers, including unnecessary quarantines.

Human rights NGOs reported receiving complaints of labor discrimination when employers found out employees were HIV positive, despite the fact that the law prohibits discrimination against persons with sexually transmitted diseases, as well as their immediate relatives. Employees are not obligated to disclose their condition to the employer, but if they do so, the employer must keep the information confidential. LGBTI NGOs reported at least one employer who allegedly sought ways to dismiss an HIV-positive employee who had 15 years of service at the company. Health Ministry representatives made a public call to employers to follow the law and asked laid-off employees to reach out to them for legal advice. Employers can be fined for not keeping an employee’s medical condition confidential.

In September the NGO PROBIDSIDA published concerns about a shortage of antiretroviral medications for treating patients with HIV/AIDS. PROBIDSIDA claimed that bureaucracy and lack of interest from administrative offices at the Ministry of Health and the Social Security clinics led to late purchase orders and late payment of providers, implying systematic prejudice against HIV-positive individuals within the health-care system.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The legal framework of labor laws is based upon the Labor Code of 1971, which provides for private-sector workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct strikes. By law the majority of public-sector employees can strike but may not organize unions. Instead, those public-sector employees may organize professional associations that would bargain collectively on behalf of its members, although the public entity is not legally obligated to bargain with the association. Under the previous Varela administration, the Ministry of Labor registered more than 10 public-sector unions within a few ministries, such as the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Maritime Authority, among others. As a result the government is not obligated to engage in negotiations with the professional associations within these entities. The National Federation of Public Servants (FENASEP), an umbrella federation of 25 public-sector worker associations, traditionally fought for the establishment of rights similar to those of private-sector unions. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers terminated for union activity but does not provide adequate means of protecting from rights violations.

Unions and associations are required to register with the Ministry of Labor. If the ministry does not respond to a private-sector union registration application within 15 calendar days, the union automatically gains legal recognition, provided the request is submitted directly with supported documentation established by law. In the public sector, professional associations gain legal recognition automatically if the General Directorate for Administrative Public Sector Careers does not respond to registration applications within 30 days. From January to September, the General Directorate approved seven public and 10 private union formation applications.

The Ministry of Labor Board of Appeals and Conciliation has the authority to resolve certain labor disagreements, such as internal union disputes, enforcement of the minimum wage, and some dismissal issues. The law allows arbitration by mutual consent, at the request of the employee or the ministry, in the case of a collective dispute in a privately held public utility company. It allows either party to appeal if arbitration is mandated during a collective dispute in a public-service company. The Ministry of Labor Board of Appeals and Conciliation has sole competency for disputes related to domestic employees, some dismissal issues, and claims of less than $1,500. The Minister of Labor initiated biennial minimum wage negotiations in August and was to act as a moderator between union and private-sector stakeholders.

Government-regulated union membership policies place some restrictions on freedom of association. The constitution mandates that only citizens may serve on a union’s executive board. In addition, the law requires a minimum of 40 persons to form a private-sector union (either by a company across trades or by trade across companies) and allows only one union per business establishment. The International Labor Organization criticized the 40-person minimum as too large for workers wanting to form a union within a company. Many domestic labor unions, as well as the public and private sectors, reiterated their support for keeping the figure at 40 individuals.

In the public sector, professional associations represent the majority of workers. The law stipulates only one association may exist per public-sector institution and permits no more than one chapter per province. At least 50 public servants are required to form a professional association. No law protects the jobs of public-sector workers in the event of a strike. FENASEP contended there was no political will to allow all public servants within ministries to form unions, because this could eliminate positions for political appointees.

The law prohibits federations and confederations from calling strikes, as well as strikes against the government’s economic and social policy. Individual professional associations under FENASEP may negotiate on behalf of their members, but the Ministry of Labor can order compulsory arbitration. FENASEP leaders noted that collective bargaining claims were heard and recognized by employers but did not result in tangible results or changes, particularly in cases of dismissals without cause.

According to the labor code, the majority of private-sector employees must support a strike, and strikes are permitted only if they are related to the improvement of working conditions, a collective bargaining agreement, for repeated violations of legal rights, or in support of another strike of workers on the same project (solidarity strike). In the event of a strike, at least 20 to 30 percent of the workforce must continue to provide minimum services, particularly public services as defined by law, such as transportation, sanitation, mail delivery, hospital care, telecommunications, and public availability of essential food.

Strikes in essential transportation services are limited to those involving public passenger services. The law prohibits strikes for Panama Canal Authority (ACP) employees but allows professional associations to organize and bargain collectively on issues such as schedules and safety, and it provides arbitration to resolve disputes. (The ACP is an autonomous entity, with independence from the central government).

The Ministry of the Presidency Conciliation Board hears and resolves public-sector worker complaints. The board refers complaints it cannot resolve to an arbitration panel, which consists of representatives from the employer, the professional association, and a third member chosen by the first two. If the dispute cannot be resolved, it is referred to a tribunal under the board. Observers, however, noted that the Ministry of the Presidency had not designated the tribunal judges. The alternative to the board is the civil court system.

Cases presented in the courts tend to favor employers. FENASEP noted that one public-sector institution had appealed more than 100 complaints to the Supreme Court, only two of which resulted in rulings in favor of the public-sector employee. While Supreme Court decisions are final, labor organizations may appeal their case results in international human rights courts.

One labor strike and labor protest occurred during the year. Workers at the Balboa port conducted a July 17-28 strike against Panama Ports’ decision to appeal collective agreement negotiations in the Supreme Court. (Note: Panama Ports was previously owned by the state but was privatized, and a Hong Kong-based company won the concession. End note). According to reports, these appeals subsequently delayed salary increases and working condition improvements. The strike ended on July 29, after the Ministry of Labor mediated an agreement between port workers and employers that promoted worker safety regulations and business economic welfare.

The Allied Association of Transport Port Ex-Employees’ (ASOTRAP) hosted an August labor walk to the Panamanian Presidency to pressure both the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Cortizo Administration to address claims that terminated Balboa and Cristobal port workers did not receive severance pay guaranteed by law when those ports were privatized. ASOTRAP asserted that because the termination occurred after August 15, former workers were entitled to the Panamanian 13th Month Bonus, a program in which workers receive one month’s wages annually (one-third paid April 15, one-third paid August 15, and the last third on December 15). ASOTRAP also contended that the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights had not made a ruling on the case. Although the commission sent ASOTRAP a letter acknowledging receipt of the case in 2015, ASOTRAP contended that the commission had not made a final case ruling.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced labor of adults or children, as well as modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The law establishes penalties sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government effectively enforced the law. There continued to be reports of Central and South American and Chinese men exploited in forced labor in construction, agriculture, mining, restaurants, door-to-door peddling, and other sectors; traffickers reported using debt bondage, false promises, lack of knowledge of the refugee process and irregular status, restrictions on movement, and other means. There also were reports of forced child labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 14, although children who have not completed primary school may not begin work until 15. The family code permits children ages 12 to 14 to perform domestic and agricultural work with regard to schedule, salary, contract, and type. The law allows children ages 12 to 15 to perform light work in agriculture if the work is outside regular school hours. The law also allows a child older than 12 to perform light domestic work and stipulates employers must ensure the child attends school through primary school. The law neither defines the type of light work children may perform nor limits the total number of light domestic work hours these children may perform. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from engaging in hazardous work but allows children as young as 14 to perform hazardous tasks in a training facility, in violation of international standards.

Minors younger than 16 may work no more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week, while those ages 16 and 17 may work no more than seven hours per day or 42 hours per week. Children younger than 18 may not work between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The National Commission for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents conducted 59 awareness meetings in vulnerable communities, with the participation of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development. Its actions focused on regions sensitive to sexual exploitation of minors in tourism locations, including Panama City, Bocas del Toro, Cocle, and Chiriqui. Criminal enforcement agencies investigated 398 reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children during 2018, compared with 920 in the previous year. The country is a source, transit point, and destination for men and women exploited in forced labor. Children were exploited in forced labor, particularly domestic servitude, and sex trafficking. The law includes punishment of up to 12 years’ imprisonment for anyone who recruits children younger than 18 or uses them to participate actively in armed hostilities.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination regarding race, gender, religion, political opinion, citizenship, disability, social status, and HIV status. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the country is a member of the International Equal Pay Coalition, which promotes pay equality between women and men, a gender wage gap continued to exist.

