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Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. Voters re-elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held office since 1999, in the 2014 presidential elections. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but noted low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. The 2012 legislative elections did not result in significant changes to the composition of the government.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The three most significant continuing human rights problems were restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association, lack of judicial independence and impartiality, and limits on freedom of the press.

Other human rights concerns were the excessive use of force by police, including allegations of torture; limitations on the ability of citizens to choose their government; widespread corruption accompanied by reports of limited government transparency; and societal discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Women faced violence and discrimination, and there was some reported child abuse. Additionally, the government maintained restrictions on worker rights.

The government did not take sufficient steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, and the government rarely provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.

Abuses by terrorist groups remained a significant problem. Terrorist groups committed attacks against the security services and targeted military personnel in particular.

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

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

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In 2015 the deaths of two individuals in detention raised public concern. In September 2015 several newspapers reported that Benchikh Aissa died in a Ghardaia prison. His lawyers said he suffered from depression, and prison officials refused to provide necessary health services. Afari Baaouchi died several weeks earlier in a Laghouat prison. Authorities arrested both detainees in July 2015 in the wake of the clashes between Mozabite Ibadi Muslims and Arab Sunni Maliki Muslims in Ghardaia. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) called for an official investigation into the deaths, but no public information was available at year’s end on whether the government conducted investigations.

Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and a Da’esh affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah, and attacked security services personnel. On April 15, terrorists killed four soldiers in Constantine Province. On August 6, an improvised explosive device killed four civilians in Khenchela Province. Da’esh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) took credit for the October 28 killing of a police officer in Constantine. Terrorists reportedly killed two police officers and a civilian in a November 13 attack in Ain Defla.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

The government stated it was in discussion with the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances regarding a visit to the country. The government regarded this as the next step to addressing cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances from the 1990s that the working group submitted to it in 2014.

Government officials declared there were 84 reported cases of child kidnapping in 2015 and 28 in the first half of 2016. Figures on total ransom payments were unavailable, since the government maintained a strict no-concessions policy with regard to individuals or groups holding its citizens hostage.

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

The law prohibits torture, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and local human rights activists alleged that government officials sometimes employed torture and abusive treatment to obtain confessions. The government denied these charges. Government agents face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and there were two convictions during the year. There were no other reported cases of prosecution of civil or military security service officials for torture or abusive treatment. Local and international NGOs asserted that impunity was a problem.

On May 12, the UN Human Rights Committee found the country to be in violation of article seven of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The decision was based on the government’s failure to contest allegations made in the case of financial consultant Chani Medjoub, who was initially arrested in 2009 in connection with a corruption case and who alleged that members of the judicial police of the Intelligence and Security Department (DRS) tortured him.

On May 25, two police officers were convicted and sentenced to seven and 15 years in prison, respectively, following their May 2015 arrests for raping a woman during her detention in a police station.

In September, LADDH called for an investigation into reports that male police officers in Ain Benian, west of Algiers, forced a detained 29-year-old woman with developmental disabilities to undress in front of them in the local police station. The woman’s family reportedly filed a complaint with the local tribunal, but additional information was unavailable as of September.

The Surete Nationale (DGSN) stated that it did not receive any reports of abuse or misconduct from the public during the year. Information from the National Gendarmerie was not available.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

A 2013 presidential decree dissolved the Central Bureau of the Judicial Police under the DRS, removing its authority to detain individuals and hold them in separate detention facilities. A 2014 presidential decree, however, reinstated this authority and permitted the DRS to manage prison facilities. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS and reorganized the intelligence services. The July 2015 amendment of the penal code prohibits police officers from detaining suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: According to statistics provided in August, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 60,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by whether authorities considered the prisoners highly dangerous or of high, intermediate, or low risk.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. With support from the British, Canadian, and French governments, the DGAPR modernized its inmate classification system and maintained different categories of prisons that separated prisoners among facilities according to the general lengths of their sentences. Several detention facilities reportedly operated at 200 to 300 percent of capacity. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to “excessive use” of pretrial detention.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons and did not hold them in separate detention facilities. In some prisons pretrial detainees were held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.

Administration: No ombudsman existed to serve on behalf of prisoners or detainees. Prisoners may submit uncensored complaints to penitentiary administration, doctors, and their judge. It was unclear how frequently prison authorities collected the complaints or requests. Authorities permitted family members to visit prisoners in standard facilities weekly and to provide detainees with food and clothing, although the common practice of holding inmates in prisons very far from their families discouraged visits. In the majority of the prisons, nonfunctional telephones further exacerbated the difficulty for detainees to maintain regular contact with family.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit regular prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. By September the ICRC had visited 32 detention facilities, representing approximately one-third of the total prison population. Delegates paid special attention to vulnerable detainees, including foreigners, women, minors, persons in solitary confinement, and individuals held for security reasons by police and gendarmes. The ICRC provided the government confidential feedback, when applicable, to help authorities improve detainee treatment and living conditions, reinforce respect for judicial protections, and expand access to health care. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights–as they relate to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures–for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie and judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Penal Affairs and Pardons announced that since 2010, the government opened 31 new detention centers. Of the new facilities, 10 were minimum-security centers that held prisoners in cells and permitted them to work. Intelligent camera systems were installed in some pretrial detention facilities to allow the DGSN to monitor conditions of detention.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. Security forces routinely detained individuals who conducted activities against the order of the state such as protesting, striking, or rioting. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 210,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share general responsibility for maintaining law and order. A January 20 presidential decree dissolved the DRS, which had been subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense. It was replaced by three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.

Impunity remained a problem. The law provides mechanisms to investigate abuses and corruption, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The DGSN conducted a two-week training session for police officers specifically focusing on human rights practices in September and another two-day training session in November.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the Prosecutor’s Office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Public lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities require time beyond the authorized 48-hour period for gathering additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s authorized time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: once, if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems; twice, if charges relate to state security; three times, for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes; and five times (for a maximum of 12 days), for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities. The law stipulates that detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member and receive a visit, or to contact an attorney. The 2015 report of the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), a governmental human rights commission, criticized this provision for forcing detainees to choose between contacting their families and consulting an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half the extended time has expired. Authorities may use in court confessions and statements garnered during the period prior to access to an attorney–which a prosecutor’s application to a judge may extend. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the period of detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the certificate of the medical examination into the detainee’s file.

In non-felony cases and in cases of individuals held on charges of terrorism and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents required to leave the country, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Various press outlets reported that in October 2015 National Gendarmerie officers told a Cameroonian female migrant, who claimed a group of Algerian men assaulted and raped her, that they could not file charges because she was an illegal migrant. The victim reported that several hospitals refused to provide her treatment and to issue her a certificate documenting her sexual assault. After social media and local civil society organizations mobilized over the issue, authorities accepted her complaint and arrested two of the eight alleged actors. As of September the status of the investigation was not known.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International (AI) and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress activist speech. Police arrested protesters in Algiers and elsewhere in the country throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

On July 13, attorney and human rights activist Salah Debouz and six other activists were arrested at a cafe in Ghardaia and detained for eight hours for holding an unlawful gathering. The activists had been meeting near the local courthouse to discuss the case of one of Debouz’s clients. Debouz had also been arrested on February 6 during a meeting with labor union activists and subsequently released the same day.

Authorities arrested Youcef Ouled Dada in March 2014 for “harming a national institution” and “insulting a government body” when he posted a video on Facebook that captured three police officers engaged in looting during riots in the city of Ghardaia. In September 2014 a Ghardaia court reaffirmed the two-year prison term and DZD 100,000 ($916) fine it imposed in June 2014 on Dada. He was released March 27 after two years in prison.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but admitted they did not have specific statistics. The Ministry of Justice said that as of September, the proportion of detainees in preventive detention was 13.85 percent of the total detainee and prisoner population, compared with 15.02 percent during the same period in 2015, and that the proportion in police custody was 5.66 percent. Ministry statistics did not include prisoners whose cases were pending appeal. July 2015 changes to the penal code limit the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulate that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk.

AI alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

Authorities held KBC TV journalists Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf and Ministry of Culture official Nora Nedjai in pretrial detention for 26 days. They were arrested on June 22 in connection with the alleged unauthorized production of satirical television programs that were broadcast in July. All three received suspended prison sentences and were released July 18.

Police arrested Nacer Eddine Hadjadj, former mayor of Beriane municipality and member of the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, in July 2015. Press reports indicated authorities detained Hadjadj for questioning regarding the violent events that took place in Ghardaia, but the government did not confirm this. In August 2015 Hadjadj’s lawyer, Salah Debouz, denounced the government for not notifying him of his client’s hearing for provisional liberty. The judge rejected his request for provisional liberty, and he remained in pretrial detention as of September.

The government implemented changes adopted in 2015 to the criminal procedure code that prohibit the use of pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment. The revised law, however, exempts infractions that resulted in deaths and persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases the revised law limits the use of pretrial detention to one month, nonrenewable. The government also amended the criminal procedure code to state that in all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Representatives of the CNCPPDH said that the penal code amendments had succeeded in reducing the use of pretrial detention in 2016 but did not maintain their own statistics demonstrating a decrease from the previous year.

Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The Code of Criminal Procedure grants pre-trial detainees the right to appeal a court’s order of pre-trial detention. The appeal must be filed within three days. A person released from custody following a dismissal or acquittal may apply to a civil commission to seek compensation from the government for “particular and particularly severe” harm caused by pre-trial detention. The person must submit an application for compensation within six months of the dismissal or acquittal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary chosen by the president. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is also responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial and was often subject to influence and corruption.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The July 2015 amendment of the penal code guarantees defendants the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do respond to a summons ordering their appearance.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them or present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. There were a few reports that courts occasionally denied defendants and their attorneys’ access to government-held evidence. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and local observers alleged that authorities used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

In March 2015 the National Coordination of Families of Political Prisoners called for the release of 160 persons who had remained incarcerated since the 1990s. In April 2015 Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal stated the government held no political prisoners. He declared that courts convicted the detainees in question of violent crimes, making them ineligible for government pardons under the National Charter for Peace and Reconciliation. The government permitted the ICRC to visit detainees held for “security reasons.”

On March 7, a Tamanrasset court convicted Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Unemployed Workers activist Abdelali Ghellam to a year in prison following his December 2015 arrest on charges of taking part in an unauthorized gathering and obstructing traffic. AI reported that seven other men were also arrested in connection with the same protest and received one-year sentences and DZD 50,000 ($458) fines.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was neither independent nor impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights violations and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions would not have the force of law.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence, although government authorities infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.

The government established a new anticybercrime agency charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but the decree did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice said the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets criticized government officials and policies, but the government restricted these rights. The government’s techniques included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Authorities arrested and detained citizens for doing so, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about the conduct of the security forces during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in force, although there were no cases of arrest or prosecution under the law during the year. The law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials to restrict public discussion.

On August 3, the government published a law passed by parliament that broadens laws on defamation to cover the conduct of retired military officers. The law specifies that retired officers who engage in a “dereliction of duty that harms the honor and respect due to state institutions constitutes an outrage and defamation” and can result in legal action under applicable laws. The law further prohibits speech that damages “the authority and the public image of the military institution.”

In March a court in Tlemcen issued human rights activist Zoulikha Belarbi a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine for posting a photograph on Facebook that was deemed insulting to President Bouteflika. The offending post showed a retouched image of the president and other political figures that made them look like characters from a Turkish television show, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Press and Media Freedoms: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. In September 2015 ANEP stated it represented only half of the total advertising market, while nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Minister of Communication Hamid Grine stated in February that ANEP’s budget had been cut by 50 percent. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Activists and journalists criticized the government for criminally prosecuting two KBC TV journalists, Mehdi Benaissa and Ryad Hartouf, for allegedly making false statements in their applications for filming permits and their alleged unauthorized use of a television studio. The studio had previously belonged to Al-Atlas TV, which authorities shut down in 2014. In addition to the arrests of Benaissa and Hartouf, authorities shut down two of KBC’s political satire programs, which were filmed in the studio in question. Benaissa and Hartouf’s suspended sentences were announced on July 18, shortly after a court on July 13 canceled the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, to a subsidiary of a company owned by businessman Issad Rebrab, who has been critical of the government. The Ministry of Communication, which had sued to cancel the transaction, said the ruling was based on the law’s prohibition on one person owning multiple news outlets.

In October 2015 Algiers police raided the headquarters of El-Watan El-Djazairya, a private, foreign-based television station broadcasting in the country, and closed down the station upon orders of the Algiers mayor. Minister of Communication Grine accused the television station of “harming a state symbol” during an interview it transmitted on October 3, 2015, with the former emir of the Islamic Salvation Army, Madani Mezrag. During the interview Mezrag indirectly threatened President Bouteflika after the president affirmed the government would not let Mezrag form a political party due to his connection to terrorist activities. In September, Djaafar Chelli, the former owner of El Watan El-Djazairya, received a DZD 10 million ($91,575) fine for broadcasting the interview with Mezrag.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the near impossibility of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

In January a court reclassified a charge against journalist and LADDH board member Hassan Bouras, resulting in his release from El Bayadh prison after three months in custody. Prosecutors had charged Bouras in October 2015 with insulting a government body and inciting armed conflict against the state. As of November charges against Bouras had not been dropped, according to his lawyer. Separately, in November an El Bayadh court indicted Bouras for producing a video alleging that certain police officials and judges were involved in corruption. The court on November 28 convicted Bouras of complicity in offending a judicial officer, law enforcement officers, and a public body and of unlawfully practicing a profession regulated by law, sentencing him to one year in prison plus fines. Bouras’s appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources. The CNCPPDH noted in its 2014 annual report that lack of a law controlling advertising was the largest hurdle to improving transparency of the distribution of public advertising (see also section 5). In May CNCPPDH president Farouk Ksentini said that depriving certain newspapers of public advertising revenue was “contrary to democracy and a violation of the constitution.”

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 332 accredited written publications, which included 149 daily newspapers, 47 weekly and 75 monthly magazines, and other specialized publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, Minister Grine stated in April the number of private satellite channels that would receive frequencies would be limited to 13. He said in September that foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. As of year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. On June 20, the government instated the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV), a nine-member body that regulates television and radio. In August ARAV published regulations that require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibits them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 13 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition to five private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Violence and Harassment: News sources critical of the government reported instances of government harassment and intimidation due to their reporting. Government officials arrested and temporarily detained journalists.

On June 27, police arrested Mohamed Tamalt, a freelance journalist and blogger based in the United Kingdom. He was charged with insulting President Bouteflika on Facebook and sentenced to two years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine. On December 11, Tamalt died following a prolonged hunger strike protesting his arrest and continued imprisonment.

On June 21, police officers encircled the new headquarters of the El Watan daily newspaper and ordered its staff to vacate the building. Local officials said the building did not conform to the construction permits granted by the government. As of September El Watan had not been permitted to take occupancy of the building.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.

Some observers viewed the July conviction of two KBC TV journalists and the cancelation of the sale of KBC’s parent company, El Khabar Group, as motivated by the political views expressed in KBC’s programming and by the owner of the company that attempted to purchase El Khabar Group.

On May 3, Minister Grine called on private companies to cease advertising in three unnamed newspapers, widely assumed to be the El KhabarEl Watan, and Liberte newspapers, viewed as critical of the government. In an interview published online that day, the director general of El Khabar said Minister Grine’s opposition to El Khabar was based on the fact that it “does not follow the editorial line that he wishes.”

In a May 23 speech calling for unaccredited foreign satellite channels to be shut down, Prime Minister Sellal criticized channels that “use misleading advertising, violate private life, strike a blow to the dignity of persons, spread disinformation, and worse still, attack the cohesion of Algerian society through calls for hatred, regionalism, and chaos.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and the definitions therein as failing to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($916 to $4,579). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Mohammed or “messengers of God.” On June 14, the National Gendarmerie published a press release saying it had “dismantled an international criminal network of blasphemers and anti-Muslim proselytizers on the internet.” News reports appeared to reference the case when they reported the arrests of Rachid Fodil and one or two other men in M’Sila Province, but the status of charges against them was unclear as of September. On July 31, police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Mohammed. A court tried and convicted Bouhafs the same day and sentenced him on August 7 to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($916) fine. On September 6, his sentence was reduced to three years in prison.

Mohamed Chergui, a journalist for the El-Djoumhouria newspaper, was sentenced to three years in prison and a DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fine in February 2015 for a column he wrote in 2014 that was deemed offensive to the Prophet Mohammed and Islam. In April an appeals court in Oran overturned his conviction and ordered his release.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government impeded access to the internet and monitored certain e-mail and social media sites. On June 18, state-run media reported the government planned to block access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, on June 19-23 during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media earlier in the month. On June 19-20, internet users reported that access to not only social media, but nearly all websites, was blocked. While internet service returned on June 20, access to social media was not fully restored until June 24.

In January police arrested an activist for the unemployed, Belkacem Khencha, and in May he was sentenced to six months in prison for posting a video on Facebook criticizing the judicial system’s handling of arrests of fellow activists.

In a July statement, the human rights organization Collective of Families of the Disappeared said the government had blocked Radio of the Voiceless, the online radio station it launched in June, making it inaccessible to the public.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and e-mail. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of service providers to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance operations to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law internet service providers face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($458 and $4,579) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

In September the government estimated there were 18,583,427 internet users in the country in 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 38.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars and colloquia occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding the protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.

On March 21, media outlets reported that police shoved and kicked protesters gathered in front of the Central Post Office in Algiers to demand permanent positions for teachers working on fixed-term contracts. Two women sought hospital treatment for injuries, according to HRW. On April 4, police stopped hundreds of protesting teachers in Boudouaou, preventing them from completing the final leg of a 140-mile march from Bejaia to Algiers. Protesters remained camped in Boudouaou until April 18, at which point police grabbed and shoved some protesters and loaded them onto buses.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of a written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. HRW, AI, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

In July police reportedly arrested more than 100 communal guards arriving in Algiers en route to a planned demonstration outside of parliament. In June authorities arrested several Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK) activists who were preparing to hold an unauthorized meeting in Larbaa Nath Irathen to mark the 15th anniversary of a Berber-led protest in Algiers. Clashes ensued when area residents gathered in the town center to demand the activists’ release, resulting in injuries to police and some demonstrators, according to press reports. In February MAK president Bouaziz Ait Chebib stated to the El Watan newspaper that approximately 100 MAK activists had been briefly arrested in Tizi Ouzou to prevent their attendance at the MAK’s national assembly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government severely restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($18 and $46) and up to six months’ imprisonment. The law prohibits formation of a political party with a religious platform, but observers stated they knew some political parties were Islamist.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation as required by law are entitled to receive a response regarding their application within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the Ministry of Interior, organizations receive a deposit slip after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision, however. If the application is approved, the Ministry of Interior issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the deposit slip it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without the formal accreditation. Other organizations reported that they never received any written response to their application request. The ministry maintained that organizations refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time periods were able to submit an appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

During the year the Youth Action Movement, a civil society youth organization, was again unsuccessful in renewing its license despite submitting all documentation required by the Ministry of Interior. The ministry also did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing) and LADDH, which submitted their renewal applications in 2013. According to members of the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, the Ministry of Interior refused to approve the organization’s request for accreditation, stating that the application did comply with the law on associations but did not provide any further information. The organization first submitted its application for accreditation in 2012.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered. A 2015 study conducted by several prominent domestic civil society organizations found, however, that nearly two-thirds of the approximately 93,000 associations registered with the government when the law on associations went into force in 2012 were either inactive or no longer operating. Unlicensed NGOs did not receive government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of this right.

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

In-country Movement: The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns. Civil society organizations reported that the authorities prevented sub-Saharan migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.

Foreign Travel: The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women over 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft, who had not completed their military service, to leave the country without special authorization, although the government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances. The Ministry of Interior affirmed that in 2014 the government ended its requirement for background checks on passport applicants.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government provided protection to an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations also assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and the WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees with an additional 35,000 supplementary food rations.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

As of September 2015 the Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 24,000 Syrian refugees. Other organizations estimated the number to be closer to 43,000 Syrians. Starting in January 2015 the government instituted visa requirements for Syrians entering the country. Since 2012 UNHCR registered more than 6,000 Syrians, but only approximately 5,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located at a summer camp in the seaside area of Algiers known as Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.

The Ministry of Interior estimated in August that there were 21,073 illegal migrants residing in the country, while other sources assessed there were 30,000 in Tamanrasset alone and as many as 100,000 in the country. As of July the Algerian Red Crescent had closed all four of the refugee camps it had been managing, including its camp housing 600 migrants, mostly from Mali, near the southern city of Bordj Badj Mokhtar.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In early December, however, the government gathered an estimated 1,400 sub-Saharan migrants in communities outside of Algiers and removed nearly 1,000 of them to Niger. The president of the Algerian Red Crescent said all returns were voluntary, adding that some migrants were permitted to remain in Tamanrasset. The removals followed a period of several years in which the government had largely refrained from deporting sub-Saharan migrants due to security concerns and the instability in northern Mali.

The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated a total of more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination between the Algerian Red Crescent and the government and Red Cross of Niger. Observers also questioned whether all of the migrants were voluntarily repatriated. In August the government arranged the repatriation of approximately 500 Malians per a request from the Malian consulate in Tamanrasset.

Employment: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Because the government does not formally allow refugee employment, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Harma and Rio de Oro (Polisario). The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and partner NGOs largely provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education, while the government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants turned away.

In August 2015 the Ministry of Education instructed all school administrators to allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported the children had trouble in their attempts to integrate into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and their ruling party, the Polisario, continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.

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. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities greatly inhibited the activity of opposition groups.

Elections and Political Participation

The law states that members of local, provincial, and national assemblies are elected for five-year mandates and that presidential elections occur within 30 days prior to the expiration of the presidential mandate. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two terms. The Ministry of Interior maintains oversight of the election and voting processes. Legislation passed by parliament in July established an independent electoral monitoring body. The president appointed the head of the monitoring body on November 6, but as of November the other members had not been appointed.

Recent Elections: Presidential elections took place in April 2014, and voters re-elected President Bouteflika for a fourth term. Although he did not personally campaign, Bouteflika won approximately 81 percent of the votes, while his main rival and former prime minister, Ali Benflis, placed second with slightly more than 12 percent.

Several hundred international election observers from the United Nations, Arab League, African Union, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation monitored voting. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but pointed to low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. El Watan, an opposition-leaning daily newspaper, reported that almost 10 percent of ballots cast were invalid. The Ministry of Interior did not provide domestic or foreign observers with voter registration lists. The president of the Constitutional Council, Mourad Medelci, announced voter participation in the elections was just under 51 percent, a sharp drop from the slightly more than 74 percent turnout during the previous presidential election in 2009.

Ali Benflis rejected the results and claimed that fraud marred the elections. He appealed to the Constitutional Council without result. A coalition of Islamic and secular opposition parties boycotted the election, describing it as a masquerade and asserting that President Bouteflika was unfit to run due to his health. Several candidates withdrew from the race, claiming that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in 2012 and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. The government allowed international observation of the elections but did not permit local civil society organizations to do the same. Several opposition parties subsequently boycotted the opening session of parliament, alleging fraud during the elections.

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

The government maintained undue media influence and opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize.

Pursuant to the constitution, all parties must have a “national base.” Under the previous electoral law, a party must have received 4 percent of the vote or at least 2,000 votes in 25 provinces in one of the last three legislative elections to participate in national elections, making it very difficult to create new political parties. The new electoral law adopted by parliament in July requires parties to have received 4 percent of the vote in the preceding election or to collect 250 signatures in the electoral district in order to appear on the ballot. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the new law for creating a more stringent qualification threshold for parties, as well as for establishing an electoral monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in August there were 71 registered political parties.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration, but implementation of voter registration and identification laws proved inconsistent and confusing during past elections.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. According to the law, political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates the collection of resources from contributions by the party’s members, donations, and revenue from its activities, in addition to possible state funding.

As of September parliamentarian and founder of the Democratic and Social Union (UDS) party, Karim Tabbou, awaited authorization from the Ministry of Interior to hold his party’s congress. Originally scheduled in 2014, the UDS could not hold its congress because the party had not received the authorization for its required regional congresses.

In August a local government official in Tamanrasset sent the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) political party a letter stating it may decline to authorize future RCD meetings after a gathering of RCD youth members turned disorderly. The party denied the allegation of disorderliness, asserting instead that security personnel were displeased because of the presence of an Amazigh flag beside the Algerian national flag and because organizers removed a portrait of President Bouteflika from the meeting hall.

On July 16 and September 17, the media reported that police prevented members of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, including members of parliament, from gathering. On both occasions party members who opposed the party’s secretary general planned to meet at the home of Senator Boualam Djaafar. The online news site Tout sur L’Algerie reported that Abderrahmane Belayat, a former minister and FLN secretary general who was a member of the group, said the intelligence services regularly monitored the group’s meetings.

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

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Corruption remained a problem as reflected in the Transparency International corruption index.

Corruption: The criminal code stipulates that charges related to theft, embezzlement, or loss of public and private funds may be initiated against senior, public sector “economic managers” only by the board of directors of the institution. Critics of the law asserted that by permitting only senior officials of state businesses to initiate investigations, the law protects high-level government corruption and promotes impunity.

The Ministry of Justice declared that as of October, 987 government employees or employees of state-run businesses had been charged with corruption-related offenses. The government brought several major corruption cases to trial, resulting in dozens of convictions. Media reporting and public opinion viewed the absence of charges against the most senior of government officials as an indication of impunity for government officials.

In July the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published an article based on the “Panama Papers,” leaked documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, related to allegations of bribery in connection with contracts awarded by Sonatrach, the national oil company. The ICIJ said the documents demonstrated that Mossack Fonseca created 12 of the 17 shell companies established by businessman Farid Bedjaoui for the alleged purpose of funneling bribes to government officials. Former energy minister Chekib Khelil, who had previously been under a 2013 international arrest warrant to face charges in Algeria in connection with the case, returned to Algeria in March after charges were dropped. Former minister of justice Mohamed Charfi claimed he was pressured by FLN secretary general Amar Saadani in 2013 to drop charges against Khelil shortly before he was removed from his post.

On February 2, a court sentenced 12 persons to sentences ranging from 18-month suspended jail terms to six years in prison in a corruption case involving Sonatrach contracting practices. Former Sonatrach CEO Mohamed Meziane received a suspended six-year sentence, and two of his sons were sentenced to five and six years’ imprisonment.

Corruption throughout the government stemmed largely from the bloated nature of the bureaucracy and a lack of transparent oversight. The CNCPPDH stated in its 2014 annual report that public corruption remained a problem and hindered development. The National Association for the Fight Against Corruption noted the existence of an effective anticorruption law but stated that the government lacked the “political will” to apply the law.

Financial Disclosure: The law stipulates that all elected government officials and those appointed by presidential decree must declare their assets the month they commence their jobs, if there is substantial change in their wealth while they are in office, and at the end of their term. Few government officials made their personal wealth public, and there was no enforcement of the law.

Public Access to Information: Lack of government transparency remained a serious problem. Most ministries had websites, but not all ministries regularly maintained them with updated information. Analysts, academics, and other interested parties often had difficulty obtaining even routine and nominally public economic data from government ministries.

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

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

AI maintained an office and actively reported on human rights issues, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior.

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

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in September 2015, but as of September no visit occurred. The country joined the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and on human rights and counterterrorism (pending since 2006) and the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNCPPDH plays a consultative and advisory role to the government. It issues an annual report on the status of human rights in the country. Published in July, the 2015 report highlighted government advances in social and legal rights with increased protections for women and children, the introduction of mediation in nonfelony criminal cases, and limits on the use of pretrial detention. The commission identified its principal concerns as public corruption, shortfalls in the recent law on violence against women, heavy bureaucracy, and impediments limiting citizens’ access to justice.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, both spousal and nonspousal, occurred. The law criminalizes nonspousal rape but does not address spousal rape. Prison sentences for nonspousal rape range from five to 10 years, and authorities generally enforced the law. Many women did not report incidents of rape because of societal and family pressures. The CNCPPDH’s 2015 report called on the government to repeal the provision of the penal code that allows someone accused of raping a minor to avoid prosecution if he subsequently marries his victim.

Domestic violence was widespread. The law states that a person claiming domestic abuse must visit a “forensic physician” for an examination to document injuries and that the physician must determine that the victim suffered from injuries that “incapacitated” the person for 15 days. The law also requires that the physician provide the victim with a “certificate of incapacity” attesting to the injuries, which the victim presents to authorities as the basis of the criminal complaint. The government, working with the UN Population Fund, undertook a public awareness campaign to inform women of their rights under the law, encourage reporting of domestic violence, and engage men in conversations on violence against women.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Justice, between the beginning of 2015 and June 2016, there were 14,366 cases of domestic abuse, of which 12,804 involved male perpetrators. As of October, 10,536 of the cases had resulted in convictions. The government said that most of those convicted received prison time as well as a fine. According to statistics from women’s advocacy groups published in the local press, between 100 and 200 women died each year from domestic violence.

The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of Children and Women (CIDDEF), a network of local organizations that promoted the rights of women, managed call centers in 15 provinces and reported that each center received 300-400 calls during the year from female victims of violence seeking assistance.

The law provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment for domestic violence and six months’ to two years’ incarceration for men who withhold property or financial resources from their spouses. While supporting the law when it was drafted, AI and domestic women’s rights groups criticized its “forgiveness” clause that permits the annulment of charges if the abused spouse pardons her husband.

Sexual Harassment: The punishment for sexual harassment is one to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($458 to $916); the punishment doubles for a second offense. Women’s groups reported that official statistics on harassment were not available but that the majority of reported cases of harassment occurred in the workplace. Women also reported harassment by men when walking in public. The government acknowledged that street harassment continued to be a problem despite advances in the law.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, with limited societal discrimination and coercion. Conservative elements of society challenged the government’s family planning program, including the provision of free contraception. Married and unmarried women had access to contraceptives, although there were reports of pharmacists who refused to sell contraception to unmarried women. A study by a prominent women’s group in 2015 found that approximately 68 to 70 percent of women used contraception, the majority of whom took birth control pills. Women did not need permission to obtain birth control pills, but doctors required permission of the partner for women who sought tubal ligation.

Societal and family pressure restricted women from making independent decisions about their health and reproductive rights.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for gender equality, many aspects of the law and traditional social practices discriminated against women. In addition, religious extremists advocated practices that led to restrictions on women’s behavior, including freedom of movement. In some rural regions, women faced extreme social pressure to veil as a precondition for freedom of movement and employment. In September a security guard at a high school in Algiers reportedly prevented unveiled students from entering the school on the first day of classes. The law contains traditional elements of Islamic law. It prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although authorities did not always enforce this provision. Muslim men may marry non-Muslim women. A woman may marry a foreigner and transmit citizenship and nationality to both her children and spouse.

Women may seek divorce for irreconcilable differences and violation of a prenuptial agreement. In a divorce the law provides for the wife to retain the family’s home until children reach age 18. Authorities normally awarded custody of children to the mother, but she may not make decisions about education or take the children out of the country without the father’s authorization. Women were more likely to retain the family’s home if they had custody of the children. In January 2015 the government created a subsidy for divorced women whose ex-husbands failed to make child support payments.

The law affirms the religiously based practice of allowing a man to marry as many as four wives. The law permits polygamy only upon the agreement of the first wife and the determination of a judge as to the husband’s financial ability to support an additional wife. A joint Ministry of Health and UN study from 2013 estimated that 3 percent of marriages were polygamous. It was unclear whether authorities followed the law in all cases.

Amendments to the law supersede the religiously based requirement that a male sponsor consent to the marriage of a woman. The sponsor represents the woman during the religious or civil ceremony. Although the law formally retains the requirement of a sponsor to contract the marriage, the woman may choose any man that she wishes to be her sponsor. Some families subjected women to virginity tests before marriage.

Women suffered from discrimination in inheritance claims and were entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or a deceased husband’s brothers. Women did not often have exclusive control over assets that they brought to a marriage or that they earned. Women may take out business loans and use their own financial resources. Women enjoyed rights equal to those of men concerning property ownership, and property titles listed female landowners’ names.

Women faced discrimination in employment. Leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions. In urban areas there was social encouragement for women to pursue higher education or a career. Girls graduated from high school and attended university more frequently than boys.

According to a study released by CIDDEF, women represented 19.5 percent of the active workforce, with 61 percent of these women working in the public sector. As of September 2015, female unemployment was higher than that of men, with 16.6 percent of women unemployed compared to 9.9 percent of men, according to a National Office of Statistics report. While the presence of women in the workforce grew, access to management positions remained limited. Women served at all levels in the judicial system. The government employed an increasing number of female police, including approximately 6 percent of DGSN police officers. Women may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to those of men.

Children

Birth registration: The mother or father may transmit citizenship and nationality. By law children born to a Muslim father are Muslim, regardless of the mother’s religion. The law did not differentiate between girls and boys in registration of birth.

Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through the secondary level to age 16. UNICEF reported that the attendance of girls was higher in secondary school due to instances of boys leaving school after the primary level. The United Nations estimated primary school enrollment at more than 97 percent. The government estimated that during the 2014-15 school year, children under the age of six were enrolled in school at a rate of 98.49 percent, with those between the ages of six and 16 enrolled at a rate of 95 percent.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal but was a serious problem to which the government devoted increasing resources and attention. In June the government appointed a national ombudsperson responsible for monitoring and publishing an annual report on the rights of children. The government supported the country’s Network for the Defense of Children’s Rights (NADA). Experts assumed that many cases went unreported because of family reticence. The head of NADA reported that the NGO’s free helpline received more than 23,000 calls requesting assistance as of August. The DGSN reported 1,663 cases of child sexual abuse in 2014, and the National Gendarmerie reported 380 cases.

Kidnapping for any reason is a crime. Laws prohibiting parental abduction do not penalize mothers and fathers differently. In 2014 legislation increased the punishment for convicted kidnappers to include the death penalty. The DGSN commissioner for the National Office of Child Protection reported the kidnapping of 28 children for the period of January through August, compared with 84 in 2015.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 19 for both men and women, but minors may marry with parental consent, regardless of gender. The law forbids legal guardians from forcing minors under their care to marry against the minor’s will. The Ministry of Religious Affairs required that couples present a government-issued marriage certificate before permitting imams to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits solicitation for prostitution and stipulates prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years when the offense is committed against a minor under age 18. By law the age for consensual sex is 16. The law stipulates a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years for rape when the victim is a minor. The law does not call for prosecuting a man accused of raping a female minor if he legally marries the victim, and there were no available reports of this practice during the year. The law prohibits pornography and establishes prison sentences from two months to two years as well as fines up to DZD 2,000 ($18).

A 2015 law created a national council to address children’s issues, improved social services and protection for children, gave judges authority to remove children from an abusive home, and allowed sexually abused children to provide testimony on video rather than in court.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Some religious leaders estimated that the country’s Jewish population numbered fewer than 200 persons. Local Jewish community leaders estimated the number to be in the low hundreds. The media did not publish any known derogatory political cartoons or articles directed at the Jewish community, but observers found anti-Semitic postings on social media sites.

Jewish leaders reported that the Jewish community faced unofficial, religion-based obstacles to government employment and administrative difficulties when working with government bureaucracy.

In May a member of parliament affiliated with the Islamist Green Alliance criticized the government for granting a visa to an Israeli journalist accompanying the French prime minister on an April visit to Algeria. An Arabic-language newspaper wrote that the journalist had a “strong Jewish-sounding name” and stated that, in the member of parliament’s view, the government was normalizing relations with “Zionists who make France a door to infiltrate” Algeria. An online news outlet referred to the journalist as an “Israeli Jew” and stated that the visa allowed him to “strut in the streets of Algiers to meet whoever he wants.”

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, although the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Persons with disabilities faced widespread social discrimination. Few government buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. Few businesses abided by the law that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. Business that did not meet the 1 percent quota received a DZD 140,000 ($1,282) fine. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines. The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women provided some financial support to health-care-oriented NGOs, but for many NGOs, such financial support represented a small fraction of their budgets. The ministry also provided disability benefits to persons with disabilities who registered with the government. Social security provided payments for orthopedic equipment.

The Ministry of Solidarity reported that it ran 222 centers throughout the country that provided support for persons with intellectual, auditory, vision, and physical disabilities. The ministry stated that it worked in concert with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities into public schools to promote inclusion. The majority of the ministry’s programs for children with disabilities remained in social centers for children with disabilities rather than in formal educational institutions. Advocacy groups reported that children with disabilities rarely attended school past the secondary level. Many schools lacked teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, threatening the viability of efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into public schools. Numerous private schools existed but, according to advocacy organizations, staff often acted more as caretakers than teachers due to a lack of training.

Many persons with disabilities faced challenges in voting due to voting centers that lacked accessible features.

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

The law criminalizes public and consensual same-sex sexual relations by men or women with penalties that include imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of DZD 1,000 to DZD 10,000 ($9 to $92). The law also stipulates penalties that include imprisonment of two months to two years and fines of DZD 500 to DZD 2,000 ($5 to $18) for anyone convicted of having committed a “homosexual act.” If a minor is involved, the adult may face up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 10,000 ($92).

LGBTI activists reported that the vague wording of laws identifying “homosexual acts” and “acts against nature” permitted sweeping accusations that resulted during the year in multiple arrests for same-sex sexual relations but no known prosecutions.

LGBTI persons faced strong societal and religious discrimination. While some lived openly, the vast majority did not, and most feared reprisal from their families or harassment from authorities. One activist reported that of the 100 LGBTI persons he knew, only three had “come out.” During a May 2015 radio interview, Minister of Religious Affairs Mohamed Aissa said that combatting individuals who promote the deviation of morality and the dismantling of the family (a reference to the behavior of LGBTI individuals) was more important than the fight against Da’esh.