Despite legal protections, discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, and HIV-positive status. During the job interview process, applicants, both citizens and migrants, must complete medical examinations, including HIV/AIDS testing. The law requires all laboratories to inform applicants an HIV test will be administered, but private-sector laboratories often did not comply. It was common practice for private-sector human resources offices to terminate applications of HIV-positive citizens without informing the applicant. While private laboratories often informed law enforcement of HIV-positive migrants, the National Immigration Office did not engage in deportation procedures specifically based on a migrant’s HIV status. NGOs noted that during job interviews, women were often asked if they were married, pregnant, or planned to have children in the future. It was common practice for human resources offices to terminate the applications of women who indicated a possibility of pregnancy in the near future (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage only for private sector workers. The wage was above the poverty line. Public servants received lower minimum wages than their private-sector counterparts. Most workers formally employed in urban areas earned the minimum wage or more. As of August 2018, approximately 43 percent of the working population worked in the informal sector, and some earned well below the minimum wage. The agricultural sector, as well as the maritime and aviation sectors, received the lowest and highest minimum wages, respectively. The Ministry of Labor was less likely to enforce labor laws in most rural areas (see section 6, Indigenous People).

The law establishes a standard workweek of 48 hours, provides for at least one 24-hour rest period weekly, limits the number of hours worked per week, provides for premium pay for overtime, and prohibits compulsory overtime. There is no annual limit on the total number of overtime hours allowed. If employees work more than three hours of overtime in one day or more than nine overtime hours in a week, excess overtime hours must be paid at an additional 75 percent above the normal wage. Workers have the right to 30 days’ paid vacation for every 11 months of continuous work, including those who do not work full time.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting health and safety standards. Standards were generally current and appropriate for some of the industries in the country. The law requires employers to provide a safe workplace environment, including the provision of protective clothing and equipment for workers.

The Ministry of Labor generally enforced these standards in the formal sector. The inspection office consists of two groups: The Panama City-based headquarters group and the regional group. The number of inspectors and safety officers was insufficient to enforce labor laws adequately. As of July the Ministry of Labor had conducted 9,397 safety inspections nationwide. Fines were low and generally insufficient to deter violations. During the year, however, the government levied fines according to the number of workers affected, resulting in larger overall fines.

Reports of violations relating to hours of work were frequent, especially in the maritime sector, where unions reported shifts of 14 to 24 hours. There were allegations indicating that neither the Panamanian Maritime Authority nor the Ministry of Labor conducted inspections of working conditions in the maritime sector. The ACP unions and workers experienced difficulties accessing the justice system to adjudicate complaints due to delays and other deficiencies of the Labor Relations Board, which is the court of first instance on labor matters for the autonomous ACP. Reports also indicated violations relating to hours of work for coffee harvest workers, who often lacked formal contracts and were vulnerable to coercion from employers.

Employers often hired employees under short-term contracts to avoid paying benefits that accrue to long-term employees. Employers in the maritime sector also commonly hired workers continuously on short-term contracts but did not convert them to permanent employees as required by law. The law states that employers have the right to dismiss any employee without justifiable cause before the two-year tenure term. As a result, employers frequently hired workers for one year and 11 months and subsequently dismissed them to circumvent laws that make firing employees more difficult after two years of employment. This practice is illegal if the same employee is rehired as a temporary worker after being dismissed, although employees rarely reported the practice.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and the occupational health section of the Social Security Administration reported conducting periodic inspections of hazardous employment sites. The law requires the resident engineer and a ministry safety officer to remain on construction sites, establish fines for noncompliance, and identify a tripartite group composed of the Chamber of Construction, the construction union SUNTRACS, and the ministry to regulate adherence.

Some construction workers and their employers were occasionally lax about basic safety measures, frequently due to their perception that it reduced productivity. Equipment was often outdated, broken, or lacking safety devices, due in large part to a fear that the replacement cost would be prohibitive. In August a construction worker died in the city of David after falling 39 feet off a beam while working on a shopping center construction project. After his death, the Union of Construction Workers announced a temporary work stoppage on the project.

Samoa

Executive Summary

Samoa is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. Although the unicameral parliament is elected by universal suffrage, only matai (heads of extended families) may be members. In 2016 voters elected a new parliament, confirming Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in office. The elections were free and fair on the day, but the matai requirement and the questionable disqualification of candidates caused some observers to question the fairness of the outcome.

The national police, under the Ministry of Police, maintain internal security. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy at the village government level; criminal libel laws; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and forced child labor.

The government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses. There were no reports of impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite a court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request from a member of the public.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) to file suit against any person who publishes information about the tourism industry that it deems prejudicial to the public perception of the country. Violators are subject to a fine or maximum imprisonment of three months if they fail to retract the information or to publish a correction when ordered to do so by the STA. The STA did not exercise this authority in the year to October.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel may be prosecuted as a criminal offense. The law was enacted in late 2017 largely in response to an increase in social media bloggers posting defamatory allegations, often about government leaders. Local media regard the law as an obstacle to press freedom.

In February, Malele Paulo, an Australia-based Samoan blogger, travelled to the country to attend his mother’s funeral. Paulo was arrested and charged with criminal libel for posting accusations that the prime minister played a part in the assassination of a fellow cabinet minister in 1999, along with other accusations. In July, Paulo pled guilty to the criminal libel charges at an initial hearing, but later withdrew his plea. In October, Paulo was sentenced to 7 weeks in prison. Paulo has also been charged in an August conspiracy to assassinate the prime minister but that case had not gone to trial as of December.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

In-country Movement: There were reports some village councils banished individuals or families from villages.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status, but the government has not yet established a system for providing protection to refugees. There were no requests for asylum or refugee status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government repealed the Electoral Act 1963 passing a new Electoral Act 2019. It combines all amendments to the repealed Act along with a requirement that all citizens 21 years and older register as voters and vote in national elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The Electoral Act 2019 was tested in a by-election that took place in March. The Electoral Commissioner issued public notices regarding legal actions that are to be brought against those who did not register or did not vote. Observers considered the 2016 general election free and fair. The Human Rights Protection Party retained government control for a seventh consecutive term, winning 47 of 50 seats. The Tautua Samoa Party controlled three seats, not enough to form an official opposition. Following the election, plaintiffs filed six electoral petitions with the Supreme Court on grounds including cash and noncash bribery, during the campaign. Of the six, five were withdrawn and the court dismissed one for lack of evidence. Bribery, village pressure, and the threat of countersuits were reportedly cited as reasons for petition withdrawals.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution gives all citizens older than age 21 the right to vote; however, only persons with a matai title, the 17,000 chiefly leaders of extended families, may run for parliament or serve on village councils. Matai are appointed, not elected, to the councils.

In addition to the restrictions favoring matai, the 2016 election was the first to require all candidates to satisfy a three-year period of monotaga (services rendered through participation and physical contributions) in their respective village(s) to be eligible to run. The law sought to ensure that candidates fulfilled cultural and other commitments to their village and could not just use their matai status or make large, last-minute contributions to their villages to garner votes. The amendment led to a number of court petitions and the disqualification of five candidates deemed not to have met the requirement. The cases exposed deficiencies in the amendment since monotaga is ill defined and can mean different types of service (or exemption from service for certain matai) in different villages. Some saw such subjective disqualifications as human rights abuses.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Four women won seats in parliament outright in 2016. A 50th seat was added to parliament to ensure that the constitutionally mandated 10 percent female representation in parliament was observed. The seat went to the unsuccessful woman candidate with the highest percentage of votes in her constituency. Although both men and women may become matai, only 10 percent of matai were women. Of the five female members of parliament, Fiame Naomi Mataafa is deputy prime minister, a first for the country.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. The maximum penalty for corruption is 14 years’ imprisonment. There were reports of government corruption. In May the contract of the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration was terminated following his suspension in March when the Public Service Commission (PSC) filed six charges against him. One of the charges included a breach of the Public Service Act, based on an allegation that the CEO unlawfully authorized the release of original Lands and Titles Court files relating to the minister of justice. The CEO was terminated, however, not for the removal of court files, but for inappropriate behavior towards female employees and alleged misconduct in relation to other ministry employees, issues that came to light during the PSC investigation.

The law provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government agencies, officials, or employees, including allegations of corruption. The ombudsman may require the government to provide information relating to a complaint. The Attorney General’s Office prosecutes criminal corruption cases on behalf of the PSC. The Ombudsman’s Office and the PSC operated effectively. The Ombudsman’s Office included academics and other members of civil society among the members of its commissions of inquiry.