Activists said that the government did not actively punish LGBTI behavior, but it was complicit in the hate speech propagated by conservative, cultural, and religion-based organizations, some of which associated LGBTI individuals with pedophiles and encouraged excluding them from family and society. Trans Homos DZ, a local organization that advocated for the rights of LGBTI persons, published a report on anti-LGBTI hate speech in the media, detailing several incidents from recent years including programs broadcast by Arabic-language media outlets, such as Ennahar TV and Echourouk TV, that demonized LGBTI persons. The report also detailed social media and other online hate speech directed at the LGBTI community between 2013 and 2015. The organization reported in April that two men who used homophobic slurs physically attacked an activist who supported LGBTI rights in Algiers. In another incident a video posted on YouTube in November 2015 showed what appeared to be a group of men surrounding a transgender woman on the street. Several of the men were shown kicking and punching her while others looked on without intervening. The government did not announce investigations into the perpetrators of either alleged attack.

Another report released by Trans Homos DZ in November included allegations by an anonymous former prisoner alleging that prisoners at El Harrach Prison suffered physical and sexual abuse based on their sexual orientation. The former prisoner’s report said prisoners who were perceived as gay or transgender were placed in a specific cellblock near other prisoners who had committed serious crimes. The report said gay and transgender prisoners were frequently victims of sexual assaults, including one incident in which prison guards mocked and initially refused medical treatment to a prisoner who was the victim of a gang rape.

Due to the hacking of one LGBTI organization’s website in 2015 and increased offensive and derogatory media coverage specifically denouncing LGBTI practices, activists reported the need to focus their advocacy on personal safety and minimized their activities during the year. Activists reported that members of the LGBTI community declined to report abuse and thus lessened their capacity to report cases of homophobic abuse and rape due to fear of reprisal by authorities. Reporting that access to health services could be difficult because medical personnel often treated LGBTI patients unprofessionally, activists noted that some organizations maintained a list of “LGBTI-friendly” hospitals, and several NGOs operated mobile clinics specifically for vulnerable communities.

Employers refused jobs to LGBTI persons, particularly men perceived as effeminate. Activists also reported cases of individuals denied drivers licenses due to their perceived sexual orientation. Community members said that obtaining legal assistance was also a challenge due to similar discrimination. Members of the LGBTI community reported that forced marriage was a problem, particularly for lesbians.

Alouen, an Oran-based LGBTI advocacy group, continued cyberactivism on behalf of the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

HIV/AIDS was widely considered a shameful disease. There were more reported cases in men than women, with the exception of women between ages 15 and 24. The government continued to offer free antiretroviral treatment to all persons, including migrants. Authorities virtually eliminated new HIV infections among children. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported the existence of more than 2,000 centers offering free testing and counseling services, 1,500 of which the government managed. Strong social stigma towards the vulnerable groups in which HIV/AIDS was most concentrated–commercial sex workers, men who have sexual relations with men, and drug users–deterred testing of these groups. A 2014 study found a 5 percent prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among commercial sex workers in Oran, the country’s second largest city. Another NGO reported the prevalence rate of the same community at nearly 10 percent.

A Ministry of Health report found that there were 740 new cases of HIV/AIDS in 2015, contributing to an official estimate of 9,843 persons with HIV/AIDS. The government provided treatment to 7,915 individuals in 2015. UNAIDS estimated that 8,800 persons had HIV/AIDS in 2015, 300 of whom were under age 15.

Led by the Ministry of Health, the government established the National AIDS Committee, which met twice during the first eight months of the year. The committee brought together various government and civil society actors to discuss implementation of the national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.

The Green Tea Association, an NGO working in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment, continued to operate an information and orientation center in Tamanrasset, a province known for its large and diverse population of migrants.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Clashes between Algerian citizens and sub-Saharan migrants in March injured dozens of persons in Ouargla and Bechar and prompted the government to relocate more than 1,000 migrants to other locations in the country (see section 2). In Ouargla press reported that Algerians attacked Malian and Nigerien migrants on March 2 after learning that a sub-Saharan migrant had broken into a house and fatally stabbed an Algerian man. On March 25, dozens of reportedly masked men in Bechar threw stones and other objects at migrants in response to allegations that a migrant was involved in an attempted rape of a child.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.

The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To found a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of antiunion practices by employers.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented a majority of public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included services such as banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment.

The government affirmed there were 101 registered trade unions and employer’s organizations. No new trade unions were registered between January and August. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles imposed by the government as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. In June the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations stated that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

Formed in 2013 but not recognized by the government, the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA) included public and economic sector unions and committees. In March 2015 the Ministry of Labor refused to register CGATA as a national confederation, thus preventing it from establishing an independent multisector confederation that would include private sector employees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, unions in multi-national companies, specifically in oil and gas production, were virtually nonexistent due to antiunion practices, threats, and harassment by employers.

In April police stopped hundreds of protesting teachers in Boudouaou, preventing them from completing a union-organized march into Algiers. Authorities reportedly jammed mobile networks in the area and blocked deliveries of food and drink to the protest site. Teachers’ union members said police grabbed and shoved protesters during an attempt to break up the protest.

On February 6, police surrounded a trade union office in Bab Ezzouar, where a meeting was planned to discuss the 2016 finance law. Press reported that police arrested six activists and union members, including Salah Debouz, for assembling without a permit.

The Committee of Experts at the International Labor Conference in June requested that the government reinstate employees that the committee determined were fired based on antiunion discrimination and act expeditiously to process pending trade union registration applications.

Antiunion intimidation was commonplace, and there were several strikes launched in reaction to the government’s refusal to extend official recognition to fledgling new unions and its practice of engaging only with the UGTA. In March the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association urged the government to reinstate two Autonomous National Union of Postal Workers officials, in compliance with a court order. The committee concluded that the governmental postal system improperly dismissed the two officials in 2014 in connection with statements they made to the media and with one official’s role in organizing a work stoppage.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of human trafficking. There were reports from NGOs that such practices occurred. Forced labor conditions existed for migrant workers, and the law did not fully protect them. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Prescribed penalties under this statute range from three to 20 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government made limited efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims but created an interministerial committee to coordinate antitrafficking efforts and adopted a national antitrafficking action plan.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night.

Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children). According to UNICEF, 5 percent of children ages five to 14 were economically active.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and in some cases investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. The ministry’s Labor Inspector Service conducted an investigation into child labor in 2015 of 15,093 businesses from the trade, agriculture, construction, and services industries. It reported the discovery of 97 minors, of whom 47 were under the age of 16. The law for the protection of the child, adopted in 2015, criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child with a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($476 to $952); the punishment is doubled if the offender is a family member or guardian of the child. These penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were inconsistent and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors.

The Ministry of Solidarity leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin and affiliation with a union. The law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions.

Women occupied few decision-making positions. Many unescorted or migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes and/or exploited as prostitutes (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established the national minimum wage of DZD 18,000 ($165) per month in 2012. The World Bank estimated in 2011 that the poverty rate was 5.5 percent, a level that some observers considered too low.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may reserve the right to renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not protect economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere working in the country without legal immigration status, which made them vulnerable to exploitation. The law does not adequately cover migrant workers employed primarily in construction and as domestic workers.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance include a prison sentence of two to six months and a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 200,000 ($916 to $1,832) and DZD 200,000 to DZD 500,000 ($1,832 to $4,579) for repeat offenders. In 2015 the director general of social security at the Ministry of Labor stated that employers had not declared 15 percent of workers to the government, down from 40 percent in 2001. Employers who violated the law faced DZD 200,000 ($1,832) fines and between two and six months in prison. An enforcement initiative in 2015 identified 13,473 undeclared workers, all but 3 percent of whom were employed in the private sector. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering.

The Labor Ministry employed 624 labor inspectors and approximately 380 supervisors. The ministry generally enforced labor standards, including providing for compliance with the minimum wage regulation and safety standards. Nevertheless, broad enforcement remained insufficient.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary form of government. In the most recent national election in 2013, the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won by its narrowest margin since 1993, capturing 68 seats, while the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won 55 seats. International and local nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers assessed the election process suffered numerous flaws, including problems with the voter registry, unequal access to media, and the issuance of an unusually large number of temporary official identification cards to voters. Despite such concerns about the process, the two parties ultimately agreed to abide by the official results and take their seats in parliament.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems included a politicized and ineffective judiciary; increased restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; and the use of violence and imprisonment–both actual and threatened–to intimidate the political opposition and civil society as well as to suppress dissenting voices.

Other human rights problems included continued prisoner abuse, restrictions on press freedom and online expression, failure to grant equal access and fair treatment to asylum seekers, pervasive corruption, and trafficking in persons.

Although the government prosecuted some officials who committed abuses, including those involved in cases of corruption, most abuses persisted with impunity.

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

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

There were no credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. There was no substantial progress in the investigation of alleged unlawful killings that occurred in 2014.

On July 10, a gunman killed Kem Ley, an outspoken and popular social and political analyst, at a convenience store in Phnom Penh. Police arrested a suspect, later identified as Oeuth Ang, who claimed he killed Kem Ley because of a 12 million riel ($3,000) unpaid debt. Members of both Kem Ley’s family and the alleged killer’s family said the two men did not know each other. Noting this as well as other anomalies in the case–including the impoverished assailant’s possession of an expensive handgun–many observers believed a third party hired Oeuth Ang. As of October authorities had made no visible progress in the investigation, citing Oeuth Ang’s refusal to cooperate with police.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, was established to hold accountable senior leaders and those most responsible for crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime. The ECCC is a “hybrid” court. It is part of the country’s legal system but includes international as well as local judges, prosecutors, and staff. Although established under national law, a 2003 agreement between the United Nations and the government regulates ECCC proceedings. As part of that agreement, the government agreed to enforce court orders. In 2015 judicial police failed to execute an arrest warrant issued by the international coinvestigating judges, leading to allegations of government interference in the ECCC’s operations. The defendant later voluntarily presented himself before the court.

b. Disappearance

In 2014 a local NGO reported Khem Sophat missing after government security forces allegedly shot him during a violent clash outside the Canadia Garment Factory. Witnesses last saw Khem Sophat being loaded into an ambulance. As of September Khem Sophat remained missing.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates continued during the year.

There were credible reports military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and, on occasion, severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. As of July the human rights NGO ADHOC reported authorities committed 15 instances of torture on detainees and prisoners, compared with 20 instances during all of 2015. A different human rights NGO reported 31 physical assaults, compared with 19 during the first six months of 2015; eight cases resulted in deaths and four in life-threatening injuries. NGOs reported it was common for police to abuse detained suspects until they confessed to a crime. Courts used forced confessions as evidence during trials despite legal prohibitions against the admissibility of such confessions.

As of July ADHOC reported 10 cases of physical assault against civilians by local authorities, government agents, or private bodyguards of government officials, compared with 12 cases reported during all of 2015. In some cases police used force to counter threats or acts of violence by demonstrators. In others police used force against peaceful demonstrators after they interfered with traffic and refused orders to disperse.

The government operated seven drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed the majority of detainees in such facilities were there involuntarily, committed to the facilities by police officers or family members. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than 18 years. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints or by submitting them to intense exercise and other harsh methods. Government leaders acknowledged the importance of treating drug addiction as a medical problem rather than a criminal matter, but there was little follow through on such statements. Authorities held an estimated 2,000 persons in these facilities.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions did not meet international standards. Conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP), there were approximately 20,000 prisoners and detainees in 27 prisons designed to hold a maximum of 11,000 prisoners.

In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners, of male and female prisoners, or of persons convicted of serious crimes and persons detained for minor offenses. Authorities routinely held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

According to a local NGO, there were several pregnant women and children living with their incarcerated mothers in prison.

As of August the GDP reported that seven prisoners died while in custody. Police stated they investigated the deaths and found evidence of pre-existing conditions or other illnesses.

Local NGOs maintained that allowances for prisoner food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Observers continued to report that authorities sometimes misappropriated allowances for purchasing prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Prisoners and detainees had access to clean water in only 18 of 27 prisons. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental and physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfer to better cells, and the opportunity to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families could pay bribes. According to a local NGO, “prisoner self-management committees,” organized groups of inmates created and directed by prison guards, sometimes violently attacked other prisoners.

Administration: There were no legal provisions establishing prison ombudspersons. Authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners or provide food and other necessities. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings and before releasing inmates who had served their full term of imprisonment.

Prisoners could submit uncensored complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government investigated complaints and monitors prison and detention center conditions through the GDP, which produced biannual reports on prison management. The GDP did not share the reports despite frequent requests by civil society organizations.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally allowed international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), to visit prisons and/or provide human rights training to prison guards. Some NGOs reported that cooperation by local authorities occasionally was limited, making it difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees. The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners, and in some cases the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their “roles” during prison visits.

While some local independent monitoring groups operated with sufficient independence from government influence, others noted authorities denied them confidential and private meetings with prisoners. A local human rights NGO that traditionally provided medical care to prisoners reported the government periodically refused its requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of a political opposition party. According to another NGO, the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. OHCHR representatives reported they were usually able to hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but at times the government did not respect these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The General Commissariat of the National Police, under Ministry of Interior supervision, manages all civilian police units. Police forces are divided into those with authority to make arrests, those without such authority, and judicial police, whose authority only extends to enforcing court warrants. The government permitted military police to arrest civilians if the officers met the training and experience requirements to serve as civilian police, if civilians were on military property, or when authorized by local governments. The military police, however, sometimes engaged in civilian law enforcement activities under the authority and direction of provincial or local governments, often in support of civilian police unable to exercise effective crowd control. The Ministry of Interior is the main government body charged with evaluating security force killings.

There were reports police officials committed abuses with impunity, and in most cases the government took little or no action. As of August ADHOC reported 47 instances of impunity. The law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse; however, judges and prosecutors rarely conducted independent investigations. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, but police may arrest without a warrant anyone caught in the act of committing a crime. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before police must file charges, or a suspect must be released. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.

There was a functioning bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail cases considered politically motivated. Under the law accused persons may be arrested and detained for a maximum of 24 hours before being afforded access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members. According to government officials, such prolonged detention largely was a result of the limited capacity of the court system. The government did not provide access to a lawyer for indigent detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of August ADHOC reported 17 cases of arrest or detention it considered arbitrary, although it offered no specific examples. Another human rights NGO reported 28 cases involving illegal arrests or detentions, compared with 16 in the same period in 2015. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher because some victims in rural areas did not file complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to ADHOC’s offices or due to concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for the illegal detentions.

Throughout the year Phnom Penh municipal authorities temporarily arrested dozens of persons, usually those who were homeless, persons with mental disabilities, drug users, or persons engaged in prostitution, during systematic sweeps of city streets, and some of those arrested may have been victims of human trafficking. According to a local NGO, detainees typically lost all money and belongings during sweeps, which authorities stated were part of an effort to “regulate society.” Authorities placed the detainees in a rehabilitation facility operated by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth (hereafter the Ministry of Social Affairs) located 15 miles from Phnom Penh or with local NGOs. NGOs often released back to the streets within hours those placed in their custody.

Pretrial Detention: The law allows for pretrial detention of a maximum of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies. As of September the Ministry of Interior reported 7,032 pretrial detainees were in custody. Court staffers reportedly undertook efforts to speed case processing. Although authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation, there were no reports authorities held detainees longer than the legal time limit or lost any case files. NGOs reported, however, that authorities held many of those accused of minor crimes in pretrial detention for long periods.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detainment; however, authorities often did not respect this right.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government generally did not respect judicial independence. The courts were subject to influence and interference by the executive branch, which has the authority to promote, dismiss, and discipline judges at will. Judicial officials often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the CPP or to the executive received appointments to the judiciary. There was widespread corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials.

Observers alleged the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined. For example, observers at a trial of 11 opposition activists on charges of insurrection reported that shortly after judges retired to deliberate, judicial police surrounded the trial court and prepared to transfer the suspects to prison, indicating a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion (see Political Prisoners and Detainees below).

High levels of corruption and inefficiency existed in the judicial branch, and the government did not provide for due process.

A shortage of judges and courtrooms delayed many cases, according to NGO reports. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. Government officials and members of their families who committed crimes often enjoyed impunity. As in past years, NGOs asserted that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid money to victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or failing to appear as witnesses.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are entitled by law to the presumption of innocence and the right of appeal, but due to pervasive corruption, they often had to bribe judges to secure a favorable verdict. Trials are often public and sometimes face delays due to court bureaucracy. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary lacked the resources to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, sought pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of required defense attorneys in felony cases, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. The courts offered free interpretation. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to examine government-held evidence relevant to their case, but sometimes it was difficult for them to obtain such access, especially if the case was politically sensitive or involved a high-ranking official or politically well-connected persons. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

There remained a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside Phnom Penh. The right to a fair public trial for persons without means to secure counsel often was denied de facto. According to the bar association, as of September there were 869 lawyers providing legal services throughout the country, compared with 796 in 2015. Poor defendants could seek free legal services from these lawyers with assistance from some NGOs.

NGOs reported that sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused usually constituted the only evidence presented at trials. Authorities sometimes coerced an accused person’s statements through beatings or threats, and police often forced illiterate defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. The difficulty in transferring prisoners from provincial prisons to the appeals court in Phnom Penh limited their right to be present at appeal hearings. Consequently defendants were unable to be present at more than half of all appeals.

As of June a local human rights NGO had monitored 143 trials, of which 73 lacked the presence of a lawyer. In 70 of the cases, defendants confessed to the crime before the trial began; 13 of these defendants claimed they confessed due to torture, coercion, and/or threats by the police.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

As of June a local human rights NGO estimated authorities held at least 29 political prisoners or detainees.

In July 2015 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced 11 opposition activists from the CNRP to between seven and 20 years in prison for their alleged role in a 2014 protest that resulted in the injury of six protesters and 39 Daun Penh District security guards. Some observers asserted the court reached verdicts without any evidence linking the activists to the alleged crimes and instead interpreted the convictions as punishment for the activists’ criticism of the country’s border demarcation with Vietnam, a politically charged issue. The 11 jailed opposition activists appealed the verdict, and on August 23, the Appeals Court agreed to split the appeal case–one case to contest the verdict and a second case to challenge improper legal procedures.

In August 2015 Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered authorities to arrest Senator Hong Sok Hour of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party despite his parliamentary immunity. He was charged with “forgery” and “incitement” for posting a fake 1979 border treaty between the government and Vietnam according to which the two countries purportedly agreed eventually to dissolve their mutual border. On June 23, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Appeals Court not to grant Hong Sok Hour bail despite a recommendation from his doctor to do so due to health concerns. On November 7, Judge Ros Piseth of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Hong Sok Hour guilty of falsifying public documents, using fake documents, and inciting chaos and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Many observers interpreted these actions as a means of pressuring the CNRP to refrain from criticizing the government for failing to demarcate the border with Vietnam properly.

In May the Anticorruption Unit (ACU) detained four senior staff of ADHOC and a deputy secretary general from the National Election Committee (NEC), who was a former staff member of ADHOC. The ACU accused the five of bribing an alleged mistress of opposition leader Kem Sokha to lie about a sexual affair–a charge they continued to deny. They remained in custody awaiting trial. Authorities initially accused a citizen working for the OHCHR in Phnom Penh of encouraging the mistress to lie, but authorities reportedly dropped the charge later.

Opposition politicians and civil society organizations reported that authorities often arbitrarily denied access to prisoners whose incarceration they believed to be politically motivated. In the case of four jailed ADHOC officials, authorities limited visits to two times per week.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Both administrative and judicial remedies generally were available; however, authorities often did not enforce court orders.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Forced collectivization under the Khmer Rouge and the movement of much of the population left land ownership unclear. The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contention for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of the law has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, continued to lack the knowledge and means to obtain adequate formal documentation of land ownership.

Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. The Cadastral Commission, established by the government in 2002 to resolve quickly and to the satisfaction of the relevant parties unregistered land cases (not including cases related to inheritance or contracts), failed to implement the identification and demarcation of state land, leading to conflict and evictions precipitated by state actions to develop contested land. Land speculation, in the absence of clear title, fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects. The Ministry of Land Management reported it had distributed 619,140 land titles to villagers since 2012. It granted 9,140 land titles during the year.

Cases of authorities forcing inhabitants to relocate continued, although the number of cases declined in recent years. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into exchanging their land for compensation at below-market values. As of July ADHOC reported 81 new land-related conflicts between businesspersons and villagers, including accusations of land grabbing, theft of natural resources, economic land concessions, and land evictions. This included more than 20,614 acres of land and affected approximately 7,657 families. The poor often had no legal documents to support their land claims and lacked faith in the judicial system. Some of those evicted successfully contested the actions in court, but the majority of cases remained pending.

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

The law provides for the privacy of residence and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, although NGOs reported that police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. An NGO also alleged, without providing evidence, the government installed surveillance equipment at internet service providers to monitor online traffic, and it routinely monitored private telephone communications.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution grants free speech except where it adversely affects public security. The constitution also declares that the king is “inviolable,” and a Ministry of Interior directive conforming to the defamation law reiterates these limits and prohibits publishers and editors from disseminating stories that insult or defame not just the king, but also government leaders and institutions.

In March 2015 the National Assembly agreed to amendments to the laws governing the NEC and passed a new Law on the Election of Members of the National Assembly. Both the amendments and the new law contain provisions that require civil society organizations to remain “neutral” during political campaign periods and prohibit them from “insulting” political parties through the media. The Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), promulgated in August 2015, further restricts freedom of speech by broadly requiring all associations and NGOs to be politically neutral.

The law prohibits prepublication censorship or imprisonment for expressing opinions; however, the government used the penal code to prosecute citizens on defamation, disinformation, and incitement charges. The penal code does not prescribe imprisonment for defamation but does for incitement or spreading disinformation, which carry a maximum imprisonment of three years. Judges also can order fines, which may lead to jail time if not paid. Courts broadly interpreted the crime of “incitement,” and senior government officials threatened to prosecute opposition figures on incitement charges for acts including calling for a “change in government” by electoral means.

Local human rights NGOs, media, and several independent analysts continued to express concern publicly about government actions targeting their work, including the cases against ADHOC officials. On May 9, a group of human rights activists launched the “Black Monday” campaign to protest the injustice of the judiciary and demand the release of the so-called prisoners of conscience. The campaign called upon members to wear black every Monday in solidarity with the prisoners. In a number of cases, authorities arrested the campaigners and granted release contingent on their signing an agreement promising not to rejoin the protests.

Press and Media Freedoms: All major political parties had reasonable and regular access to the print media. A majority of Khmer-language newspapers received financial support from individuals closely associated with the ruling CPP. According to the Ministry of Information, there were an estimated 13 Khmer-language newspapers, while 30 to 40 small circulation “papers” printed on an irregular schedule.

Although observers considered the five newspapers with the largest circulation pro-CPP, the newspapers occasionally criticized the government in some general areas, particularly with regard to corruption and land acquisition. As of August no pro-opposition newspapers published regularly; however, opposition voices relied on electronic publications and social media to express a wide range of opinions, including dissent. While the use of social media remained largely uncensored, some activists noted an increase in targeted crackdowns by government authorities, resulting in some social media users being subject to threats, arrest, detention, and unfair convictions.

The government, military forces, and the ruling political party continued to influence broadcast media. There were 16 domestic television stations and more than 175 radio stations. The CPP controlled or strongly influenced most television and radio stations, although a few were independent or aligned with other parties. According to a media monitoring NGO, the government routinely used state television to promote the activities of the government and the CPP and to criticize the opposition, while not granting the opposition parties equal access. In July civil society organizations criticized local media outlets for not covering the events surrounding the killing of Kem Ley. Some individuals attributed this to CPP and government pressure on media.

As part of the 2014 deal ending the political impasse between the ruling and opposition parties, the government granted the CNRP a license to operate a television station; however, the CNRP faced difficulties obtaining local land and building permits. In April, Kandal provincial authorities banned the CNRP from erecting its television antenna, citing concerns by local residents that the station would emit electromagnetic radiation and harm their health. CNRP officials accused the authorities of being biased, noting that the CPP-aligned Apsara TV had broadcasted from a densely populated area in Phnom Penh since 1996 without any problem or protest. The CNRP announced in June it would identify an alternative location for the station.

Violence and Harassment: Threats and violence against journalists and reporters remained common. On April 10, Pailin District police officer Khea Sokhorn pointed a rifle at Ouk Touch, a reporter for the Kampuchea Aphivat newspaper, claiming he was infuriated with the journalistic investigation into his violent shooting of villagers. In a separate case, military police in Mondulkiri Province detained Vann Tith, a TV9 broadcaster who reported that their commander took bribes from illegal loggers in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government agents harassed and intimidated journalists, publishers, and media distributors. Because the government controls permits and licenses for journalists, most media outlets practiced self-censorship to some degree. Some reporters and editors continued to self-censor their reporting due to fear of government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel, slander, defamation, and denunciation laws to restrict public discussion on issues it deemed sensitive or against its interests. The government issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy relying on a conviction from a defamation suit brought by then foreign minister Hor Namhong in 2008 (see section 3).

National Security: The government continued to cite national security concerns to justify restricting citizens’ rights to criticize government policies and officials. In particular the government routinely threatened to prosecute and arrest anyone who questioned the demarcation of the country’s border with Vietnam or suggested the government had ceded national territory to Vietnam.

INTERNET FREEDOM

While the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, there were credible reports government entities monitored private online communications. According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, internet access was widely available, particularly in urban centers, and more than 31 percent of the population had internet access. More than 98 percent of users could access the internet through mobile devices as opposed to home connections.

In December 2015 the Law on Telecommunications came into effect, causing backlash from the country’s leading civil society and human rights activists, who claimed it provides the government broad authority to monitor secretly online public discussion and communications using private telecommunication devices. According to human rights NGO Licadho, the government has the legal authority to monitor every telephone conversation, text message, e-mail, social media activity, and correspondence between individuals without their knowledge or consent. Any expressed opinions deemed to violate the government’s definition of national security could result in a maximum imprisonment of 15 years. As of November there were no arrests based on the new legislation.

A local human rights NGO claimed there were at least 20 cases of persons arrested for content they posted online. In March the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced political science student Kong Raya to 18 months in prison for calling for a “color revolution” on Facebook. Civil society groups condemned the conviction and characterized it as a measure to restrict further freedom of expression online. Several activists said the government sought to use Raya’s case to threaten, intimidate, and obstruct civil society.

In 2015 the Ministry of Interior announced it would begin enforcing rules mandating all SIM cards be associated with an identifiable individual. This led to the disconnection of nearly one million SIM cards. As of September an estimated 19 million SIM cards were in use, compared with approximately 20 million in use in 2015. Police justified the new rule as a necessary step to curb crime, including trafficking in persons, and terrorism. Despite this new requirement, many mobile operators did not confirm the identities of SIM card owners. Civil society groups continued to express concern the government could use the collection of personal information from SIM card registration to stifle freedom of expression online.

A “Cyber War Team” in the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit is responsible for monitoring and countering “incorrect” information from news outlets and social media. A leak of the draft Cybercrime Law in July 2015 raised additional fears the government was developing new legal mechanisms to broaden its powers to arrest and convict those who challenge its position. In response the government stated the goal of the legislation was to “inform the public,” protect the government’s “prestige and honor,” and defend the government from “insults.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

In general there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although scholars tended to be careful when teaching political subjects due to fear of offending politicians. In May the Ministry of Education reminded public and private education institutions the education law strictly prohibits all political activities and discussions. Specifically the law states, “Political activities and/or propaganda for any political party in educational establishments and institutions shall be completely banned.” Many activists asserted the law aims to stifle youth support of the opposition, adding that a majority of school principals supported the CPP. On August 10, the ministry issued a directive banning all political activity at academic institutions. Government officials appeared to exempt several large campus-based organizations affiliated with the ruling party, however, stating these were “extracurricular” groups that promoted “humanitarian causes.”

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right.

The LANGO requires an advance permit for meetings, training, protests, marches, or demonstrations, although authorities sometimes inconsistently enforced this requirement. One provision requires five days’ notice for most peaceful demonstrations, while another requires 12 hours’ notice for impromptu gatherings on private property or protests at designated venues and limits such gatherings to 200 persons. By law provincial or municipal governments may issue demonstration permits at their discretion. Lower-level government officials, particularly in Phnom Penh, generally denied requests unless the national government specifically authorized the gatherings. All levels of government routinely denied permits to groups critical of the ruling party.

There were credible reports the government occasionally prevented associations and NGOs from organizing public events, arguing the groups had not registered under the newly passed LANGO, although implementation regulations on the law were not yet in place. Authorities cited the need for stability and public security as reasons for denying permits, although the law does not define the terms “stability” or “public security.” Government authorities also occasionally cited provisions in the LANGO to prevent associations and NGOs from organizing public events or to break up meetings and training deemed hostile to the government. In some cases police forcibly dispersed groups assembled without a permit, sometimes causing minor injuries to demonstrators. The press reported numerous public protests, most related to land or labor disputes.

A human rights NGO reported the government prevented at least 42 cases of peaceful gatherings or public speeches, double the number in 2015. The Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community, a community-based organization working with farmers to improve their livelihoods, reported that Prey Veng authorities stopped one of its training sessions and demanded it show its official registration documents, although the Ministry of Interior claimed the LANGO does not obligate such organizations to register.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not always respect this right, particularly with regard to workers’ rights (see section 7.a.).

Vaguely worded provisions in the LANGO prohibit any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and culture of Cambodian society.” Civil society organizations expressed concern the vaguely worded provisions created a substantial risk of arbitrary restrictions to the right of association. According to critics the LANGO provides for a heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration process that lacks administrative safeguards, rendering the process vulnerable to politicization. The law also imposes burdensome reporting obligations on finances and activities. Additional obligations include the disclosure of all successful funding proposals, financial or grant agreements, and bank accounts held by associations and NGOs. While official statistics continued to be unavailable, many NGOs reported difficulties filing registration paperwork with the government.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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

Exile: Opposition leader Sam Rainsy remained in France under self-imposed exile. The government issued a warrant for his arrest in November 2015 on charges of defamation while he was outside of the country, and he had not returned at years’ end.

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 government failed to grant equal access to that system for all asylum seekers. In particular authorities routinely denied access by Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam to the refugee registration process. The national asylum system had limited capacity, which resulted in long delays for some asylum seekers. In April 2015 the government deployed more than 1,000 soldiers to the Vietnamese border at Ratanakiri-Dak Lak to prevent more than 100 Christian Montagnard asylum seekers from entering the country. In May the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) transferred a group of 13 Montagnards to the Philippines Refugee Processing Center and sought a third country for their resettlement. A group of 16 additional asylum seekers returned voluntarily to their home country in July after failing to secure refugee status in Phnom Penh.

Refoulement: Stating that they were “economic migrants,” the government returned at least 50 Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam in 2015 without conducting refugee status determinations. According to UNHCR more than 170 Montagnards remained in Phnom Penh and wished to register as asylum seekers, but the Ministry of Interior’s Refugee Department refused to allow them to do so. In October the ministry announced it had not granted asylum to a majority of the remaining Montagnards following extensive interviews, stating, “Their answers do not comply with the convention on refugees.” Local media initially reported the ministry provided them two weeks’ notice to leave the country or face arrest and immediate deportation to Vietnam; however, the ministry later retracted that timeline.

Employment: According to an NGO, documentation granted by the government was insufficient to allow 85 persons granted refugee status in 2015 to work, open a bank account, or use public services.

Durable Solutions: Pursuant to a 2014 deal with Australia, the government accepted for domestic resettlement five refugees previously held on Nauru. After the arrival of a lone Rohingya refugee, a group of four followed. Local media reported authorities confined the four to a villa provided by the government and were not, contrary to assurances, allowed to seek their own housing or integrate into society. The four refugees subsequently returned to their country of origin, including an Iranian married couple who returned to Iran in March. The Rohingya refugee reportedly remained in the country. No effective pathway to citizenship existed for refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless, and the government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to gain nationality (see section 6, Children).

A 2007 study commissioned by UNHCR estimated that several thousand potentially stateless persons lived in the country. This estimate was based on anecdotal evidence, and local UNHCR representatives did not consider the figure conclusive. The most common reason for statelessness was lack of proper documents from the country of origin.

UNHCR reported that the country’s stateless population was primarily ethnic Vietnamese. According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national election, held in 2013, was generally peaceful, and all parties participated without interference in a campaign largely free of intimidation, in contrast to previous national elections. While there were only limited disturbances during the election, the voting process was fraught with irregularities, including allegations an unexpectedly high number of voters used temporary voter identification cards. In addition, by the government’s own calculations, more than 9 percent of eligible voters could not vote due to problems with voter registration lists. Numerous civil society organizations identified the problem of disenfranchised voters well before the election, but the NEC took no significant corrective action. Observers indicated the scale of electoral irregularities warranted an independent investigation, but a full and transparent investigation did not occur. The CNRP boycotted the National Assembly until July 2014, when it reached an agreement with the ruling CPP to reform the NEC.

As part of that agreement, the CPP and CNRP also agreed to move the national election to February 2018 to coincide with the dry season, with the aim of improving voter turnout. In August 2015, however, the government announced the national election would take place in July 2018 in apparent violation of the understanding. As the country prepared for commune elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018, civil society and human rights activists reportedly feared the government would employ additional tactics to suppress those who oppose its views. Observers expressed concern over the neutrality of the committee when some of the CNRP-appointed or affiliated staff at the NEC experienced severe legal harassment. The government detained NEC Deputy Secretary General Ny Chakrya, alleging he assisted the four ADHOC human rights defenders accused of bribing Kem Sokha’s purported mistress. In addition the Phnom Penh Court of First Instance summoned Rong Chhun, one of CNRP’s four appointees, on charges of participation in a 2014 protest.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In October 2015 protesters attacked and beat two opposition members of parliament following a protest outside the National Assembly. Some civil society groups stated that the government organized the protest. Social media users claimed they identified at least one of the attackers as a member of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit. In November 2015, three of the suspected perpetrators, all members of the Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit, surrendered to police. A government commission formed to investigate the attack stated it would not investigate further suspects absent a court order, despite video evidence of the involvement of other perpetrators. The court sentenced the perpetrators to four years in prison but later reduced their sentence to one year.

In November 2015 the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered the arrest of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, relying on a conviction in a defamation suit brought by then foreign minister Hor Namhong in 2008. Opposition supporters argued that a royal pardon Rainsy received in 2013, which allowed him to return from self-imposed exile and participate in the 2013 election, vacated the verdict. The court issued the warrant only 24 hours after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly warned Rainsy his verbal attacks on the government could result in his prosecution. Subsequently the National Assembly voted to remove Rainsy from parliament, thus revoking his parliamentary immunity. The order for Rainsy’s arrest came while he was traveling internationally, which observers said was evidence the government intended to deter the opposition leader from returning to the country.

The government subsequently initiated a series of investigations and legal actions against deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha stemming from an alleged extramarital affair with a 23-year-old hairdresser named Khom Chandaraty. In February a series of alleged telephone conversations between Sokha and Chandaraty were anonymously posted online. In one of those recordings, the man alleged to be Sokha offered the woman a house and some money. Based on this the ACU opened an investigation into Sokha’s finances. Other state institutions, including an antiterror unit within the Ministry of Interior and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, also reportedly initiated investigations into the affair. On May 2, two CNRP parliamentarians received summonses to appear in court relating to a potential charge of human trafficking, for allegedly facilitating Chandaraty’s travel to Thailand to meet with Sokha. On May 17, authorities summoned Sokha for questioning. Citing his parliamentary immunity, Sokha refused to heed this or subsequent summonses related to the case. On September 9, a court sentenced Sokha to five months in prison and an 800,000 riel ($200) fine for failure to respond to a court summons. On November 4, an appeals court upheld the five-month prison sentence. Authorities never investigated the original leak of the recorded telephone conversations.

Some NGOs and political parties claimed that membership in the dominant CPP provided material advantages such as gifts, access to government aid, and economic land concessions. In June 2015 the government announced its ambassadors serving overseas would also serve as CPP “committee directors” and would be charged with leading membership drives and fundraising efforts on behalf of the CPP in their countries of assignment. In November 2015 Cambodia’s ambassador to the Republic of Korea told his fellow citizens living in South Korea they faced arrest and deportation if they participated in pro-opposition rallies organized by visiting opposition leaders.

Buddhist monks historically faced difficulties in registering to vote and were otherwise excluded from full participation in the electoral process. The supreme patriarch of the country’s Mohanikaya Buddhist sect called for monks to refrain from participating in the country’s elections and urged the government to enact laws codifying such prohibitions. The NEC reported that, despite its support for the voting rights of the clergy, the Ministry of Interior refused to issue voter identification cards to monks.

As of September the Ministry of Interior had not released information on the number of newly registered political parties; however, media reports identified several new parties.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process; however, cultural traditions limited participation by women in government, although women participated in the 2013 national election.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The penal code defines various corrupt acts and specifies the applicable penalties for such acts. The anticorruption law provides the statutory basis for the National Council against Corruption and the ACU to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The ACU did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating corruption. In June 2015 the Council of Ministers, an executive branch organ, issued a directive requiring civil servants to seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative branch inquiries related to corruption allegations.

Corruption was endemic throughout all segments of society and branches of government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges received bribes from owners of illegal businesses. Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials.

According to a corruption-monitoring NGO, in 2015 there were 297 instances of corruption, compared with 217 in 2014. Eleven of the cases involved serious abuse of power by senior leaders in judicial, executive, and legislative branches; 135 cases involved bribes and fraud by high-ranking public officials, 133 involved the misuse of state resources for political purposes, and 18 involved nepotism and cronyism. Another report documented the extensive holdings of family members of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Financial Disclosure: The law subjects public servants, including elected and appointed officials, to financial and asset disclosure provisions. The ACU is responsible for receiving the disclosures, with penalties for noncompliance ranging from one month to one year in prison. In 2015 the ACU reported that of 5,255 government officials required to disclose their assets, the compliance rate was 99.9 percent. Financial disclosures of senior officials were not publicly available and remained sealed unless allegations of corruption are filed. In March the ACU announced it would unseal the financial disclosure records of Kem Sokha because of allegations he promised property and cash to his purported mistress. Previously, no other disclosure records had ever been unsealed.