Corruption: There was public discontent throughout the year at significant delays in the submission of annual audit reports to parliament and the lack of punitive action. For example, the latest publicly available report of the controller and auditor general’s reports to parliament was for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The reports for the three subsequent years were tabled in parliament in March.

Financial Disclosure: Although there are no financial disclosure laws, codes of ethics applicable to boards of directors of government owned corporations encouraged public officials to follow similar disclosure.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: Observers considered the Office of the Ombudsman generally effective and able to operate free from government or political party interference. The government usually adopted its recommendations. The Office of the Ombudsman also houses the National Human Rights Institute.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The constitution prohibits the abuse of women. Rape is a crime, but there is no legal provision against spousal rape. The courts treated rape seriously, and the conviction rate generally was high. The penalties for rape range from two years to life imprisonment, but no court has ever imposed a life sentence.

When police received complaints from abused women, authorities investigated and charged the offender. Authorities charge domestic violence as common criminal assault, with a maximum penalty of one year’s imprisonment. Village councils typically punished domestic violence offenders only if they considered the abuse extreme, such as when there were visible signs of physical harm. In the past few years, several villages have taken the extra step of incorporating specific fines into their village by-laws. In one village the fine is WST$2,000 ($800) per offense.

The government acknowledged that rape and domestic abuse were of significant concern. The National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, released in September 2018, revealed that 86 percent of women experienced some form of physical violence from an intimate partner, and 24 percent had experienced choking. Many cases of rape and domestic abuse went unreported because societal attitudes discouraged such reporting and tolerated domestic abuse. Social pressure and fear of reprisal typically caused such abuse to go unreported.

The Ministry of Police has a nine person Domestic Violence Unit that works in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and focuses on combatting domestic abuse.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and there were no reliable statistics on its incidence. The lack of legislation and a cultural constraint against publicly shaming or accusing someone, even if justifiable, reportedly caused sexual harassment to be underreported. Victims had little incentive to report instances of sexual harassment, since doing so could jeopardize their career or family name.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Women and men have equal rights under the constitution and statutory law, and the traditionally subordinate role of women continued to change, albeit slowly.

Children

Birth Registration: A child is a citizen by birth in the country if at least one parent is a citizen. The government also may grant citizenship by birth to a child born in the country if the child would otherwise be stateless. Citizenship also derives by birth abroad to a citizen parent who either was born in the country or resided there at least three years. By law children without a birth certificate may not attend primary schools, but authorities did not strictly enforce this law.

Child Abuse: Law and tradition prohibit abuse of children, but both tolerate corporal punishment. The law prohibits corporal punishment in schools; a teacher convicted of corporal punishment of a student may face a maximum one year prison term.

The government aggressively prosecuted reported cases of child abuse.

Press reports indicated an increase in child abuse reports, especially of incest and indecent assault cases; the rise appeared to be due to citizens’ increased awareness of the importance of reporting physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 21 for a man and 19 for a woman. Consent of at least one parent or guardian is necessary if either party is younger than the minimum. Marriage is illegal if a woman is younger than age 16 or a man is younger than age 18. Early marriage did not generally occur.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Under the law, the maximum penalty for sexual relations with children younger than age 12 is life imprisonment and for children between ages 12 and 15 the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment. The law contains a specific criminal provision regarding child pornography. The law specifies a seven-year prison sentence for a person found guilty of publishing, distributing, or exhibiting indecent material featuring a child. Because 16 is the age of majority, the law does not protect 16- and 17-year-old persons.

Although comprehensive data on the sexual abuse of children was not available, the sexual abuse of children remained a widespread problem. In the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, nearly 10 percent of female respondents reported they were raped as children by a family member.

The Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with NGOs, carried out educational activities to address domestic violence, sexual abuse, and human rights awareness.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country had no Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

While no law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in the provision of public services, the law does prohibit disability-based discrimination in employment.

Many public buildings were old, and only a few were accessible to persons with disabilities. Most new buildings provided better access, including ramps and elevators in most multistory buildings.

Tradition dictates that families care for persons with disabilities, and the community observed this custom widely.

Some children with disabilities attended regular public schools, while others attended one of three schools in the capital created specifically to educate students with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were no new reports of bans on setting up Chinese-owned retail shops on customary land within villages during the year; four villages banned Chinese-owned shops in 2017. These actions followed the rapid spread of ethnic Chinese-owned retail shops throughout Apia and into rural villages. The bans apply only on village-owned land (approximately 80 percent of land in the country), not to government or freehold land. During the year, however, there were two attacks on Chinese businesses; both involved violent assault of the Chinese owners and employees, resulting in one death. Many Chinese and ethnic Samoans feel Chinese are being targeted partly because of their ethnicity. There were no similar attacks on ethnically Samoan-owned businesses.

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

“Sodomy” and “indecency between males” are illegal, with maximum penalties of seven and five years’ imprisonment, respectively, but authorities did not enforce these provisions with regard to consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Although there were no reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were isolated cases of discrimination. Society publicly recognized the transgender Fa’afafine community; however, members of the community reported instances of social discrimination.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, to conduct legal strikes, and to bargain collectively. There are certain restrictions on the right to strike for government workers, imposed principally for reasons of public safety. The law states that a public sector employee who engages in a strike or any other industrial action is considered “dismissed from…employment.” The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, such as contract conditions that restrict free association. The law addresses a range of fundamental rights and includes the establishment of a national tripartite forum that serves as the governing body for labor and employment matters in the country.

The government effectively enforced laws on unionization, and the government generally respected freedom of association. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Public Service Association functioned as a union for all government workers. Unions generally conducted their activities free from government interference.

Workers exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Public Service Association engaged in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including on wages. Arbitration and mediation procedures were in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arose. The government has the right to dissolve unions without going to court, a provision of the law criticized by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

There were no reports of strikes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and the government generally enforced such laws. There is an exception in the constitution for service required by local custom. A key feature of the matai system is that non-matai men perform work in their village in service to their families, church, or the village as a whole. Most persons did so willingly, but the matai may compel those who do not wish to work, including children.

The government did effectively enforce the law. The law states that forced labor is punishable by penalties sufficient to deter violations. Aside from the cultural exception noted above and street vending by children, forced labor was not considered a problem. The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor received no complaints and found no violations of forced labor during inspections conducted.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The ILO noted that the law does not effectively prohibit the procuring or offering of children between the ages of 16 and 18 for the production of indecent materials. The law also does not specifically prohibit the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs.

The law prohibits employing children ages 12-14 except in “safe and light work.” The government issued a public notice clarifying the hazardous work occupations prohibited for children under age 18.

The law does not apply to service rendered to family members or the matai, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on family farms. The law prohibits any student from engaging in light or heavy industrial activity during school hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The law restricts vending by school-aged children (younger than age 14) if it interferes with their school attendance, participation in school activities, or educational development. This law is effectively enforced in the formal economy, but only minimally enforced in the informal economy in areas such as child street vending, which takes place at all hours of the day and night. Children frequently sold goods and food on street corners. The problem of child street vending attracted significant media coverage and public outcry. There were no reliable statistics available on the extent of child labor, but it occurred largely in the informal sector.

The extent to which children had to work on village farms varied by village, although anecdotal accounts indicated the practice was common. Younger children primarily did yard work and light work such as gathering fruit, nuts, and plants. Some boys began working on plantations as teenagers, helping to gather crops such as coconuts and caring for animals. Some children reportedly had domestic service employment.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination, direct or indirect, against an employee or an applicant for employment based on ethnicity, race, color, sex, gender, religion, political opinion, national extraction, sexual orientation, social origin, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibilities, real or perceived HIV status, and disability.

The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Labor Ministry received one complaint regarding unfair hiring practices during the year. The hiring and recruiting process for the private sector is outside of the scope of the Labor and Employment Relations Act. No cases drew public attention.

To integrate women into the economic mainstream, the government sponsored numerous programs, including literacy and training programs.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There were separate minimum wage scales for the private and public sectors. Both minimum wages were below the official estimate of the poverty income level for a household. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Approximately 75 percent of the working population worked in the subsistence economy and had no formal employment.

The law covers private and public sector workers differently. For the private sector, the law specifies overtime pay at time and a half, with double time for work on Sunday and public holidays. For the public sector, there is no paid overtime, but authorities give compensatory time off for overtime work.