Public Access to Information: The law allows unlimited access to informational documents in the public archive. The law, however, grants access to other unspecified government documents only after 20 years, and documents affecting national security and preservation of life may be released only after 40 and 120 years, respectively. Some NGOs reported difficulty accessing information, noting the process was cumbersome and the government regularly failed to respond to their inquiries.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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, but there were multiple reports of lack of cooperation and, in some cases, intimidation by government officials, including the cases against ADHOC (see section 1.e.).

Domestic and international human rights organizations faced threats and harassment from local officials and individuals with ties to the government. These took the form of restrictions on and disruptions of gatherings sponsored by NGOs, verbal intimidation, threats of legal action, and bureaucratic obstruction justified by provisions in the LANGO.

Approximately 25 human rights NGOs operated in the country, and a further 100 NGOs focused on human rights as part of their work in other areas, but only a few actively organized training programs or investigated abuses.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with international bodies and permitted visits by UN representatives. Rhona Smith, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the country, conducted an official visit in March to examine the situation of disadvantaged and marginalized groups, such as women, indigenous peoples, and victims of racial and ethnic discrimination. Smith paid a follow-up visit to Phnom Penh in October. Officials often cited “administrative reasons” to explain reluctance by government officials to meet with her. The government regularly chastised UN representatives publicly for their remarks on a variety of human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government had three human rights bodies: two separate Committees for the Protection of Human Rights and Reception of Complaints, one under the Senate and another under the National Assembly; and the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, which reported to the prime minister’s cabinet. The committees did not hold regular meetings or conduct transparent operations. The Cambodian Human Rights Committee submitted government reports for participation in international human rights review processes, such as the Universal Periodic Review, and issued responses to reports by international organizations and government bodies, but it did not conduct independent human rights investigations. Credible human rights NGOs considered the government committees to have limited efficacy.

The government hosted the hybrid ECCC to try Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for the abuses of the Khmer Rouge period. Some observers believed public comments by government leaders on matters related to the ECCC’s jurisdictional mandate constituted a form of political interference, but there was no evidence these comments inhibited the work of the court. At the end of 2015, the court began hearings related to later crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime, including allegations of genocide of the Cham minority, forced marriages, rapes, internal purges, and charges arising out of crimes committed at certain security centers and worksites.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and assault. Local and international NGOs reported that violence against women, including domestic violence and rape, was common. Rape is punishable by a prison sentence of five to 30 years. Spousal rape is not specifically mentioned in the penal code, but the underlying conduct can be prosecuted as “rape,” “causing injury,” or “indecent assault.” Charges for spousal rape under the penal code and the domestic violence law were rare. The domestic violence law criminalizes domestic violence but does not set out specific penalties. The penal code can be used to punish domestic violence offenses, with penalties ranging from one to 15 years’ imprisonment. According to a report by Amnesty International, there was only one public hospital in each province and several larger hospitals in Phnom Penh that had adequate facilities to examine rape victims and issue certificates that were admissible as evidence in court.

As of October 2015, ADHOC received 183 reports of rape, three resulting in the death of the victim. Of these the courts tried 33 cases, local authorities mediated one case, and the remainder awaited trial. As of August ADHOC received 114 reports of domestic violence that resulted in serious injury. Reported cases of rape and domestic violence increased compared with the same period in 2014 but were likely underreported due to women’s fear of reprisal by perpetrators. In January the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs released the National Survey on Women’s Health and Life Experiences. It revealed that one in five women in the country experienced sexual and/or domestic violence. Cases of rape, according to the Ministry of Interior, increased by 12 percent in 2015 compared with 2014, despite an overall drop in crime. In a 2013 UN report, nearly 20 percent of 1,863 men interviewed admitted to raping a woman.

In July the Ministry of Women’s Affairs met with representatives from the government and civil society to discuss implementation of the Second National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women that treats the problem of intimate partner violence and sexual violence. The ministry announced a new reporting system within the government to increase accountability and transparency in cases where the government responds to violence against women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also coordinated with several NGOs and local media outlets to produce radio and television programming on topics related to women. The government also financially supported NGOs that provided training for poor women vulnerable to spousal abuse, prostitution, and trafficking in persons.

As of August ADHOC investigated 52 cases of domestic violence and 67 cases of rape, while the human rights organization Licadho investigated 62 separate instances of domestic violence and 33 instances of rape. NGOs reported that authorities did not aggressively enforce domestic law and avoided involvement in domestic disputes.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment, imposing penalties of six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and fines of 100,000 to 500,000 riels ($25 to $125). A 2013 study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that one in five female garment workers had been sexually harassed. In May authorities demoted a senior official from the Ministry of Education after he sexually assaulted a South Korean interpreter assigned to him during an official visit to South Korea. Officials dropped charges after he paid fines equaling $12,300. Many activists claimed the punishment was too lenient; however, the ministry stated it based its decision to demote the individual on laws governing civil servants. There was limited information available on cases of sexual harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Women had access to contraception and prenatal care as well as skilled attendance at delivery and postpartum care, but it was often limited due to income and geographic barriers. According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate in 2015 was 161 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with 170 deaths per 100,000 live births during 2014. Major factors influencing high maternal mortality rates included a shortage of adequate health facilities, medications, and skilled birth attendants. According to the 2014 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey, the modern contraceptive prevalence rate among married women between 15 and 49 years was approximately 39 percent, and 12 percent of women between ages 15 to 19 years had given birth or were pregnant with their first child.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, and equal status in marriage. For the most part, women had equal property rights, the same legal status to initiate divorce proceedings, and equal access to education and some jobs; however, cultural traditions and child rearing responsibilities limited the ability of women to reach senior positions in business or even participate in the workforce. Men comprised a significant majority of the military, police, and civil service.

Children

Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship by birth to a mother and father who are not ethnic Khmer if both parents were born and were living legally in the country or if either parent had acquired citizenship through other legal means. Indigenous Khmer are considered citizens. The Ministry of Interior administered a revamped birth registration system, but not all births were registered immediately, primarily due to parental delay. Moreover, children born from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s often were not registered due to the civil war, Khmer Rouge atrocities, and subsequent Vietnamese occupation. Many of these unregistered persons, who later had families of their own, did not perceive a need for registration. It was common not to register young persons until a need arose.

Failure to register births resulted in discrimination, including the denial of public services. A 2007 study commissioned by UNHCR on statelessness in the country found that the birth registration process often excluded children of ethnic minorities and stateless persons. NGOs providing services to disenfranchised communities reported authorities often denied books and access to education and health care for children without birth registration. NGOs stated such persons often were unable to access employment, own property, vote, or access the legal system.

Education: Education was free, but not compulsory, through grade nine. Many children left school to help their families in subsistence agriculture, worked in other activities, began school at a late age, or did not attend school at all. The government did not deny girls equal access to education, but families with limited resources often gave priority to boys, especially in rural areas. According to international organization reports, enrollment dropped significantly for girls after primary school in urban areas, while post-primary school enrollment for boys dropped significantly in rural areas. Schools in many areas were remote, and transportation was a problem. This especially affected girls because of safety concerns in traveling between home and school.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common and legal action against perpetrators was rare, according to observers. A 2014 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund found that 61 percent of female respondents and 58 percent of male respondents between 13 and 17 years faced domestic violence. Child rape continued to be a serious problem. ADHOC received reports of 99 cases of rape and attempted rape committed against persons younger than 18 years. Licadho investigated 116 rape cases, including four cases of gang rape.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for boys and girls is 18 years; however, children as young as 16 years may legally marry with parental permission. Culturally child marriage was not considered a problem. The government and a local NGO took steps to raise awareness of the legal minimum-age requirement.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual intercourse with a person younger than 15 years is illegal. The government continued to raid brothels to identify and remove child sex trafficking victims, although the majority of child sex trafficking was clandestine, occurring in “indirect” sex establishments such as beer gardens, massage parlors, salons, karaoke bars, and noncommercial sites. Police continued to investigate cases of child sex trafficking that occurred in brothels or cases where victims brought complaints directly but did not typically pursue more-complicated cases. The government did not issue formal guidance allowing the use of undercover investigation techniques in trafficking investigations, and the lack of explicit authority continued to impede officials’ ability to hold child sex traffickers fully accountable.

The country remained a destination for child sex tourism. An NGO report released in 2015 examined the prevalence of children among persons in commercial sex establishments in three key cities and found that children comprised 2.2 percent of this population, compared with 8.2 percent in 2013. The government used the law to prosecute both sex tourists and citizens for exploiting children in prostitution. The law provides penalties ranging from two to 15 years in prison for commercial sexual exploitation of children. The law also prohibits the production and possession of child pornography.

According to a local human rights organization, perpetrators with ties to the government were not held accountable under the law, and local experts reported concern about the government’s failure to impose appropriate punishments on foreign nationals who purchase commercial sex acts with children. Endemic corruption at all levels of the government severely limited the ability of individual officials to make progress in holding child sex traffickers accountable, and the government took no action to investigate or prosecute complicit officials.

Displaced Children: The government offered limited, inadequate services to street children at a rehabilitation center. A local NGO estimated the number of displaced children remained similar to 2014, with 1,200 to 1,500 street children in Phnom Penh with no relationship with their families, and 15,000 to 20,000 children who worked on the streets but returned to families in the evenings. In addition 200 to 400 children lived with their families on the streets in Phnom Penh.

A 2014 government inspection found that 70 percent of 12,000 orphans living in state and private centers had parents or other relatives. The number of orphanages in the country increased from 155 in 2005 to 225 in 2014, of which the government operated 23. NGOs and other observers alleged many private orphanages were mismanaged and populated by sham orphans in order to lure donations from foreigners.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

A small Jewish foreign resident community lived in Phnom Penh. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment of persons with disabilities. It includes persons with mental and intellectual disabilities in the definition of persons with disabilities and requires that public buildings and government services, including education, be accessible to persons with disabilities. The law does not address accessibility with respect to air travel or other transportation. The Ministry of Social Affairs has overall responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, although the law assigns specific tasks to other ministries, including the ministries of health, education, public works and transport, and national defense. The government requested all television channels to adopt sign-language interpretation for all programming. As of September only one major television station had sign-language interpretation. The Council of Ministers approved four subdecrees to support the law.

Programs administered by various NGOs resulted in substantial improvements in the treatment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, but they faced significant societal discrimination, especially in obtaining skilled employment.

Children with limited physical disabilities attended regular schools. Children with more significant disabilities attended segregated schools sponsored by NGOs in Phnom Penh. According to an NGO, education for students with more significant disabilities was not available outside of Phnom Penh.

There are no legal limitations on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, but the government did not make any concerted effort to assist their civic engagement.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The rights of minorities under the nationality law are not explicit; constitutional protections extend only to “Khmer people.” Citizens of Chinese and Vietnamese ethnicity constituted the largest ethnic minorities. Ethnic Chinese citizens were accepted in society, but societal animosity continued toward ethnic Vietnamese, who were widely deemed a threat to the country and culture. Some groups, including opposition political parties, made strong anti-Vietnamese statements and complained of political control of the CPP by the Vietnamese government, border encroachment, and other problems for which they held ethnic Vietnamese at least partially responsible.

Indigenous People

In support of efforts by indigenous communities to protect their ancestral lands and natural resources, the Ministry of Land issued communal land titles to 11 indigenous communities comprising 752 families living on 22,378 acres of land. NGOs criticized the slow implementation of communal titling and continued to call for a moratorium on land sales and land concessions affecting indigenous communities. International and local NGOs were active in educating the indigenous communities about the land registration process and providing legal representation in disputes.

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

There were no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, although some societal discrimination and stereotyping persisted, particularly in rural areas.

There were no reports of government discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, statelessness, or access to education or health care. Consensual same-sex relationships, however, were typically treated with fear and suspicion by the general population, and there were few support groups to which cases involving discrimination could be reported. Unofficial discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted. According to a 2015 report on LGBTI discrimination in schools published by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, 62.7 percent of LGBTI respondents reported being bullied, 93.6 percent of whom claimed it was in response to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Nearly 17 percent of those surveyed reported their teachers had bullied them.

A local LGBTI rights organization reported more than 100 incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTI individuals, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to a study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Heath Metrics and Evaluation, the number of persons in the country with HIV in 2015 was approximately 82,970, a 6.6 percent increase from 2014. A 2010 Demographic and Health Survey noted that 21 percent of women and 18 percent of men reported discriminatory attitudes towards those with HIV/AIDS. Following a 2014 incident in which an unlicensed medical practitioner unwittingly infected approximately 290 villagers with HIV, the victims reported widespread social stigma from fellow community members, some of whom refused to interact with the victims altogether.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their own choice without prior authorization, the right to strike, and the right to bargain collectively. The National Assembly adopted a new Law on Trade Unions (TUL) on April 4. Before going into full effect, the TUL requires the publication of nine implementing regulations, crucial in the interpretation of the TUL; four had been issued as of November. The TUL also calls for implementing legislation on the establishment of a labor tribunal.

The TUL imposes new limits on the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, and permits third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, while imposing only minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices. The law requires trade unions to file their charters, lists of officials, and banking details with the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. The TUL forbids unregistered unions from operating. The ILO offered, and the government accepted, an ILO “direct contacts mission,” expected in the first quarter of 2017, to provide guidance on compliance with international standards.

Civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health-care, and informal sectors may form only associations under the LANGO, not trade unions. The ILO continued to request the government to provide for the right of public employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Personnel in the air and maritime transportation industries are free to form unions but are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from the limitations on work hours prescribed by law.

Regulations on collective bargaining require one single union within an enterprise to demonstrate “most representative status” (MRS), meaning that the union represents the largest number of workers in a bargaining unit and at least 30 percent of all workers in an enterprise. Once a union has obtained MRS, no other union can represent workers in collective disputes. The TUL allows third parties to raise objections to granting a union most representative status, however, and these objections can form the grounds for government refusal of status. The ILO noted that allowing third party objections runs counter to internationally agreed labor rights related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Once a union achieves MRS, the law then requires employers to negotiate once the union proposes a collective bargaining agreement. The law binds both parties to agree to an orderly bargaining process and to propose reasonable offers and counteroffers. Employers must provide facilities to conduct union activities and all information relevant to the bargaining process at the request of the union.

The law stipulates workers can strike only after several requirements have been met, including: the successful registration of a union, the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as negotiation, mediation, or arbitration), a minimum of 60 days following the emergence of the dispute, a secret-ballot vote of the union membership, and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the labor ministry. The TUL states that the decision by a union to strike requires approval by an absolute majority of union members attending a strike meeting. The meeting must include a quorum of an absolute majority of the total union members. Once a union has successfully carried out a strike vote, the court has the power to issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

State enforcement of the right of association, including freedom from antiunion discrimination, and of collective bargaining rights was highly inconsistent. The law provides for a maximum fine of 5 million riels ($1,250) for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining provisions; nevertheless, acts of antiunion discrimination, intimidation, and retaliation by employers or members of government-aligned unions generally went unpunished. Close relationships among government officials, employers, and union leaders, particularly those operating progovernment unions, limited the government’s willingness to address violations of workers’ rights. These relationships deterred union leaders from reporting cases of discrimination and hampered the independent operation of unions, since the majority of the country’s unions were affiliated with the ruling party, and only a minority were affiliated with the opposition party or work independently. The government did not devote sufficient resources to enforcement, particularly to the provision of training and resources to provide a functioning labor inspectorate.

In cases of collective labor disputes, the labor ministry’s Department of Labor Disputes first attempts to settle the disputes. The department refers unresolved cases to the Arbitration Council, a state body that operates on donated funds and interprets labor regulations in collective disputes–such as when a single entity dismisses multiple employees. In general, prior to a hearing by the Arbitration Council, parties may choose whether to consider the council’s decisions as binding or not. If neither party objects to the arbitral award within eight days of its issue, then the dispute is considered resolved.

Many of the cases that the Arbitration Council reviews were in the textile and apparel industry. The majority of council rulings were not binding following the expiration in 2014 of a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding between the Garment Manufacturers in Cambodia (GMAC) industry group and eight union federations, which committed factories and workers to accept the rulings of the council. Since 2014 the signatories to the memorandum met three times to consult with each other regarding labor law issues. Some unions urged the government to expand the role of the council to include individual and collective-interest disputes and to make its decisions uniformly binding.

The labor ministry’s official dispute resolution procedure calls for conciliation first, followed by arbitration. In practice, however, the resolution of collective disputes was inconsistent. The creation of a Committee for the Settlement of Strikes and Demonstrations to deal with strike-related disputes has led to jurisdictional uncertainty with the Department of Labor Dispute Resolution. In some cases the ministry declined to engage in legal dispute resolution procedures altogether, instead sending a letter to the court seeking intervention. In other cases the ministry referred cases to the Arbitration Council without required paperwork, thus leaving these disputes unresolved.

Individual labor disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system is neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court, but as mandated by the TUL, the labor ministry committed to establish such courts (called labor tribunals) under its own jurisdiction by 2017. Debate continued over the composition and function of these labor courts, and as of December 13, the ministry had not clarified the nature of their relationship to the Arbitration Council.

Workers reported various obstacles while trying to exercise their right to associate freely. Some employers reportedly refused to sign notification letters to officially recognize unions (a situation for which the government offered no official redress), or to renew short-term contract employees who had joined unions. Moreover, many workers were hired into the garment sector as subcontractors, making unionization difficult.

Organization among public-sector workers continued to face significant obstacles. For example, the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association is registered with the Ministry of Interior as an “association” due to prohibitions on public-sector unions, and the government denied its requests for permission to march and protest. Another public-sector association, the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association, claimed fear of harassment, discrimination, or demotion deterred individuals from joining.

There were credible reports of antiunion harassment by employers, including the dismissal of union leaders in garment factories and other enterprises. Better Factories Cambodia (BFC), an ILO and International Monetary Fund program that inspects all factories holding export licenses, noted in its May 2015 to April report that 6.8 percent of factories deducted union dues without the free consent of workers, or prevented workers from forming or joining a union without the threat of termination. BFC also found that 2.9 percent of the factories examined interfered with workers or unions when they draw up their rules, hold elections, and organize their administration, and 2.9 percent of factories made significant efforts to bring unions under company control. BFC’s coverage is limited to the export sector; the actual level of union harassment industry-wide was likely higher, including dismissals, especially of union leaders; abuse of short term contracts; and physical harassment. Human Rights Watch recently reported that garment workers laboring in unregistered factories–most often subcontractors for larger, export-oriented factories–were far more vulnerable to abusive labor practices that violate local and international law. According to Human Rights Watch, “Some of the worst problems we documented took place in these subcontractor factories, and there should be a stronger emphasis on expanding inspections to them.”

No one was held responsible for the violence perpetrated against union protesters in 2014, which left five dead and dozens seriously injured. Many in civil society did not deem the government committees established to investigate these attacks credible. The ILO urged the government to release its own findings and conclusions to public scrutiny.

Following violent labor protests in 2013, GMAC filed complaints in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against six independent union federations, alleging the federations had incited workers to protest violently, resulting in damage to factory property and production. The court placed the union leaders under court supervision, barred them from joining or organizing any protests, moved them to a new address without notice, and ordered them to show up at a local government authority office on a monthly basis. As of December this order remained in effect. Criminal charges against the six independent trade union presidents were still pending as well. Worker leaders alleged that the politically influenced court continued to keep the cases pending to intimidate the independent union movement.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. While the majority of strikes were illegal, participating in an illegal strike was not by itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers pressured either unionists or strikers to accept compensation and leave their employment by reasoning that their short-term contracts had ended.

The union movement did not generally believe that remedies for such dismissals were effective. For example, the labor ministry issued a number of reinstatement orders, but these often provoked management efforts to pressure workers into resigning in exchange for a settlement. At times management failed to obey court orders for reinstatement. For example, in July 2015 the management of Capitol Tour Bus Company dismissed five union leaders a few days after they sought approval from the ministry to form a trade union. They were never rehired, despite a July 30 Arbitration Council ordering their reinstatement. By August 2015, 45 union leaders and members at the company had been dismissed because of their trade union activity. In February thugs dressed in black clothing and wearing helmets brutally attacked protesting workers from the bus company.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law in all cases. In particular government officials reported difficulties in verifying working conditions and salaries in the fishing, agricultural, construction, and domestic sectors due to the informal nature of their work. Penalties prescribed under law for forced labor were stringent, including imprisonment and fines. There was no evidence, however, of government efforts to highlight the issue of forced labor domestically. Moreover, there was some evidence that local law enforcement authorities were used by employers to keep workers in bonded labor, for example in the brick-making industry. Licadho cited several examples of such state intervention. In one case Licadho intervened on behalf of a young man who left his factory because the owner was taking all of his family’s earnings to repay their debt, leaving them entirely without cash. He went to a second factory where he tried to borrow money, but the owner of the first factory had police arrest the man’s parents and compel the son to return to work. In a second case, Licadho reported that a woman was working off a debt of 12 million riels ($3,000)–originally incurred by her son-in-law, but passed on to her when the son-in-law ran away from the factory. She wished to complain to police when her seven-year-old son was injured by factory machinery, but police told her if she filed a complaint, the factory owner would file a counter-complaint for immediate repayment of her son-in-law’s debt and she would go to prison.

Forced labor occurred in domestic service and in the informal sector. Children from impoverished families remained at risk because affluent households sometimes used a humanitarian pretense to hire children as domestic workers, only to abuse and exploit them (see section 7.c.). There were also reports of forced labor in the fishing, agricultural, and construction sectors.

BFC reported that six textile and apparel factories had cases of forced labor. Five of these cases related to forced overtime work, in which workers were required to obtain written approval from foreign supervisors before they could leave the factory. Workers complained they feared termination if they refused the overtime.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 years as the minimum age for employment and 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work. The law permits children between the ages of 12 and 15 years to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance. The law limits work by children between 12 and 15 years to no more than four hours on school days and seven hours on nonschool days, and prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. The government also bans the employment of children in sectors that pose major safety or health risks to minors. Minimum age protections, however, do not apply to domestic workers.

The labor ministry is responsible for child-labor inspections in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. In practice labor inspectors did not enforce labor standards in the informal sector or in illegal industries, such as unregistered garment factories operating without a license from the labor ministry and the Ministry of Commerce. Within the formal sector, labor inspectors conducted routine inspections of some industries, such as garment manufacturing (where the incidence of child labor was negligible), but in some of the industries with the highest child-labor risk, including agriculture, construction, and hospitality, labor inspections were entirely complaint driven. As of 2014, the latest year for which such data were available, there were 58 inspectors in the labor ministry’s Department of Child Labor trained to conduct child labor inspections. Labor ministry interdepartmental inspection teams, consisting of eight inspectors from eight departments, including one from the Department of Child Labor, continued to operate. Only inspectors trained in child labor inspection actively sought out child labor violations.

The Department of Child Labor reported that budget constraints limited their inspections to areas in and around Phnom Penh. The number of inspectors remained insufficient to enforce relevant laws and regulations. The labor law stipulates a fine of 31 to 60 times the prevailing monthly wage for defendants convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions. Such penalties were sufficient to deter violations but were rarely enforced.

Child labor was most widespread in agriculture, including in sugarcane production, brick making, salt production, shrimp processing, fishing, domestic service, rubber production, car repair, textiles, logging, slaughterhouses, and the production of alcoholic beverages. Children also worked as beggars, street vendors, shoe polishers, and scavengers. Instances of child labor also occurred in the garment, footwear, and hospitality sectors.

BFC reported that in the year ended in April, it confirmed 16 cases of child labor at the 381 factories covered in the report, a decline of 30 cases from the same period in 2015. Nonetheless, some children gained employment based on fake identity documents. These children worked full shifts, often with dangerous machinery. A 2015 media article reported about a 14-year-old girl who punched holes in 300 shoes per day and factory workers ages 16 or 17 who were required to work 15-hour shifts and were fired if they refused to work overtime more than once or twice.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, or union membership. Two separate laws explicitly prohibit discrimination based on HIV-positive status. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease. The constitution stipulates that Khmer citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not have the capacity to enforce these laws. Penalties under law for employment discrimination include fines and civil and administrative remedies. Fines for workplace discrimination varied from 2.5 million riels ($625) to 3.6 million riels ($900). BFC reported that in the garment and footwear sector, factory management heavily discriminated against men with respect to hiring and benefits, generally without consequence. BFC’s May 2015 to April report found a 10 percent rate of employment discrimination by gender. Causes varied from factories being reluctant to hire men due to perceived behavioral problems, as well as discrimination against women due to concerns about pregnancy and/or maternity leave. The ILO noted with concern reports of antiunion discrimination by employers through interference and dismissals of members of independent unions, as well as through the creation of employer-backed unions. The ILO called for revised legislation to provide adequate protection against antiunion discrimination and sufficiently dissuasive penalties.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law gives the labor union authority to establish a minimum wage based on recommendations from the Labor Advisory Committee, a tripartite group composed of representatives from the government, unions, and employer organizations. In October the committee announced the 2017 monthly minimum wage for garment workers would increase to 625,500 riels ($156) from the current minimum wage of 560,000 riels ($140) based on a 48-hour workweek. The law does not mandate a minimum wage for any other sector.

The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. The law permits employees to work up to a maximum of two hours of overtime each day. The law prohibits excessive overtime, states that all overtime must be voluntary, and provides for paid annual holidays. Workplaces are required to have health and safety standards adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. The law specifies penalties, and factories are assessed fines according to a complex formula based on the severity of the infraction. Labor ministry inspectors are empowered to assess these fines on the spot, without the necessary cooperation of police, but there are no specific provisions to protect workers who complain about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

The government did not effectively enforce hours and overtime regulations. Workers reported that overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory. Outside the garment industry, the government rarely enforced working hour regulations. Employers often coerced employees to work. Workers often faced fines, dismissal, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime.

The government enforced existing standards selectively, in part because it lacked trained staff and equipment. Labor ministry officials readily admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections on working hours. The ministry’s Department of Labor Inspection issued 183 warnings about violations in the first six month of the year, down from 197 warnings in the same period in 2015. It also levied fines on 19 entities, down from 29 in 2015. Although the ministry reported it employed 499 labor inspectors, the lack of financial resources, endemic corruption, and insufficient penalties hindered efficiency and the government’s enforcement of the law. Citing a lack of financial and human resources, the ministry did not conduct sufficient regular factory inspections. Although the ministry often decided in favor of employees, it rarely used its legal authority to penalize employers who defied its orders. For example, of 183 enterprises that received warnings about labor law violations from the ministry in the past year, only 19 received fines.

Work-related injuries and health problems were common. Most large garment factories producing for markets in developed countries met relatively high health and safety standards as conditions of their contracts with buyers. Working conditions in some small-scale factories and cottage industries were poor and often failed to meet international standards. The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) reported that during the first six months of the year, 16,080 workers suffered work-related injuries and 84 workers were killed. Of the 84 deaths, the NSSF reported that 66 died in traffic accidents. The NSSF did not make available any of its reports on fines or complaints against enterprises.

In its annual report covering the period from May 2015 to April, BFC reported that many areas related to occupational safety and health continued to be a challenge for garment factories and were often the result of a lack of proper policies, procedures, and division of roles and responsibilities. BFC reported that in 184 factories–50 percent of exporting factories–chemicals and hazardous substances were improperly labelled, stored, and exposed to workers. BFC found 166 factories noncompliant in required preparedness for emergencies such as fire or building collapse. BFC noted that 109 factories did not conduct emergency drills every six months, as required by law.

Mass fainting also remained a problem. The NSSF reported that during the first six months of the year, 285 workers fainted in six factories across the country while performing their jobs, down 47 percent from 538 fainting in the same period in 2015. There were no reports of serious injuries due to fainting. Observers reported that excessive overtime work, poor health, insufficient sleep, poor ventilation, lack of proper nutrition for workers, and toxic fumes from the production process all contributed to the mass fainting. Furthermore, commuting to work was dangerous for factory workers. The NSSF report highlighted that in 2015 there were 6,491 accidents involving 7,357 workers, in which 130 workers died and 1,068 were seriously injured.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Executive Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) is an authoritarian state led by the Kim family for more than 60 years. Shortly after Kim Jong-il’s death in late 2011, his son Kim Jong Un was named marshal of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the late Kim Il-sung, remains “eternal president.” The most recent national elections, held in 2014, were neither free nor fair.

Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Citizens did not have the ability to choose their government. The government subjected citizens to rigid controls over many aspects of their lives, including denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, movement, and worker rights. The government operated a network of political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor.

Defectors continued to report extrajudicial killings, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, and torture. The judiciary was not independent and did not provide fair trials. There were reports of female victims of trafficking among refugees and workers crossing the border into China. Domestic forced labor occurred, through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted that DPRK foreign contract workers also faced conditions of forced labor.

The government made no known attempts to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem.

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government committed arbitrary and unlawful killings.

Defector and refugee reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, repatriated defectors, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty for the most “serious” or “grave” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes, which included: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over of state secrets, broadly interpreted to include providing information about economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; suppressing the people’s movement for national liberation; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons.

NGOs and press reports indicated that border guards had orders to shoot to kill individuals leaving the country without permission, and prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps.

In August, the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) press announced that DPRK authorities executed Kim Yong Jin, a 63-year-old vice premier for education, in July by firing squad. South Korean media reported that government officials executed Hwang Min, former agricultural minister, and another education ministry official, Ri Yong-jin, by means of an antiaircraft gun in July, on orders by Kim Jong Un. According to press reports, the state carried out 15 executions in the first four months of 2015 as part of a continuing purge of senior government officials. In April 2015 the NGO Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) published a report supported by satellite imagery of a public execution in the country using antiaircraft machine guns.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. In October, Kyodo News reported that the state held 64 public executions in the first nine months of the year.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated that the government was responsible for disappearances.

In September 2015 the DPRK announced it had completed its reinvestigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK and had no new information to report. The DPRK suspended bilateral negotiations on the abductions issue in April 2015, citing Japan’s move to raise the issue in a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

ROK government and media reports noted that the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The ROK Ministry of Unification reported that an estimated 517 of its civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

HRNK’s Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances reported that the state demolished Sorimchon/Kumchon-ri zone within Yodok political penal-labor camp (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of this section of the camp remained unknown.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; and being hung by the wrists or forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse. Mothers were in some cases reportedly forced to watch the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

The 2016 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

The KINU white paper found that, in some cases of live birth, the prison guards killed the infant or left the baby to die, and it reported cases of guards sexually abusing or exploiting female prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

NGO, refugee, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2015 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.

There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of five kwanliso facilities, including Kaecheon (Camp 14), Hwaseong (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), and Chongjin (Camp 25). During the year reports continued to indicate that areas of Yodok (Camp 15) in South Hamkyung Province were closed or operating at a reduced capacity.

Kwanliso camps are comprised of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated that conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

Both the kyo-hwa-so re-education camps and kwan-li-so prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri. The report noted that “the brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”

According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongo-ri (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex. Jongno-ri’s women’s annex held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after repatriating them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongno-ri.

According to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Flooding at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12, Jongo-ri, the kyohwaso or re-education center No. 12, Jongo-ri is located approximately 300 miles northeast of Pyongyang and 15 miles south of Hoeryong City. The report estimated the prison population at Kyo-hwa-so No. 12 had ranged from 1,300 in the late 1990s to approximately 5,000 in recent years. The report highlighted the acute vulnerability of prisoners at this facility in northeastern North Korea, ravaged by heavy flooding as a result of Typhoon Lionrock. “This vulnerability has been exacerbated by the historically limited resources expended on civil infrastructure in this area by the central government in Pyongyang,” the report stated.

Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.”

There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions. The 2016 KINU white paper said that the decrease in the number of inmates from previous years could be the result of numerous deaths from harsh circumstances rather than any change in government policy.

Defectors also report that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners over 65 years of age. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person under age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person above age 14 and under age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law is actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

During the year the Database Center for North Korea Unified Human Rights indicated 953 cases of violations of the right to adequate food, highlighting these violations at various detention facilities. The data showed prisons had the highest level of these violations, with a percentage of 36.7 percent (350 cases), followed by investigation and detention facilities of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security with 26.4 percent (252 cases), police holding camps with 14.7 percent (140 cases), labor training camps with 12.8 percent (122 cases), and political prison camps with 6.6 percent (63 cases).

Administration: No information on recordkeeping processes was publicly available. There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years defectors reported that authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if the prisoners made their faith public, but no information was available regarding religious observance. No information was available on whether prisoners or detainees could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.

Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but reports pointed out that the government did not observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security, State Security, and the Military Security Command. Impunity was pervasive. The security forces do not investigate possible security force abuses. The government did not take action to reform the security forces. These organizations all played a role in the surveillance of citizens, maintaining arresting power, and conducting special purpose nonmilitary investigations. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations. Kim Jong Un continued to enforce this overlap to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Revisions to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2004, 2005, and 2009 added shortened periods of detention during prosecution and trial, arrest by warrant, and prohibition of collecting evidence by forced confessions. Confirmation that the state applied these changes has not been verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to a South Korean NGO, beginning in 2008 the People’s Safety Agency received authorization to handle criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors. Prosecutorial corruption reportedly necessitated the change. An NGO reported that investigators could detain an individual for the purpose of investigation for up to two months. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for considering release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2014 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse for petitioning for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state. No known information on a bail system and no information on detainees receiving a lawyer were available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states that courts are independent and that courts will carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary did not exist.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The MPS dispensed with trials in political cases and referred prisoners to the MSS for punishment. Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states that the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed that the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. The MSS conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the MSS also conducted trials. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. According to the 2013 Hidden Gulag report, the state sent most inmates to prison camps without trial, without knowing the charges against them, and without having legal counsel. The 2010 Witness to Transformation study reported that only 13 percent of the 102 respondents surveyed whom the state had incarcerated in the country received a trial. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the UN COI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the current year’s KINU white paper reported that the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and the media reported that political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. The government did not permit access to persons by international humanitarian organizations or religious organizations resident in China. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il-sung’s or Kim Jong-il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il-sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The UN COI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners are, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

According to the constitution, “…citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” Under the Law on Complaint and Petition, citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted that government officials did not respect these rights. Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. The government reportedly relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants to identify critics and potential troublemakers. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, e-mail, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

The 2016 KINU white paper, citing South Korean press, estimated there were 3.8 million cell phone users at the end of 2015. Authorities strictly monitored mobile phone use. Press reports indicated that DPRK authorities attempted to jam cellular phone signals along the China-DPRK border to block the use of the Chinese cell network to make international phone calls. Authorities arrested those caught using such cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. Testimonies recorded by NGOs indicated that prisoners could avoid punishment through bribery of DPRK officials.

The Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) is the key governing body in the country; with party membership dictated by social and family background and remaining the key determinant of social mobility. The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as “songbun,” which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

Authorities placed citizens into one of 51 songbun categories based on the perceived loyalty of their family to the government.

Numerous reports noted that authorities practiced collective punishment. The state imprisoned entire families, including children, when one member of the family was accused of a crime. Collective punishment reportedly can extend to three generations.

NGOs reported the eviction of families from their places of residence without due process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.

The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government sought to control virtually all information. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media. Independent media did not exist. The Propaganda and Agitation Department controls all media in the country. Within the department the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. The Associated Press (AP) operated an all-format news bureau in Pyongyang, but international AP reporters were not resident in country. Numerous media sources reported that Agence France-Presse inaugurated its Pyongyang bureau on Sept 6. Government officials deported a foreign British Broadcasting Corporation journalist and his team, who received an invitation to cover the Workers Party Congress in May, after the government reportedly took offense at their reports highlighting aspects of life in Pyongyang.

Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had little freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued to attempt to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts, and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the gatekeeper to the intranet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that some e-mail access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to e-mail accounts.

In June 2015 press reported that foreign visitors in Pyongyang began receiving mobile alerts when they attempted to access Instagram, a social media app. Some experts speculated the state blocked the app in response to leaked photos of a fire in a luxury hotel in Pyongyang shared online through the app. In April North Korea formally announced it would block foreigners from visiting Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and South Korean websites. Foreign visitors reported Facebook and Twitter had been blocked for months prior to the announcement.

South Korean media reports indicated an increase in cyber hacking by North Korea during the year. Specifically, a South Korean website that focuses on North Korean issues, said, “To date, more than 50 defectors residing in South Korea have had their personal computers attacked by North Korean hackers.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.

The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.

The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013.

Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, the independent consulting firm InterMedia estimated that as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors who were interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.

The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, for short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

In September international press reported that China constructed a new facility to detain North Koreans without proper documentation. News reports in May 2015 stated that the DPRK had erected additional barbed-wire fencing on the North Korean side of the Tumen River.

The South Korean press reported that the government issued orders for guards to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official sanction. NGOs reported that Kim Jong Un called for stricter punishments for those suspected of illegal border crossing. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection, including the attempt to gain entry to a foreign diplomatic facility for the purpose of seeking political asylum. Individuals who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases the state subjects defectors or asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily for foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated that authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

Past reports from defectors noted that the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who might be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning) and persons who crossed repeatedly for political purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsh punishment, including death). This included persons who had alleged contact with religious organizations based on the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

The government subjected repatriated refugees to harsh punishments, including imprisonment. The government reportedly continued to enforce the policy that all border crossers be sent to prison or re-education centers.