The law establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards for workplaces, which the labor ministry is responsible for enforcing. The law also covers nonworkers who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. The law contains provisions for the identification and assessment of, and risk control for, workplace hazards and hazardous substances. In January the Labor Ministry issued a public notice clarifying the list of hazardous work prohibited for children.

Safety laws do not generally apply to agricultural service rendered to the matai or work in a family enterprise. Government employees have coverage under different and more stringent regulations, which the Public Service Commission enforced adequately.

Independent observers reported that the Labor Ministry did not strictly enforce safety laws, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. It investigated work accidents when it received reports. The number of inspectors was generally sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Many agricultural workers had inadequate protection from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education and awareness programs sought to address these concerns by providing appropriate training and equipment to some agricultural workers.

The Labor Ministry investigates any potential labor law violations in response to complaints. The police and education ministries may assist if needed; the PSC handles all government labor matters.

The commissioner of labor investigates reported cases of hazardous workplaces. Workers are legally able to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Seychelles

Executive Summary

Seychelles is a multiparty republic governed by a president, Council of Ministers, and National Assembly. In 2015 voters narrowly re-elected President James Michel of the People’s Party (Parti Lepep in Creole, later renamed United Seychelles) in an election that international observers criticized for voter intimidation and vote buying. In 2016 President Michel resigned and appointed Vice President Danny Faure as president. Elections are scheduled to take place in 2020. In 2016 the opposition coalition Seychellois Democratic Union (LDS) won a majority of seats in legislative assembly elections that international and domestic observers called fair but not free because they did not consider the electoral commission to be impartial. This was the LDS’s first majority in the legislature since the establishment of a multiparty system in 1993 and the first time the ruling party faced an opposition of equal or greater strength.

The Seychelles Police, which includes the unarmed police, the armed paramilitary Police Special Support Wing, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and the Marine Police Unit, have primary responsibility for internal security. They report to the minister of home affairs. The Seychelles People’s Defense Forces, including infantry, the Special Forces Unit, the Coast Guard, and the Air Force, are responsible for external security and assist police with internal security as needed. These military services report to the president, who acts as minister of defense.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included lack of enforcement of laws against domestic violence against girls and women, including rape, and forced labor.

The government took steps to punish officials who committed human rights abuses.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Expression: Since 2015 individuals continued to be more willing to exercise the freedom to criticize the government with less fear of reprisal, such as harassment by police or the loss of jobs or contracts.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media outlets were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law allows for independent radio and television but prohibits political parties and religious organizations from operating radio stations. The government funded two of the country’s four radio stations and one of its two television stations, but no longer controlled content.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the minister of information technology to prohibit the broadcast of any material believed to be against the “national interest” or “objectionable.” The law also requires telecommunication companies to submit subscriber information to the government. Although authorities did not enforce the law, after more than 40 years of working in a controlled press environment, journalists continued to practice self-censorship. The high cost for requesting documents from the Land Registrar’s Office has the effect of limiting journalists’ access to information regarding land transactions, which are important documents when investigating existing and past corruption.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for the media: In contrast with practice prior to 2018, President Faure’s press conferences were open to all media. During the elections of 2015 and 2016, the opposition accused the then state-controlled Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) of biased reporting and coverage. A 2017 amendment to the SBC Act created a larger corporate board and provided for members of the public to apply for the position of CEO and deputy CEO. In 2018 the SBC was transformed from a state broadcaster to a public service broadcaster operating independently of state control.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content and there were no reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

The law requires organizers of gatherings of 10 or more persons to inform the police commissioner five working days prior to the date proposed for the planned gathering. The police commissioner may impose conditions or deny the right to assemble on security, morality, and public safety grounds. There were several public demonstrations and marches during the year. Authorities did not restrict the holding of lawful opposition gatherings. During the year the National Assembly rejected a government proposal to restrict demonstrations to a specific area.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the country cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which monitored and assisted refugees in the country through a memorandum of understanding with the UN Development Program.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 President Michel was re-elected to a third term by 193 votes in the country’s first-ever presidential runoff election. Neither Michel nor runner-up Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the opposition LDS alliance, received the required 50 percent plus one vote to win in the first electoral round. International observers from the Southern African Development Community and the African Union considered the elections neither free nor fair because of ruling-party voter intimidation and vote buying.

The opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court to overturn election results based on vote buying and other election irregularities. In 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled that, although there were irregularities, they were not significant enough to overturn the results.

In 2016 President Michel announced his resignation, passing the presidency to Vice President Danny Faure. President Faure opted for a consultative approach with the opposition, the legislature, and the executive, in order to collaborate on the most important national issues. In 2017 the National Assembly amended the constitution and removed a clause that permitted the passing of the presidency to a vice president to serve the remainder of the president’s term. The amendment provides for elections to be held three months after the resignation or death of a president. The next presidential election is scheduled to take place in the second half of 2020.

The country held National Assembly elections in 2016. The LDS, an opposition alliance composed of the Seychelles National Party, the Seychellois Alliance Party, the Seychelles Party for Social Justice and Democracy, and supporters of independent presidential candidate Phillipe Boulle, won 15 seats in the 33-seat assembly, while the People’s Party won 10 seats. The remaining seats were allocated on a proportional basis, with the opposition LDS alliance and the People’s Party receiving four each of the remaining eight seats. This result created LDS’ or any opposition party’s first majority in the legislature since the establishment of a multiparty system in 1993, and it was the first time the ruling party faced an opposition of comparable strength. International and domestic observers qualified the election as transparent, fair, and peaceful but refrained from calling it free due to the lack of credibility of the election management body, the Seychelles Electoral Commission. In August 2018 it was replaced by a five-member electoral commission, with a revamped secretariat that introduced a separation of powers between the commission board and operations. New rules for the commission provided more accountability mechanisms.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Following the 2016 National Assembly elections, women held seven of 33 seats, compared with 14 seats in the previous assembly. Women held five of 12 ministerial positions in the cabinet.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but due to the limited powers accorded to the Anti-Corruption Commission under the laws in place in the first part of the year, the government did not implement the law effectively. On August 5, the Anti-Corruption Act was amended to give the commission the same powers, authority, and privileges as that of a law enforcement agency to detect, prevent, investigate, and prosecute cases of corruption outside the purview of the Attorney General’s Office.

In 2018 an access to information law came into force. During the year the government appointed a CEO for the Seychelles Information Commission, and also appointed information officers in all ministries and departments. The law makes provisions on how citizens may access government information that is not classified sensitive for security and defense reasons, how agencies should respond to requests, mandates proactive disclosure and a duty to assist requestors, and defines information that is deemed classified for security and defense.

Corruption: There were no prosecutions during the year. Political wrangling prior to amendment of the Anti-Corruption Act over the commission’s powers and a small staff hindered anticorruption investigations. As of November the commission had 72 open cases. The commission received technical assistance from the EU.

Financial Disclosure: Government ministers, members of the National Assembly, and senior public servants and board members of government agencies and parastatals are required to declare their assets. Asset declarations may be made public if the information is needed for a court case or upon request to the ethics commissioner. The law was not always enforced.

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

Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to the views of international and local NGOs. The Office of the Vice President has the responsibility to engage with NGOs. The government consulted NGOs on most issues of national concern and appointments to boards of national organizations and agencies. An umbrella organization grouping various NGOs, Citizens Engagement Platform, is the focal point for all NGO activities and receives funding from the government for projects and general operations, and the government regularly consulted it regarding the introduction of legislation.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The 2018 Seychelles Human Rights Commission Act provided for reform of the Human Rights Commission, allowing it to operate independently of the ombudsman’s office, in order to allow for a greater focus on human rights issues. On March 2, the five members of the commission were sworn in, including as chairman retired judge Bernadin Renaud, one of the most respected jurists in the country.

From September 11, the Truth, Reconciliation, and National Unity Commission began hearing cases of alleged human rights abuses. These cases included unlawful killings, disappearances, forced land acquisitions, and victimizations related to the 1977 coup. The commission has three years to conduct hearings on more than 100 registered cases. The commission may recommend compensation and refer crimes to the attorney general for prosecution.

Authorities rarely used the inquiry board (a police complaint office), but instead established independent inquiry commissions to examine security force abuses. Private attorneys generally filed complaints with police or published them in newspapers such as Today in Seychelles or in opposition party newspapers such as Seychelles Weekly and Le Seychellois Hebdo. Although respect for human rights was included as a core precept in police training, police stated the course was skeletal and did not comprehensively cover human rights.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, spousal rape, and domestic abuse are criminal offenses for which conviction is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, rape was a problem, and the government generally did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities in general did not prioritize domestic abuse cases and police were undertrained in handling sexual assault cases. Many victims did not report rape due social stigma and a reluctance to enter into lengthy court case.

Domestic violence against women was a widespread problem. There is no specific domestic violence law, although legislation has been under consideration for many years. Officials reported that through September courts heard 356 domestic violence cases, nine more than in the same period in 2018. A gender-based violence survey published in 2018 indicated that 58 percent of women had been assaulted, mainly by their partners, with one of 10 women having been raped. There were four homicides in January, all resulting from domestic disputes. Police rarely responded to domestic disputes, although media continued to draw attention to the problem.

The Family Squad–a special police unit that addresses domestic violence and other family problems–became part of the Criminal Investigation Unit during the year. The Social Affairs Division of the Ministry of Family Affairs as well as NGOs provided counseling services to victims of rape and domestic violence. The ministry’s Gender Secretariat conducted anti-gender-based violence outreach campaigns. In November 2018 the first shelter for victims of gender-based violence opened but was rarely used, due to a lack of procedure for admission and a no children policy.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but enforcement was rare. The penal code provides no penalty for conviction of sexual harassment, although the court may order a person accused of such conduct to “keep a bond of peace” that allows the court to assess a fine if the harasser fails to cease the harassment. In the workplace, the Employment Act states that an employer may not harass a worker.

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

Discrimination: Although society is largely matriarchal, the law provides for the same legal status and rights for men as for women, including equal treatment under family, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While unwed mothers traditionally bear the burden of supporting their children, the law requires fathers to support their children financially. The Employment Act, as amended in 2015, provides fathers with 10 days of paid paternity leave upon the birth of a child.

There was no officially sanctioned economic discrimination against women in employment, access to credit, equal pay for equal work, or owning or managing a business. Women were well represented in both the public and private sectors. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or if born abroad from Seychellois parents, and births in the country were generally registered immediately. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits physical abuse of children, child abuse was a problem. According to NGOs, physical abuse of children was prevalent. The strongest public advocate for young victims was a semiautonomous agency, the National Council for Children. The law prohibits corporal punishment in schools.

Early and Forced Marriage: On October 22, the National Assembly set the minimum age for marriage at 18 for men and women and rescinded a provision that had permitted girls as young as age 15 to marry with parental consent. The president, however, had not signed the change into law by year’s end. Child marriage was not a significant problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code and other laws define a child as a person younger than age 18 and criminalize practices related to child pornography and the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, and procurement for prostitution of children. The law provides for a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of producing or possessing child pornography, as well as for a first conviction of sexual assault on a child younger than age 15, and a minimum 28 years’ imprisonment for a second conviction within 10 years of the first conviction. The law prescribes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine up to 800,000 Seychellois rupees ($59,000) for conviction of child trafficking. There were no credible reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children or of child pornography during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered fewer than 10 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although the constitution and law provide for special protections for persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including reasonable provisions for improving quality of life, no laws address access to public buildings, transportation, or government services, and the government did not provide such services. Unlike in previous years, employed persons with disabilities were paid their salaries in full. Most children with disabilities were segregated in specialized schools. The National Council for the Disabled, a government agency under the Ministry of Family Affairs, developed work placement programs for persons with disabilities, although few employment opportunities existed.

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

In 2016 consensual same-sex sexual activity between men was decriminalized. Same-sex sexual activity between women was never criminalized. There were few reports of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although activists stated discrimination and stigma were common. LGBTI persons stated the government discriminated against them when applying for social housing.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Unlike in previous years, foreign citizens marrying a Seychellois were not required to undergo an HIV test. An independent National AIDS Council oversees all laws, policies, and programs related to HIV and AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows all workers, excluding police, military, prison, and firefighting personnel, to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law confers on the registrar discretionary powers to refuse registration of unions. Strikes are illegal unless arbitration procedures are first exhausted. Legislation requires that two-thirds of union members vote for a strike in a meeting specifically called to discuss the strike, and it provides the government with the right to call for a 60-day cooling-off period before a strike starts. The law provides for the minister responsible for employment to declare a strike unlawful if its continuance would endanger “public order or the national economy.” Anyone found guilty of calling an illegal strike may be fined 5,000 Seychellois rupees ($370) and imprisoned for up to six months.

Between 15 percent and 20 percent of the workforce was unionized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. It does not specifically state the rights of foreign or migrant workers to join a union. The government has the right to review and approve all collective bargaining agreements in the public and private sectors. The law also imposes compulsory arbitration in all cases where negotiating parties do not reach an agreement through collective bargaining. In the Seychelles International Trade Zone (SITZ), the country’s export processing zone, the government did not require adherence to all labor, property, tax, business, or immigration laws. The Seychelles Trade Zone Act supersedes many legal provisions of the labor, property, tax, business, and immigration laws. The Employment Tribunal handles employment disputes for private-sector employees. The Public Services Appeals Board handles employment disputes for public-sector employees, and the Financial Services Agency deals with employment disputes of workers in SITZ. The law authorizes the Ministry of Employment, Immigration, and Civil Status to establish and enforce employment terms, conditions, and benefits, and workers frequently obtained recourse against their employers through the ministry or the employment tribunal.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Penalties levied came in the form of fines and were often inadequate to deter violations. Cases involving citizens were often subject to lengthy delays and appeals, while foreigners were often deported.

The government effectively enforced the law and respected the right to participate in union activities and collective bargaining. The International Labor Organization continued to report insufficient protection against acts of interference and restrictions on collective bargaining. It urged the government to review provisions of the Industrial Relations Act concerning trade union registration and the right to strike. The law allows employers or their organizations to interfere by promoting the establishment of worker organizations under their control. Collective bargaining rarely occurred.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but government enforcement was ineffective. Penalties levied for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. Resources, inspections, and remediation were also inadequate. There were credible reports that forced labor occurred in the fishing, agriculture, and construction sectors, where most of the country’s nearly 19,000 migrants worked. Two cases of forced labor were prosecuted under the Employment Act and two cases under the 2014 Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act. There were several reports by the Association of Rights Information and Democracy concerning cases of forced labor, appalling living conditions, and nonpayment of salaries.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and states the minimum age for employment is 15, “subject to exceptions for children who are employed part time in light work prescribed by law without harm to their health, morals, or education.” The law notes working in a family-owned shop as an example of “light work.” The law establishes a minimum age of 15 for hazardous work and defines what constitutes hazardous work. The law, however, does not provide for children performing hazardous work to receive adequate training or protect their health and safety in accordance with international standards.

The Ministry of Employment, Immigration, and Civil Status effectively enforced child labor laws. The penalty for employing a child younger than age 15 was sufficient to deter violations. The ministry handled such cases but did not report any case requiring investigation during the year.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, age, gender, color, nationality, language, religion, disability, HIV status, sexual orientation, or political or professional association.

The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations. Penalties levied came in the form of fines and were sufficient to deter violations.

Employment discrimination generally did not occur. Women received equal pay for equal work, as well as equal access to credit, business ownership, and management positions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government set mandatory minimum wage rates for employees in both the private and public sectors. The minimum wages were above the poverty line.

The legal maximum workweek varied from 45 to 55 hours, depending on the economic sector. Regulations entitled each full-time worker to a one-hour break per day and a minimum of 21 days of paid annual leave, including paid annual holidays. Regulations permitted overtime up to 60 additional hours per month. The law requires premium pay for overtime work.

The Ministry of Health issues comprehensive occupational health and safety regulations that are up-to-date and appropriate for the main industries. The law allows citizen workers to remove themselves from dangerous or unhealthy work situations, to report the employer to the Health and Safety Commission of the Department of Employment, and to seek compensation without jeopardizing their employment. The law provides for the protection of foreign workers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties levied were not sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Health and the Department of Employment are responsible for visiting and inspecting worksites and workers’ accommodations. There were 13 safety and health inspectors in the country, an insufficient number to enforce compliance with health and safety laws.

Foreign workers, primarily employed in the construction and commercial fishing sectors, did not always enjoy the same legal protections as citizens. Companies in SITZ at times paid foreign workers lower wages, delayed payment of their salaries, forced them to work longer hours, and provided them with inadequate housing, resulting in substandard conditions.