On December 7, the ROK Unification Ministry said that the number of North Korean defectors coming to the ROK had increased 16.7 percent year-on-year, as more elites and overseas workers chose to flee their home country. According to the Unification Ministry, the total number of North Korean defectors resettled in the ROK exceeded 30,000. As of November, the number of North Koreans admitted during the year was expected to reach 1,400 by year’s end–the highest number since 2011. Observers attributed this increase to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror and toughened sanctions on the North. According to South Korean media reports, the National Intelligence Service disclosed in October 2015 to the Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly that 46 members of the North Korean elite fled from North Korea in the past three years.

According to Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s second-highest diplomat at their embassy in London, Thae Yong Ho, defected to South Korea with his family in August. Media also widely reported that 13 North Korean restaurant workers defected from China to South Korea in April, one of the largest group defections in the past few years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the SPA. The government regularly criticized the concept of free elections and competition among political parties as an “artifact of capitalist decay.”

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women constituted approximately 4.5 percent of the membership of the Central Committee of the WPK but held few key WPK leadership positions.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

We cannot verify whether the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption. While international organizations widely report that senior officials engage in corrupt practices with impunity, this year Kim Jong Un presided over a rare high-level government meeting to address rampant corruption by authorities.

Corruption: Foreign press outlets reported that Kim Jong Un’s high-level corruption meetings marked perhaps the first public recognition of systemic abuse of power believed to run rampant within the ruling party. While corruption was reportedly widespread in all parts of the economy and society and endemic in the security forces, this meeting was rare in publically acknowledging and criticizing these practices. Specifically it addressed the practice of senior officials who sought privileges, misused authority, abused power, and manifested bureaucratism in the party. Additionally, reports of diversion of food to the military and government officials and bribery were indicative of corruption in the government and security forces. Multiple ministries and party offices were responsible for handling issues of corruption.

Financial Disclosure: We do not know whether the state subjects public officials to financial disclosure laws and whether a government agency is responsible for combating corruption.

Public Access to Information: There are no known laws that provide for public access to government information.

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

There were no independent domestic organizations to monitor human rights conditions or comment on the status of such rights. The country reported that many organizations, including the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, General Association of Trade Unions, Agricultural Workers Union, and Democratic Women’s Union, engaged in human rights activities, but observers could not verify the activities of these organizations.

The international NGO community and numerous international experts continued to testify to the grave human rights situation in the country. The government decried international statements about human rights abuses in the country as politically motivated interference in internal affairs. The government asserted that criticism of its human rights record was an attempt by some countries to cover up their own abuses and that such hypocrisy undermined human rights principles.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government emphasized that it had ratified a number of UN human rights instruments, but it continued to refuse to cooperate with UN representatives. The government prevented the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK from visiting the country to carry out his mandate, which it continued to refuse to recognize.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies denied the existence of any human rights violations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The government appeared to criminalize rape, but no information was available on details of the law or how effectively it was enforced. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, the North Korean Law for the Protection of Women’s Rights includes a provision prohibiting domestic violence, but no legal provisions stipulating penalties for domestic violence. Defectors report that violence against women is a significant problem both inside and outside the home. According to the 2015 KINU survey of defectors conducted from 2011-15, 81 percent of respondents believed domestic violence was “common.” The UN COI report found the subjugation of inmates and a general climate of impunity created an environment in which guards and other prisoners in privileged positions raped female inmates. When cases of rape came to light, the perpetrator often escaped with mere dismissal or no punishment.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C was not practiced in DPRK.

Sexual Harassment: Women who left the country reported that while citizens understood “sexual violation,” they did not define the term “sexual harassment” in the country. Despite the 1946 Law on Equality of the Sexes, defectors reported that the populace generally accepted sexual harassment of women due to patriarchal traditions. Defectors reported that there was little recourse for women who had been harassed.

Reproductive Rights: Obtaining accurate information regarding reproductive rights was difficult. The country’s initial report to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, submitted in 2002, claimed “family planning is mapped out by individual families in view of their actual circumstances and in compliance with laws, regulations, morality, and customs…women have the decision of the spacing of children in view of their own wish, health condition, and the like. But usually the spacing of children is determined by the discussion between the wife and the husband.” Independent sources were not able to substantiate this claim.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a sociodemographic health survey conducted in 2014 estimated the contraceptive prevalence rate among married women was approximately 77 percent, up from 65 in 2010. The intrauterine device dominated almost all available methods of contraception. While 92 percent of demand for family planning was reportedly satisfied, contraceptive choice and access to counseling services were limited. Defector interviews indicate that those in prison camps or not in the privileged class do not share the same access as UNFPA respondents.

In 2014 more than 90 percent of pregnant women attended at least four antenatal clinic visits. While more than 90 percent of women delivered in health facilities, health infrastructure and the quality of services remain a concern. A needs assessment of emergency obstetric and neonatal care jointly undertaken by UNFPA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2013 indicated that lower-level hospitals lacked sufficient medical instruments, equipment, and supplies. Surveyors identified a lack of knowledge and skills of health workers, as were gaps in the commodity logistics management system. The World Food Program found that 31 percent of women surveyed suffered from anemia, which increases the likelihood of maternal mortality and morbidity. A 2015 KINU survey of defectors found that 86 percent of respondents stated the family doctor system was “useless.”

The 2015 KINU white paper also cited very high levels of maternal and infant mortality. The state reportedly subjected pregnant women sentenced to detention centers following their repatriation to forced abortions.

Discrimination: The constitution states that “women hold equal social status and rights with men”; however, few women reached high levels of the party or the government. KINU reported that discrimination against women emerged in the form of differentiated pay scales, promotions, and types of work assigned to women.

The foreign press and think tanks reported that, while women were less likely than men to be assigned full-time jobs, they had more opportunity to work outside the socialist economy.

According to the KINU 2015 white paper, officials did not approve divorces without bribes.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from one’s parents and, in some cases, birth within the country’s territory.

Education: The law provides for 12 years of free compulsory education for all children. Reports indicated that authorities denied some children educational opportunities and subjected them to punishments and disadvantages as a result of the loyalty classification system and the principle of “collective retribution” for the transgressions of family members. NGO reports also noted some children were unable to attend school regularly because of hidden fees or insufficient food. NGOs reported that children in the total control zones of political prisons did not receive the same curriculum or quality of education.

Foreign visitors and academic sources reported that from the fifth grade, schools subjected children to several hours a week of mandatory military training and that all children received political indoctrination.

Medical Care: We cannot confirm whether boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care. Access to health care largely depended on loyalty to the government.

Child Abuse: Information about societal or familial abuse of children remained unavailable. The law states that a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under age 15 shall be “punished gravely.” There was no reporting on whether the government upheld this law.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law provides that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years old for men and 17 years old for women.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: As many girls and young women attempt to flee repressive and malnourished conditions for their own survival or the betterment of their family, the 2014 Commission of Inquiry noted they often become subjected to sexual exploitation by traffickers. Traffickers promised these young girls jobs in other parts of North Korea or in neighboring countries, but then sold them into forced marriages, domestic servitude, or made to work as prostitutes after being smuggled out of the country. Other traffickers waited across the North Korean border for women and girls to cross, abducting them and forcing them into exploitative situations. Girls trapped in these relationships are routinely subjected to sexual and physical violence and rape. One trafficking survivor stated that after being sold to a man in China, she spent the first six months locked in his house and was forced to have sex with him. Despite having begged every time not to have sex, he beat her when she tried to resist.

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

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The 2016 KINU report said there were forced abortions of pregnant midget persons, as well as testimonies of a “program of sterilization of midget persons.”

Displaced Children: According to NGO reports, there were numerous street children, many of them orphans, who had inconsistent access to education.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of children born into kwanliso political prison camps as a result of “reward marriages” between inmates. Guards subjected children living in prison camps to torture if they or a family member violated the prison rules. Reports noted that authorities subjected children to forced labor for up to 12 hours per day and did not allow them to leave the camps. Prisons offered them limited access to education.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no known Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

In 2013 the country announced that it modified its Person with Disability Protection Law in order to meet the international standards of rights for persons with disabilities. In the national report it presented during the May 2015 Universal Periodic Review, the government estimated persons with disabilities constituted 5.8 percent of the population.

While a 2003 law mandates equal access to public services for persons with disabilities, the state has not enacted the implementing legislation. Traditional social norms condone discrimination against persons with disabilities, including in the workplace (also see section 7.d.). While the state treated veterans with disabilities well, they reportedly sent other persons with physical and mental disabilities from Pyongyang to internal exile, quarantined within camps, and forcibly sterilized. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in accessing public life.

The Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled coordinated work with persons with disabilities countrywide. State media reported in July that the government launched a website for the protection of persons with disabilities, and they improved educational content in schools for children with disabilities to provide professional skills training. Independent observers were unable to verify the report.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly expressed concern about de facto discrimination against children with disabilities and insufficient measures taken by the state to ensure these children had effective access to health, education, and social services.

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights 2013 report on the Status of Women’s Rights in the Context of Socio-Economic Changes in the DPRK found that the birth of a baby with disabilities–regardless of circumstances–was considered a “curse,” and doctors lacked training to diagnose and treat such persons. The report stated there were no welfare centers with specialized protection systems for those born with disabilities. Citizens’ Alliance also cited reports that the country maintained a center (Hospital 8.3) for abandoned individuals with disabilities, where officials subjected residents to chemical and biological testing.

UNICEF noted that very high levels of malnutrition indicated serious problems for both the physical growth and psychosocial development of young children. Final results from the 2012 National Nutrition Survey estimated 475,868 children (28 percent) were stunted and 68,225 children (4 percent) acutely malnourished. The report concluded that the acute nutritional status of children had improved moderately since they last carried out a nationwide survey including nutrition indicators in 2009.

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

There are no laws against consensual same-sex activity, but little information was available on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In April 2014 the Korean Central News Agency, the state news agency, denied the existence of consensual same-sex activity in the country and reported, “The practice can never be found in the DPRK boasting of sound mentality and good morals.” In February defector Jang Yeong-jin published a memoir entitled “A Mark of Red Honor” in which he provided a first-person account of a homosexual person living in the DPRK. He noted there is no concept of homosexuality and no awareness of the issue among the populace. He could not enjoy an ordinary, regular life.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

No information was available regarding discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but workers do not have the right to form or join independent unions, strike, or bargain collectively. Unlawful assembly may result in five years of correctional labor. While the law stipulates that employees working for foreign companies may form trade unions and that foreign enterprises must provide conditions for union activities, the law does not protect workers who might attempt to engage in union activities from employer retaliation, nor does it provide penalties for employers who interfere in union activities.

There were no known labor organizations other than those created and controlled by the government. The WPK purportedly represents the interests of all labor. The central committee of the WPK directly controls several labor organizations in the country, including the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea and the Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea. Operating under this umbrella, unions functioned according to a classic Stalinist model, with responsibility for mobilizing workers to support production goals and for providing health, education, cultural, and welfare facilities.

The government controlled all aspects of employment, including assigning jobs and determining wages. Joint ventures and foreign-owned companies were required to hire their employees from government-vetted lists. The government organized factory and farm workers into councils, which had an effect on management decisions. They established the first special economic zone (SEZ) in the Rajin-Sonbong area in 1991. The same labor laws that apply in the rest of the country apply in the Rajin-Sonbong SEZ. The government selected the workers permitted to work in the SEZ. The government announced the establishment of 13 new SEZs in 2013, six additional SEZs in 2014, and two more SEZs in 2015.

In February the ROK government closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), citing North Korea’s “extremely provocative act” of launching a satellite using ballistic missile technology. Under a special law the KIC, located close to the demilitarized zone between the ROK and the DPRK, operated under special regulations covering labor issues that did not contain provisions that stipulate freedom of association or the right to bargain collectively. The government reportedly selected worker representatives in KIC workplaces, subject to the approval of South Korean company management (also see sections 7.b. and 7.e.).

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Nonetheless, the government mobilized the population for construction and other labor projects. “Reformatory labor” and “re-education through labor,” sometimes of entire families, have traditionally been common punishments for political offenses. Forced and compulsory labor in such activities as logging, mining, tending crops, and manufacturing continued to be the common fate of political prisoners. Re-education involved memorizing speeches by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The law requires all citizens of working age to work and “strictly observe labor discipline and working hours.” There were numerous reports that farms and factories did not pay wages or provide food to their workers. Forced labor continued to take place in brick making, cement manufacturing, coal mining, gold mining, logging, iron production, agriculture, and textile industries. NGOs reported authorities ordered some university students to abandon their studies to work on campus beautification projects early in 2015.

According to reports from an NGO, during the implementation of short-term economic plans, factories and farms increased workers’ hours and asked workers for contributions of grain and money to purchase supplies for renovations and repairs. By law failure to meet economic plan goals may result in two years of “labor correction.” There were reports that workers were required to work at enterprises to which the government assigned them and then failed to compensate or undercompensated them for their work. Additionally, in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, South Korean employers paid wages for North Korean workers directly to DPRK authorities. Workers were reportedly aware of their monthly earnings as companies required them to sign time records acknowledging salaries paid to North Korean managers on their behalf, yet it remained unclear how much of these earnings were transferred to individual workers (also see section 7.e.).

The NGO Human Rights Watch reported that the government operated regional, local, or subdistrict level “labor training centers” and forced detainees to work for short periods doing hard labor, receiving little food, and subject to abuse, including regular beatings. Authorities reportedly sent individuals to such centers if suspected of engaging in simple trading schemes or unemployed.

There were an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 North Korean citizens working as overseas laborers, primarily in Russia and China. The UN special rapporteur on the DPRK noted that while the state sent most to Russia and China to work, they were also reportedly found in Algeria, Angola, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Libya, Malta, Malaysia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Singapore, South Sudan, Tanzania, and the United Arab Emirates. Numerous NGOs noted that these citizens were in conditions of forced labor. NGO reports indicated the government managed these laborers as a matter of state policy and were under constant and close surveillance by DPRK security agents. Laborers worked between 12 and 16 hours per day, and sometimes up to 20 hours per day, with only one or two rest days per month. Employers stated the average wage as 270,000 to 900,000 won per month ($300 to $1,000), but in most cases employing firms paid salaries directly to the DPRK government, which took between 70 percent and 90 percent of the total earnings, leaving approximately 90,000 won ($100) per month for worker take home pay. The government reportedly received in the $100s of millions (more than a trillion won) from this system per year. The state reportedly withheld some wages in certain instances until the laborers returned home after the completion of their three-year contracts, making them vulnerable to deception and exploitation by authorities. On June 8, the DPRK forced laborers in Kuwait went on strike after failing to receive their salaries in a rare display of defiance against the government. The workers took this action after a state construction company operating in Kuwait informed them they would be paid with checks rather than in cash for their monthly salary. In the aftermath of the protest, DPRK officials summoned the workers back to the DPRK. A similar strike took place in Qatar in March when employers forced workers to increase their hours without additional pay.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

By law the state prohibits work by children under age 16. Neither the general labor law nor Kaesong Industrial Complex labor law prohibits hazardous child labor. The law criminalizes forced child labor, but there were reports that such practices occurred.

Officials occasionally sent schoolchildren to work in factories or fields for short periods to assist in completing special projects, such as snow removal on major roads or meeting production goals. The NGO Human Rights Watch reported in 2015 that the government required students to work without pay on farms twice a year, for one month at a time, during ploughing and seeding and again at harvest time. The effects of such forced labor on students included physical and psychological injuries, malnutrition, exhaustion, and growth deficiencies. NGOs reported government officials held thousands of children and forced them to work in labor camps with their parents.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

While the law provides that all citizens “may enjoy equal rights in all spheres of state and public activities” and all “able-bodied persons may choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills,” the law does not prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. There is no direct reference to employment discrimination in the law, yet classification based on the songbun system has a bearing on equal employment opportunities and equal pay.

Despite the law according women equal social status and rights, societal and legal discrimination against women continued. The 2014 UN COI report noted that, despite the economic advancement of women, the state continued to discriminate against them and imposed many restrictions on the female-dominated market. Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

No reliable data were available on the minimum wage in state-owned industries. Monthly wages in some enterprises in the heavy industrial sectors as well as in the textile and garment sector reportedly increased from 3,000 to 4,000 won ($0.30 to$0.40) to 30,000 won ($30) in 2013, with approximately one-third of the wage paid in cash and the remainder in kind.

The law stipulates an eight-hour workday; however, some sources reported that laborers worked longer hours, perhaps including additional time for mandatory study of the writings of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. The law provides all citizens with a “right to rest,” including one day’s rest per week (Sunday), paid leave, holidays, and access to sanitariums and rest homes funded at public expense; however, the state’s willingness and ability to provide these services were unknown. Foreign diplomats reported that workers had 15 days of paid leave plus paid national holidays.

The law recognizes the state’s responsibility for providing modern and hygienic working conditions. The law criminalizes the failure to heed “labor safety orders” pertaining to worker safety and workplace conditions, but only if the conditions result in the loss of lives or other “grave loss.” Workers themselves do not have a designated right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions.

Mandatory participation in mass events on holidays and practice sessions for such events sometimes compromised leave or rest from work. Workers were often required to “celebrate” at least some part of public holidays with their work units and were able to spend an entire day with their families only if the holiday lasted two days. Failures to pay wages were common and reportedly drove some workers to seek income-generating activity in the informal or underground economy.

Many worksites were hazardous, and the industrial accident rate was high. Citizens labored under harsh conditions while working abroad for state-owned firms and under arrangements between the government and foreign firms (see section 7.b.).

Endnote: Note on Sourcing

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The DPRK does not allow representatives of foreign governments, journalists, or other invited guests the freedom of movement that would enable them to assess fully human rights conditions or confirm reported abuses.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia is officially a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controls the government. In May 2015 elections the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 House of People’s Representatives seats to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. In October 2015 parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the vote. A mission from the African Union, the sole international institution or organization permitted to observe the voting, called the elections “calm, peaceful and credible.” Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported an environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place prior to the election. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters, and violence before and after the election that resulted in six confirmed deaths.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces, and local police in rural areas and local militias sometimes acted independently.

Security forces used excessive force against protesters throughout the year, killing hundreds and injuring many more. The protests were mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions. At year’s end more than 10,000 persons were believed still to be detained. This included persons detained under the government-declared state of emergency, effective October 8. Many were never brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime. On June 10, the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported and presented to parliament a summary of its report. The EHRC counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted that security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. On August 13, the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported an estimate that security forces killed more than 500 protesters. In October the prime minister stated the deaths in Oromia Region alone “could be more than 500.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to Oromia and Amhara regions, which the government refused. Following dozens of deaths at a religious festival in Bishoftu on October 2, groups committed property damage. On November 9, international NGO Amnesty International reported more than 800 persons were killed since November 2015.

The most significant human rights problems were security forces’ use of excessive force and arbitrary arrest in response to the protests, politically motivated prosecutions, and continued restrictions on activities of civil society and NGOs.