In 2017 there were 84 occupational accidents reported. These accidents occurred most frequently in the accommodation and food services sector, transport, and storage industries.

Trinidad and Tobago

Executive Summary

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister and a bicameral legislature. The island of Tobago’s House of Assembly has some administrative autonomy over local matters. In the 2015 elections, which observers considered generally free and fair, the opposition People’s National Movement, led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

The Ministry of National Security oversees three major divisions: police, immigration, and defense. Police maintain internal security. The defense force, which includes the coast guard, is responsible for external security but also has certain domestic security responsibilities. The coast guard is the main authority responsible for maritime border security in places where there are no official ports of entry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption and laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although those laws were not enforced and their constitutionality was being litigated.

The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but impunity persisted.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The Sedition Act defines seditious intent as an intention to bring contempt and hatred to the government; to raise disaffection among inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago; to engender or promote feelings of hostility against any class of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago distinguished by race, color, religion, or profession; or to promote violence against a particular group.

The government charged Watson Duke, president of the Public Services Association, a labor union, with sedition in August. The charges stemmed from Duke’s statement at a press conference that his union members were willing to die if the government came to take their jobs. Some commentators expressed concern that Duke was targeted for his frequent criticism of the government, and they criticized the Sedition Act as an outdated colonial law. After the incident the government expressed willingness to update the law, but it did not drop the charges against Duke. Duke was free on bail awaiting trial.

Violence and Harassment: The government charged a police constable and the chief executive officer of A&V Oil Gas Limited with assaulting Trinidad Guardian photographer Kristian De Silva. The case was dismissed in September but later refiled by the director of public prosecutions. As of November the matter was pending.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government agreed to let the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conduct refugee status determinations. Thousands of UNHCR’s determinations affirmed refugee status. A positive determination by UNHCR, however, did not confer recognition by the government of an individual as a refugee or otherwise affect the person’s legal status in the country.

Durable Solutions: The government collaborated with UNHCR to facilitate transit of a few refugees to countries that had offered them resettlement.

Temporary Protection: In response to a large influx of Venezuelans, the government conducted a one-off registration exercise in June and agreed to allow registrants to reside, work, and access emergency health services in the country for one year from their date of registration. Approximately 16,500 Venezuelans registered with the government. Registration was unavailable to those who arrived after or who failed to register during the June exercise. Refugee children could not access public education, however, even if they were registered.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2015 elections the opposition People’s National Movement, led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership (PP), led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, winning 23 parliamentary seats to the PP’s 18 seats. Commonwealth observers considered the elections generally free and fair.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption remained a problem at many levels of government. Senior police officials acknowledged that officers participated in corrupt and illegal activities, often accepting bribes to facilitate drug, weapons, and human smuggling, as well as human trafficking.

Opaque public procurement processes continued to be of concern. There were continued allegations that some politicians and ministers had close relationships with gang leaders and facilitated procurement and contracting of road, bridge, and construction projects to companies owned and operated by criminal enterprises.

During the year high-profile corruption cases were initiated against current and former officials from each of the two main political parties. On May 2, police arrested former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and Senator Gerald Ramdeen. Prosecutors charged both with conspiring to engage in money laundering, corruption, and misbehavior in public office. On August 12, prosecutors charged Minister of Public Administration and Member of Parliament Marlene McDonald with seven criminal charges: three charges of misbehavior in public office, three charges of conspiracy to defraud the state, and one charge of money laundering.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that senior public officials disclose their assets, income, and liabilities to the Integrity Commission, which monitors, verifies, and publishes disclosures. The commission publishes a list annually of officials who failed to file by the deadline. The law provides criminal penalties for failure to comply, but there were no prosecutions.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman investigates citizens’ complaints concerning the administrative decisions of government agencies. Where there is evidence of a breach of duty, misconduct, or criminal offense, the ombudsman may refer the matter to the appropriate authority. The ombudsman has a quasi-autonomous status within the government and publishes a comprehensive annual report. Both the public and the government had confidence in the integrity and reliability of the Office of the Ombudsman and the ombudsman’s annual report.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to life imprisonment, but the courts often imposed considerably shorter sentences in cases of spousal rape. The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides for protection orders separating perpetrators of domestic violence, including abusive spouses and common-law partners, from their victims. Courts may also fine or imprison abusive spouses but did so rarely.

Rape and domestic violence remained serious and pervasive problems. According to the UN Global Database on Violence against Women, 30 percent of women in the country experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, and 19 percent experienced sexual violence from a nonpartner.

Victims of rape and domestic violence had access to national crisis hotlines and through a law enforcement referral could access temporary shelter and psychosocial services. The police service provided resources to their Victim and Witness Support Unit to encourage reporting rape and domestic violence. The government was training a domestic violence unit of the police service.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not criminalize sexual harassment. In March Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development Jennifer Baptiste-Primus launched a national workplace policy on sexual harassment, citing the 2017 National Women’s Health Survey for Trinidad and Tobago. The survey stated 13 percent of women experienced sexual harassment at work, in public transport, and in public spaces, and that as many as 84 percent of instances of sexual harassment were not reported.

The Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development reported that disputes involving sexual harassment between 2016 and 2018 were 69 percent of all disputes reported during that period, a 38 percent increase since 2015.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, and the government enforced the law effectively.

Children

Birth Registration: Every person born in the country is a citizen at birth, unless the parents are foreign envoys accredited to the country. A child born outside the country can become a citizen at birth if either parent is a citizen. The law requires every child be registered within 42 days of birth. Registration is required to access public services.

Education: Education is free and compulsory between the ages of five and 16. There are significant differences between boys and girls in enrollment, attendance, and completion in public schools. Nearly 60 percent of all dropouts between 2012 and 2019 were boys. Boys’ enrollment in primary schools exceeded that of girls, but by the upper secondary level girls outnumbered boys.

Child Abuse: The law prohibits corporal punishment of children. According to NGOs, however, abuse of children in their own homes or in institutional settings remained a serious problem. Penalties for child abuse can include a fine of up to 10,000 Trinidad/Tobago dollars ($1,500), two years’ imprisonment, or both.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children through the sale, offering, or procuring for prostitution, and any practices related to child pornography. Authorities enforced the law.

The age of sexual consent is 18, and the age of consent for sexual touching is 16.

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

Anti-Semitism

There were fewer than 100 Jewish persons in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination based on disability but does not mandate equal access for persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination, stigma, and denial of opportunities, including access to employment and education. Persons who believe they are being discriminated against can file a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission for conciliation. Complaints that remained unresolved may be brought before the Equal Opportunity Tribunal, a superior court that has the power to impose fines, make orders for compensation, and grant injunctions.

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

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, but the government did not enforce it, and a court ruling deemed the law unconstitutional. The government’s appeal of the ruling was pending and was intended to make the ruling settled law.

The law decriminalizes sexual exploration between minors who are close in age but specifically retains language criminalizing the same activity among same-sex minors.

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There were reports of harassment and threats against LGBTI persons, but victims tended to avoid media attention, and discrimination did not appear to be serious or widespread.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Stigmatization of persons with HIV persisted, especially of persons in high-risk groups, creating barriers to access and uptake of prevention and treatment services. The government’s HIV and AIDS Unit coordinated the national response to HIV/AIDS, and the government employed HIV/AIDS coordinators in all ministries as part of its multisector response.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of most workers, including those in state-owned enterprises, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes, but with some limitations. A union must have the support of an absolute majority of workers to obtain bargaining rights. Employees providing essential services do not have the right to strike; these employees negotiate with the government’s chief personnel officer to resolve labor disputes. The law stipulates that only strikes over unresolved labor disputes may take place, and that authorities may prohibit strikes at the request of one party unless the strike is called by a union representing a majority of the workers. The minister of labor may petition the court to curtail any strike he deems harmful to national interests.

The law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers due to union membership and mandates reinstatement of workers illegally dismissed for union activities.

The law’s definition of a worker excludes domestic workers (house cleaners, chauffeurs, and gardeners), but domestic workers had an established trade union that advocated for their rights.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws, although there was little information on specific penalties or on whether the penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

A union must have the support of an absolute majority of workers to obtain bargaining rights. This requirement limits the right of collective bargaining. Furthermore, collective agreement negotiations are subject to mandatory mediation and must cover a minimum of three years, making it almost impossible for such agreements to include workers on short-term contracts. According to the National Trade Union Center, the requirement that all negotiations go through the Public Sector Negotiation Committee, rather than through the individual government agency or government-owned industry, provided a further restriction that added significant delays. Some unions claimed the government undermined the collective bargaining process by pressuring the committee to offer raises of no more than 5 percent over three years.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The government enforced the law effectively, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

In June police officers from Trinidad’s Countertrafficking Unit rescued two Chinese nationals forced to work at a Chaguanas factory against their will. A businessman brought the couple to the country and told them they would be employed as chefs at a popular Chinese restaurant. After the couple arrived, their passports were taken away and they were forced to work in the factory.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum age for employment at 16. Children ages 14 to 16 may work in activities in which only family members are employed or that the minister of education has approved as vocational or technical training. The law prohibits children younger than age 18 from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. except in a family enterprise. There is no separate minimum age for working in hazardous activities.

The government was generally effective in enforcing child labor laws, and the penalties were sufficient to deter violations, but there were anecdotal reports of children working in agriculture, as domestic workers, or involved in commercial sexual exploitation as a result of human trafficking.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of political opinion, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, age, disability, and HIV status or other communicable disease. The government generally enforced the law effectively, but discrimination in employment occurred with respect to disability, and women’s pay lagged behind men’s, especially in the private sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was greater than the official poverty income level.

Workers in the informal economy reported wages above the national minimum wage but reported other areas of labor laws, including limits on the number of hours worked, were not enforced.

The Ministry of Labor and Small Enterprise Development is responsible for enforcing labor laws related to minimum wage and acceptable conditions of work. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency enforced occupational safety and health and regulations. Resources, inspections, and penalties appeared adequate to deter violations. The law provides a range of fines and terms of imprisonment for violations of the law, but despite these penalties, a number of violations occurred.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards are appropriate for the main industries in the country. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts and not the worker. The law gives workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities generally protected this right. According to government statistics, there were 81 critical accidents and 10 fatalities in the workplace between 2017 and 2018.

The law establishes a 40-hour workweek, a daily period for lunch or rest, and premium pay for overtime. The law does not prohibit excessive or compulsory overtime. The law provides for paid leave, with the amount of leave varying according to length of service. Workers in the informal economy reported wages above the national minimum wage but reported other areas of labor laws, including the number of hours worked, were not enforced.

Domestic workers, most of whom worked as maids and nannies, are covered by labor laws.

Vanuatu

Executive Summary

Vanuatu is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government. Following a snap election in 2016, which observers considered generally free and fair, parliament elected Charlot Salwai as prime minister. The president is head of state. Parliament elected Tallis Obed Moses president in July 2017.

The national police maintain internal security. The Vanuatu Mobile Force, a paramilitary police unit, is responsible for external security but also has some domestic-security responsibilities. Both agencies report to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included corruption, and minimal progress in reducing the worst forms of child labor.

The government made efforts to prosecute and punish abuses by officials, although some police impunity persisted.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.

Violence and Harassment: In November, Dan McGarry, a Canadian citizen, long-time resident, and the editor of the country’s largest independent newspaper, the Daily Post, told media that the government had refused to renew his work permit. According to McGarry the government claimed this was in order to fill the position by somebody from the country, but McGarry said that in July the prime minister had summoned him and berated him for “negative reporting.” McGarry believed the prime minister was specifically displeased with Daily Post reporting in July about the government’s cooperation with China to deport six Chinese nationals, four of whom had recently acquired Vanuatu citizenship through a program designed to attract Chinese investment.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement

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

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government developed an ad hoc system for providing protection to refugees and granted temporary refugee status and asylum to those seeking it while awaiting resettlement by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The government cooperated with UNHCR in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Despite time and funding constraints faced by the Electoral Commission, international and domestic observers considered the 2016 snap election free and fair. Of 24 election disputes filed by unsuccessful candidates, the commission dismissed 23 for lack of evidence. One dispute necessitated a recount, which changed the result of the election for that seat. Voter rolls continued to be problematic and larger than would be expected based on population size, but this situation did not appear to affect results significantly.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Most of the 28 political parties that contested the 2016 election were newly formed.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process. Traditional attitudes regarding male dominance and customary familial roles, however, hampered women’s participation in political life. No women served in the 52-member parliament, although eight women contested the 2016 election. In May 2018 the Vanuatu Council of Women formed a political party aimed at achieving gender equality in parliament. In October women coordinating with Vanuatu Oxfam launched a get-out-the-vote campaign entitled “Vote for Women,” with the aim to support all women planning to contest the 2020 elections regardless of political affiliation.

The law allows municipal governments to reserve council seats for women for each ward in each municipality, and Port Vila and Luganville have done so. Port Vila has five reserved seats for women out of 14 seats in the municipal council. Luganville has four seats reserved for women out of 13 seats. In March 2018 Port Vila voters elected a woman to an open seat. Women interested in running for public office received encouragement from the Vanuatu Council of Women and the Department of Women’s Affairs, which also offered training programs.

A small number of ethnic-minority persons (non-Melanesians) served in parliament. Prime Minister Salwai is from the francophone population, a linguistic minority.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government made some efforts to implement the law. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, and there were isolated reports of government corruption.

The Office of the Ombudsman and the Auditor General’s Office are key government agencies responsible for combating government corruption. In July, Hamlison Bulu was appointed ombudsman.

Corruption: The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law. In 2017 the Office of the Ombudsman recommended that Deputy Prime Minister Bob Loughman be prosecuted for breaching the leadership code by trying to exercise undue influence over the member selection process for the Vanuatu Institute of Teacher Education. As of November the Public Prosecutor’s Office had not acted on the recommendation.

In July an official from the Department of Strategic Planning and Policy was sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzling VUV 5.6 million ($48,200) in public funds.

Also in July an official from the Department of Education was sentenced to 14 months in prison for defrauding the state of VUV 6.88 million ($59,200) in public funds.

Financial Disclosure: Members of parliament and elected members of provincial governments are subject to a leadership code of conduct that includes financial disclosure requirements. They must submit annual financial-disclosure reports to the clerk of parliament, who then publishes a list of elected officials who did not comply. The Office of the Ombudsman, which investigates those who do not submit reports, confirmed that some officials did not comply with these requirements. Reports are not made available to the public, and the ombudsman only has access for investigative purposes.

In September 2018 Kalo Seule, a sitting member of parliament, was convicted of tax evasion for not declaring income from his personal business. Seule appealed his conviction; however, the magistrate court had no jurisdiction to hear the charges relating to a monetary claim exceeding VUV 988,000 ($8,500), so the case was transferred to the Supreme Court in October 2018.

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

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

Government Human Rights Bodies: In consultation with other political leaders, the president appoints a government ombudsman to a five-year term. Investigating alleged human rights abuses is among the Office of the Ombudsman’s responsibilities. The office, however, does not have the power to prosecute, and the findings of its investigations are not admissible as evidence in court proceedings. The ombudsman referred cases deemed valid to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for action, but there were few prosecutions.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape–regardless of the victim’s gender–is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape, but it can be prosecuted under related statutes that cover assault and domestic violence. The law criminalizes domestic violence and seeks to protect the rights of women and children. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a maximum fine of VUV 100,000 ($860), or both. The law also calls for police to issue protection orders for as long as there is a threat of violence.

Police were frequently reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters. There is, however, a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which police are not supposed to drop reported domestic-violence cases. The Police Academy and the New Zealand government provided training for police in responding to domestic-violence and sexual-assault cases.

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common. According to the most recent survey data available, 60 percent of women in a relationship experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. According to a 2017 report from Correctional Services, more than 60 percent of prison inmates were charged with sex-related offenses. Most cases, including rape, were not reported to authorities because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse.

There were no countrywide government information programs designed to address domestic violence. Although media attention to domestic violence and abuse was generally limited, the killings of two women by their partners in Port Vila in 2017 received significant attention.

The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing family protection. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence and helping women access the formal justice system, but they lacked sufficient funding to implement their programs fully.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. Sexual harassment was widespread in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women the same personal and religious rights as men. Laws regarding marriage, criminal procedures, and employment further enshrine women’s rights as equal to those of men. The law, however, does not allow citizen mothers alone to transmit citizenship to their children.

Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting property or land, tradition generally bars women from land ownership or property inheritance.

Women were slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, but women continued to experience discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work. The Department of Women’s Affairs worked with regional and international organizations to increase women’s access to the formal justice system and educate women about their rights under the law, holding multiple open workshops throughout the year that coincided with public holidays to encourage participation at the local community level.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father, but not a citizen mother, may transmit citizenship to a child regardless of where the child is born. A child born of a citizen mother may apply for citizenship at age 18. The lack of citizenship at birth can cause a child to be denied passports and other rights and services. Parents usually registered the birth of a child immediately, unless the birth took place in a very remote village or island. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services.

Education: The government stressed the importance of children’s rights and welfare, but significant problems existed with access to education. Although the government stated its commitment to free and universal education, school fees and difficult geography were barriers to school attendance for some children.

School attendance is not compulsory. In general boys received more education than girls. Although attendance rates were similar in early primary grades, proportionately fewer girls advanced to higher grades. An estimated 50 percent of the population was functionally illiterate.

Child Abuse: The country does not have a legal definition of child abuse, but the law addresses sexual abuse of children and states that parents must protect children from violence within the family setting. The national child protection policy recognizes the government’s responsibility to protect all children from violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect and includes the need to introduce a child protection bill.

NGOs and law-enforcement agencies reported increased complaints of child abuse, incest, and rape of children in recent years. A 2017 UNICEF report stated that eight of 10 children from ages two to four experienced violent discipline at home. It also stated that one in three children experienced severe physical punishment at home and that sexual abuse before the age of 15 affected three of 10 children. The government did little to combat the problem.

In April 2018, for example, a six-year-old girl was abducted from her home, raped, and killed. In April the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court in the first case prosecuted under the Penal Code amendment of 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 21 years, although boys as young as 18 and girls as young as 16 may marry with parental permission. In rural areas and outer islands, some children married at younger ages. In 2018 UNICEF reported that approximately 21 percent of children married before age 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law addresses statutory rape, providing a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment if the child is older than 13 but younger than 15, or 14 years’ imprisonment if the child is younger than 13. The law also prohibits commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and the offering or procuring of a child for the purpose of prostitution or pornography. There were no criminal cases dealing with pornography or child sexual exploitation during the year.

The maximum penalty for publishing child pornography is five years’ imprisonment and for possession, two years’ imprisonment.

Under the law the age of consensual sex is 16 regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Some children younger than 18 engaged in prostitution.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish community consisted of a few foreign nationals, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

In November 2018 four Bangladeshi nationals were arrested for trafficking 100 Bangladeshi men and two children to work for the Mr Price company (a South African retailer) in Vanuatu. At their September hearing, all four pleaded not guilty. The trial in the Supreme Court began on November 21, but it recessed on December 6 with a scheduled January 2020 resumption. Of the 102 victims, 77 have departed the country, and 25 remained as witnesses against their alleged traffickers.

Persons with Disabilities

No law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. Although the building code mandates access for persons with disabilities in existing and new facilities, they could not access most buildings.

The government did not effectively implement national policy designed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Access to services through the Ministry of Health’s mental-health policy was very limited. Schools were generally not accessible to children with disabilities.

The government generally relied upon the traditional extended family and NGOs to provide services and support to persons with disabilities. The high rate of unemployment in the general population, combined with social stigma attached to disabilities, meant few jobs were available to persons with disabilities.

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

No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex sexual conduct, but there were reports of discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. LGBTI groups operated freely, but there are no antidiscrimination laws to protect them.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Traditional beliefs in sorcery fueled violence against persons marginalized in their communities, although there were no documented cases during the year. Women were often targets of opportunity.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, strike, and bargain collectively. This right is not extended to the police force or prison service. While the law does not require union recognition by the employer, it prohibits antiunion discrimination once a union is recognized. Unions are required to register with the government and to submit audited statements of revenue and expenditure to the registrar annually. Unions require government permission to affiliate with international labor federations; the government has not denied any union such permission.

The law prohibits retaliation for legal strikes but does not explicitly require reinstatement for workers fired for union activity. Unions are independent of the government, but there were instances of government interference in union activities. The law requires unions to give 30 days’ notice of intent to strike and to provide a list of the names of potential strikers. A union must also show that it has attempted negotiation with the employer and reported the matter to the industrial registrar for possible mediation. The minister of labor may prohibit persons employed in essential services from striking. Under the law a court may find any person who fails to comply with such a prohibition guilty of an offense; similarly, for strikes in nonessential services, courts may also find workers failing to comply with procedural requirements guilty of an offense. Convictions for such offenses may result in an obligation to perform compulsory labor in public prisons.

Complaints from private-sector workers about violations of freedom of association are referred to the Department of Labor for conciliation and arbitration. The Public Service Commission handles complaints of violations from public-sector workers. Complaints of antiunion discrimination must be referred to the Department of Labor. According to the commissioner for labor, the department has a dispute-resolution process to manage these grievances.

The government effectively enforced applicable law without lengthy delays or appeals. Resources were limited, and investigations were generally only carried out following complaints. Penalties for violating the law were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers respected freedom of association, but the right to collective bargaining was not explicitly laid out in the law. In May the Teachers Union issued a strike notice demanding that the government settle teachers’ grievances regarding pay-scale anomalies and outstanding benefits. The government and the union agreed to a settlement before any strike action. In June the Ministry of Education promised the Vanuatu Teachers Commission that the first tranche of VUV 153 million ($1.32 million) would be released, settling the outstanding salaries of 576 teachers. A future installment of VUV 376 million ($3.23 million) was allocated for the remaining 585 teachers. These installments were appropriated in the current VUV 506 million ($4.35 million) supplementary budget.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the law prohibits slavery and human trafficking. The law excludes from the definition of forced labor any work or service that forms part of the national civic obligations of citizens, but the law does not define such work.

The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for violating the law were sufficient to deter violations. There were no reports that forced labor occurred.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law does not explicitly prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law establishes the minimum age for employment at 14. The law prohibits children younger than 12 from working outside family-owned agricultural production, where many children assisted their parents. Children ages 12 to 14 may perform light domestic or agricultural work if a family member works alongside the child, and agricultural work if the community does it collectively. Children younger than 18 generally may not work on ships; however, with the permission of a labor officer, a child age 15 may work on a ship. Although parliament established a minimum age of 15 for hazardous work, the law does not comply with international standards, because it does not prohibit children ages 16 to 17 from engaging in hazardous work, such as industrial labor and work on ships.

The government did not release enough information related to its enforcement of child-labor law to determine whether the law was effectively enforced. The Department of Labor confirmed there were no reported cases of illegal child labor during the year, and department action to address child labor was limited to informal presentations on the topic. There were no reports of government stopping child-labor activities or imposing administrative barriers. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

According to the National Child Protection Policy, the country has no data to determine the nature and prevalence of child labor. The Department of Labor stated, however, that most child workers were involved in logging activities. Logging activities expose children to hazardous activities including having no proper protective equipment to operate machines, no proper training, and no regular medical checkups. Children were also involved in handling or lifting heavy loads. There were also reports of a lack of regular inspection from forestry and other appropriate government agencies to provide appropriate guidance to the workers.

There were no credible reports of children employed in agriculture illegally, although legal employment of children in hazardous work could constitute a worst form of child labor. There were reports children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits employment discrimination with respect to race, religion, political opinion, traditional beliefs, place of origin or citizenship, language, or sex.

The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on employment discrimination against women, which was widespread. The penalties for violation of this prohibition are not sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination against women was especially common in promotions to management positions. Persons with disabilities also faced discrimination with respect to employment and occupations. The International Labor Organization noted that legislation allowing for the removal of persons with disabilities from some senior positions appeared to reflect an assumption that persons are incapable of holding such a position if they have any form of disability.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is above the national poverty income level.

The law provides for a 44-hour maximum workweek, and the total number of hours worked, including overtime, should not exceed 56 hours per week. Workers must receive more than three days paid annual holidays. The law provides for a premium of 50 to 75 percent more than the normal rate of pay for overtime work.

The law includes provisions for occupational safety standards, which are up-to-date and appropriate for the main sectors. Legal provisions on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens in the formal sector. Application of safety and health provisions were inadequate to protect workers engaged in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. While workers have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous situations, the government did not protect workers in this situation.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, especially in the informal sector. The labor commissioner stated that most companies complied with the wage rate and inspectors conducted routine inspections to determine that minimum wages were paid. The number of inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government did not receive any formal complaints of violations regarding minimum wage, hours of work, or safety standards during the year.

Many companies in logging, agriculture, construction, and manufacturing did not provide personal safety equipment and standard scaffolding for workers.

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