Other human rights problems included arbitrary killings; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest, detention without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention; a weak, overburdened judiciary subject to political influence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches; a lack of participatory consultations and information during the implementation of the government’s “villagization” program; restrictions on civil liberties including freedom of speech and press, internet freedom, academic freedom and of cultural events, and freedom of assembly, association, and movement; interference in religious affairs; only limited ability of citizens to choose their government; police, administrative, and judicial corruption; restrictions on activities of civil society and NGOs; violence and societal discrimination against women; female genital mutilation/cutting; abuse of children; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons based on their gender identity and sexual orientation, and persons with HIV/AIDS; societal violence including violence based on ethnicity, property destruction, and the killing of security force members; and limits on worker rights, forced labor, and child labor, including forced child labor.

Impunity was a problem. The government generally did not take steps to prosecute or otherwise punish officials who committed abuses other than corruption.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government and its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Security forces used excessive force against protesters throughout the year, killing hundreds. The protests were mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions. A March 14 report from the independent Ethiopian NGO Human Rights Council (HRCO) covering 33 districts in Oromia from November 2015 to February 20 described more than 100 extrajudicial killings. On June 10, the government-established EHRC reported to parliament that it counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. The EHRC did not publicly release its report. On August 13, HRW estimated security forces killed more than 500 protesters.

On August 6 and 7, security forces reportedly killed approximately 100 persons in response to demonstrations in major cities and towns across the Oromia and Amhara regions. Political opposition groups reported government forces killed more than 90 protesters in Oromia. The Amhara regional government reported seven deaths; other sources reported more than 50 were killed in Amhara Region.

b. Disappearance

Individuals reportedly arrested by security forces as part of the government’s response to protests disappeared. In a June report on the government’s response to Oromo protests, HRW reported hundreds of persons were “unaccounted for” including children.

Due to poor prison administration, family members reported individuals missing who were in custody of prison officials, but whom the families could not locate.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.

In its June report, HRW reported security force members beat detainees, including minors. Security force members used wooden sticks, rubber truncheons, and whips to do so. According to the report, several students stated they were hung by their wrists and whipped, four said they received electric shocks to their feet, and two had weights tied to their testicles. Several female detainees reported security force members raped them. The report stated, “Most of the individuals interviewed by HRW who were detained for more than one month described treatment that appeared to amount to torture.”

Mistreatment reportedly occurred at Maekelawi, official detention centers, unofficial detention centers, police stations, and in Kilinto federal prison. There were reports police investigators used physical and psychological abuse to extract confessions in Maekelawi, the federal crime investigation center in Addis Ababa that often held high-profile political prisoners. Interrogators reportedly administered beatings and electric shocks to extract information and confessions from detainees. HRW reported abuses, including torture, that occurred at Maekelawi. In a 2013 report, HRW described beatings, stress positions, the hanging of detainees by their wrists from the ceiling, prolonged handcuffing, pouring of water over detainees, verbal threats, and solitary confinement. Authorities continued to restrict access by diplomats and NGOs to Maekelawi, although some NGOs reported limited access.

The United Nations reported that during the year (as of December 20) it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against Ethiopian peacekeepers for an incident alleged to have occurred during the year. The allegation, against military personnel deployed to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, was investigated by the Ethiopian government and found to be unsubstantiated.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. There were reports that authorities beat and tortured prisoners in detention centers, military facilities, and police stations. Medical attention following beatings reportedly was insufficient in some cases. Prisoners died in fires.

The country had six federal and 120 regional prisons. During the state of emergency, effective since October 8, the government announced detention centers in Awash, Ziway, and Dilla and stated suspects could be detained at various police stations in Addis Ababa. There also were many unofficial detention centers throughout the country, including in Dedessa, Bir Sheleko, Tolay, Hormat, Blate, Tatek, Jijiga, Holeta, and Senkele. As part of the government’s response to the protests, persons were also detained in military facilities, local administration offices, and makeshift government-owned sites.

A local NGO supported model prisons in Adama, Mekelle, Debre Birhan, Durashe, and Awassa; these prisons had significantly better conditions than those in other prisons.

Pretrial detention often occurred in police station detention facilities, where conditions varied widely, but reports indicated poor hygiene and police abuse of detainees.

Physical Conditions: Authorities sometimes incarcerated juveniles with adults. Prison officials generally separated male and female prisoners, although mixing occurred at some facilities.

Severe overcrowding was common, especially in prison sleeping quarters. The government provided approximately nine birr ($0.40) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care, although this amount varied across the country. Many prisoners supplemented this amount with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Other reports noted officials prevented some prisoners from receiving food from their families. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional ones. Prisoners had only limited access to potable water. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities. Many prisoners had serious health problems but received little or no treatment. There were reports prison officials denied some prisoners access to needed medical care. In 2012 the Ministry of Health stated nearly 62 percent of inmates in jails across the country experienced mental health problems due to solitary confinement, overcrowding, and lack of adequate health-care facilities and services.

The June HRW report on government response to Oromo protests stated detainees reported overcrowding, inadequate access to food and water, and solitary confinement, including in military camps. The report stated men and women were not held in the same cells in most locations, but children were detained with adults.

Fires in prisons occurred in Gondar in December 2015, in Ambo on February 19, in Debretabor on September 1, and, on September 3, at Kilinto Prison where at least 23 inmates died.

Visitors of political prisoners and other sources reported political prisoners often faced significantly different treatment compared with other prisoners. Allegations included lack of access to proper medication or any medical treatment, lack of access to books or television, and denial of exercise time. In at least one case, when such complaints were openly raised in a court of law, the presiding judges referred the complaints to the prison administration, which had already refused to look into the complaints.

Administration: Due to the lack of transparency regarding incarceration, it was difficult to determine if recordkeeping was adequate. There were reports prisoners mistreated by prison guards did not have access to prison administrations to complain. Prisons did not have ombudspersons to respond to complaints. Legal aid clinics existed in some prisons for the benefit of prisoners, and at the regional level had good working relations with judicial, prison, and other government officials. Prison officials allowed detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Courts sometimes declined to hear such complaints.

The law permits prisoners to have visitors. According to the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), a lawyer is permitted to visit only one client per day, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Authorities allegedly denied family members access to persons charged with terrorist activity. There were also reports authorities denied the accused visits with lawyers or with representatives of the political parties to which they belonged. In some cases police did not allow pretrial detainees access to visitors, including family members and legal counsel.

After the September 3 fire in the federal prison at Kilinto, attorneys reported visitation for several prisoners was restricted to closely prison visits by family members only. Conversations could not touch on subjects such as trials, politics, and allegations of abuse. This was reported in the prisons in Kilinto, Shewa Robit, and Ziway. These restrictions also applied to political prisoners.

Officials permitted religious observance by prisoners, but this varied by prison, and even by section within a prison, at the discretion of prison management. There were allegations authorities denied detainees adequate locations in which to pray. Prisoners could voice complaints regarding prison conditions or treatment to the presiding judge during their trials.

Independent Monitoring: During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons throughout the country as part of its normal activities. The government did not permit access to prisons by other international human rights organizations.

Regional authorities had allowed government and NGO representatives to meet with prisoners without third parties present. By September such allowances were severely curtailed, however. Prison officials reportedly denied access to prisoners for civil society representatives and family members, including in undisclosed locations. The government-established EHRC, which is funded by parliament and subject to parliamentary oversight, monitored federal and regional detention centers and interviewed prison officials and prisoners in response to allegations of widespread human rights abuses. An NGO continued to have access to various prison and detention facilities around the country.

Improvements: The government constructed two new prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the state of emergency regulations allowed law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals without a court warrant. There were thousands of reports of arbitrary arrest and detention related to protests. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, professors, university students, musicians, businesspersons, health workers, journalists, children, and others. Security forces went door-to-door after protests to conduct arrests and arbitrarily detained opposition party members and supporters, accusing them of inciting violence.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Federal Police report to the Office of the Prime Minister and are subject to parliamentary oversight. The oversight was loose. Each of the nine regions has a state or special police force that reports to regional civilian authorities. Local militias operated across the country in loose and varying coordination with regional and federal police and the military. In some cases these militias functioned as extensions of the ruling party. The military played a significant role in responding to the protests. The constitution provides for the military to perform duties assigned to it under a state of emergency.

Impunity remained a serious problem, including impunity for killings of and violence against protesters. The internal mechanisms used to investigate abuses by federal police were not known. On June 10, the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission reported to parliament on the protests, stating it confirmed 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 security force members and officials, and asserted security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. The commission did not publicly release its report. The government rarely publicly disclosed the results of investigations into abuses by local security forces, such as arbitrary detention and beatings of civilians.

The government continued to support human rights training for police and army personnel. It continued to accept assistance from NGOs and the EHRC to improve and professionalize its human rights training and curriculum by including more material on the constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require detainees be brought to court and charged within 48 hours of arrest or as soon thereafter as local circumstances and communications permit. Travel time to the court is not included in the 48-hour period. With a warrant, authorities may detain persons suspected of serious offenses for 14 days without charge and for additional and renewable 14-day periods if an investigation continues. The courts allowed security officials to continue investigations for more than 14 days without bringing formal charges against suspects.

Under the ATP police may request to detain persons without charge for 28-day periods, up to a maximum of four months, while an investigation is conducted. The law permits warrantless arrests for various offenses including “flagrant offenses.” These include offenses in which the suspect was found committing the offense, attempting to commit the offense, or just completing the offense. The ATP permits a warrantless arrest when police reasonably suspect a person has committed or is committing a terrorist act.

The law prohibits detention in any facility other than an official detention center; however, local militias and other formal and informal law enforcement entities used an unknown number of unofficial local detention centers. As part of the government’s response to the protests, persons also were detained in military facilities.

A functioning bail system was in place. Bail was not available for persons charged with terrorism, murder, treason, and corruption. In most cases authorities set bail between 500 and 10,000 birr ($22 and $444), which most citizens could not afford. The government provided public defenders for detainees unable to afford private legal counsel but only when cases went to court. There were reports that while some detainees were in pretrial detention, authorities allowed them little or no contact with legal counsel, did not provide full information on their health status, and did not allow family visits. There were reports officials held some prisoners incommunicado for weeks at a time, and civilians were also placed under house arrest for an undisclosed period of time.

The constitution requires authorities under a state of emergency to announce the names of detainees within one month of their arrest. In practice, the names of those detained under the state of emergency were generally announced. The names were not always made available within 30 days and civilians were not always able to locate the rosters of names of those imprisoned.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities regularly detained persons arbitrarily, including protesters, journalists, and opposition party members. There were thousands of reports of arbitrary arrest by security forces in response to protests. The March 14 HRCO report listed 84 individuals under “illegal detention,” with four having subsequently been released.

On March 8, authorities detained 20 students from Addis Ababa University and charged them under the criminal code with inciting the public through false rumors, holding an illegal demonstration, and encouraging the public to disobey the ATP. On August 1, the Federal First Instance Court acquitted nine of the students and reduced the charges against the 11 others, whose trial continued at year’s end.

The government continued to arbitrarily arrest journalists and those who express views that oppose the government (see section 2.a.). On March 3, federal police temporarily detained a foreign correspondent, a freelance journalist, and their translator near Awash Town. Police reportedly took their phones and identification cards and then escorted them back to Addis Ababa. On March 4, authorities released them without giving any explanation for their detention.

In December 2015 police arrested and detained former Blue Party spokesperson Yonatan Tesfaye. On May 4, the federal attorney general charged Yonatan with incitement of terrorism through posts under a pseudonym on Facebook, citing article 4 of the ATP. The court hearing the trial changed the charges to article 6, which pertains to encouragement of terrorism and carries a lesser sentence. Yonatan’s trial continued at year’s end.

There were developments in the case of three individuals detained in March 2015 at Bole International Airport while on the way to Nairobi. In mid-November a court reduced the charges against Omot Agwa Okwoy to the criminal code and dropped the charges against Ashinie Astin Titoyk, and Jemal Oumar Hojele, who were both released.

Pretrial Detention: Some detainees reported being held for several years without charge or trial. The percentage of the inmate population in pretrial detention and average length of time held was not available. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, and staffing shortages contributed to frequent trial delays. The state of emergency regulations allow authorities to detain a person without a court order until the end of the state of emergency.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees to be informed of the nature of their arrest. It also provides persons accused or charged of a crime the ability to appeal. During the year there were no reported cases of a court ruling that a person was unlawfully detained. The law does not provide for persons who are unlawfully detained to receive compensation.

Amnesty: In September, in keeping with a long-standing tradition of issuing pardons at the Ethiopian New Year, the government released more than 12,000 prisoners, including prisoners convicted under the ATP such as Abubeker Ahmed Mohamed and other members of the Muslim Arbitration Committee. Of those, 757 were released from federal prisons and more than 11,000 from regional prisons.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

By law accused persons have the right to a fair public trial “without undue delay”; a presumption of innocence; the right to legal counsel of their choice; the right to appeal; the right not to self-incriminate; and the right to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and access government-held evidence. In practice, however, detainees did not always enjoy all these rights, and as a result, defense attorneys were sometimes unprepared to provide an adequate defense. Defendants were not always presumed innocent, able to communicate with an attorney of their choice, provided timely free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, or provided access to government-held evidence. Defendants were often unaware of the specific charges against them until the commencement of their trials. There were reports of detainees being subjected to torture and other abuse while in detention to obtain information or confessions.

The federal Public Defender’s Office provided legal counsel to indigent defendants, but scope and quality of service were inadequate due to the shortage of attorneys, who in some cases may individually handle more than 100 cases and many more individual clients at the same time. Numerous free legal aid clinics, based primarily at universities, provided services. In certain areas of the country, the law allows volunteers, such as law students and professors, to represent clients in court on a pro bono basis.

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

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The number of political prisoners and detainees at years’ end was not known. The government detained journalists and political opposition members.

Police arrested Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of recognized political party the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and 21 others in November and December 2015. On April 22, the attorney general charged them under the ATP. Authorities reportedly mistreated Bekele and others, including denying adequate medical care and access to visitors, including legal counsel. Their trial continued at year’s end.

Police arrested other leaders and members of political parties during the year, including Merera Gudina on November 30 (see also section 3, Elections and Political Participation, Political Parties and Political Participation).

There were further updates in the cases of 10 persons including opposition party leaders and others whom police detained in 2014. On May 10, the Federal High Court sentenced Zelalem Workagegnehu to five years and four months in prison, Tesfaye Teferi to three years and 11 months, and Solomon Girma to three years and seven months in prison. The other two defendants in the same trial, Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, were acquitted and released on April 15. Separately, the prosecution appealed the August 2015 Federal High Court acquittal of Habtamu Ayalew, Yeshiwas Assefa, Daniel Shibeshi, Abraha Desta, and Abraham Solomon. On December 2, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s acquittal of Habtamu Ayalew, Yeshiwas Assefa, and Abraham Solomon but remanded to the High Court the cases of Daniel Shibeshi and Abraha Desta.

There were also developments in cases of the Zone 9 blogging collective. In October 2015 the Federal High Court acquitted Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berahane, Abel Wabella, and Soleyana Shimeles Gebremichael (in absentia) and reduced the charges against Befekadu Hailu. The prosecution’s appeal of the acquittals continued at the Supreme Court, and the Federal High Court continued to hear the trial of Befekadu Hailu. On October 4, Natnael Feleke was arrested again. He was later released on bail and charged with “inciting the public through false rumors” in relation to having made critical remarks regarding the government during a private conversation at a restaurant. On November 11, authorities arrested Befekadu Hailu again. On December 21, he was released without charge.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides citizens the right to appeal human rights violations in civil court. Citizens did not file any such case during the year.

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

The law generally requires authorities to obtain court-issued search warrants prior to searching private property, however, after the state of emergency, prior court approval for searches was suspended. In an amendment to the state of emergency provisions, security officials had to provide a reason, an official identification card, and be accompanied by someone from the community before conducting a search. The law also recognizes exceptions for “hot pursuit,” in which a suspect enters premises or disposes of items that are the subject of an offense committed on the premises, and when police have reasonable suspicion evidence of a crime punishable by more than three years of imprisonment is concealed on or in the property and that a delay in obtaining a search warrant would allow the evidence to be removed. Moreover, the ATP permits warrantless searches of a person or vehicle when authorized by the director general of the Federal Police or his designee or a police officer has reasonable suspicion a terrorist act may be committed and deems a sudden search necessary.

Opposition political party leaders and journalists reported suspicions of telephone tapping, other electronic eavesdropping, and surveillance, and they alleged government agents attempted to lure them into illegal acts by calling and pretending to be representatives of groups–designated by parliament as terrorist organizations–interested in making financial donations.

The government reportedly used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals. Opposition members, journalists, and athletes reported ruling party operatives and militia members made intimidating and unwelcome visits to their homes and offices and intimidated family members. These included entry into and searches of homes without a warrant.

There were reports authorities dismissed opposition members from their jobs and that those not affiliated with the EPRDF sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their kebeles (neighborhoods or wards) necessary to get employment (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).

Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government.

The national and regional governments continued to implement the policy of Accelerated Development (informally known as “villagization”) plans in the Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’, Oromia, and Somali regions, which might include resettlement. These plans involved relocation by regional governments of scattered rural populations from arid or semiarid lands vulnerable to recurring droughts into designated communities closer to water, services, and infrastructure. The stated purposes of accelerated development were to improve the provision of government services (health care, education, and clean water), protect vulnerable communities from natural disasters and attacks, and change environmentally destructive patterns of shifting cultivation. Some observers alleged the purpose was to enable large-scale leasing of land for commercial agriculture. The government described the program as strictly voluntary. The government had scheduled to conclude the program in 2015, but decided to continue it.

International donors reported assessments from more than 18 visits to villagization sites since 2011 did not corroborate allegations of systematic, grave human rights violations. They found delays in establishing promised infrastructure and inadequate compensation. Communities and families appeared to have agreed to move based on assurances from authorities of food aid, health and education services, and land; some communities were moved before adequate basic services such as water pumps and shelter were in place in the new locations. Follow-up visits suggested the government had done little to improve consultations with affected communities, and communities were not fully informed when consenting to cede their rights for land projects.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however the state of emergency regulations included restrictions on these rights. Authorities harassed, arrested, detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and others perceived as critical of the government, creating an environment of self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The state of emergency regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and resulted in detention or disappearance of numerous independent voices. The regulations prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest (interpreted to include the popular Oromo protest sign of raising crossed arms over one’s head), any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating text, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity, exchange of information by any individual with a foreign government in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and any political parties from briefing journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermines sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored as a result of these prohibitions.

Authorities arrested, detained, and harassed persons for criticizing the government. NGOs reported cases of torture of individuals critical of the government. The government attempted to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists and those who express critical opinions online and opposition activists, and monitoring of and interference in activities of political opposition groups. Some feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made statements publicly or privately deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.

Press and Media Freedoms: The state of emergency prohibited listening to, watching, or reporting information from Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromo Media Network.

Independent journalists reported problems using government printing presses. Access to private printing presses was scarce to nonexistent.

In Addis Ababa, nine independent newspapers and magazines had a combined weekly circulation of 70,711 copies. Four independent monthly and biweekly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation of 21,500 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined circulation of 85,500 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily MonitorAddis Standard magazine temporarily suspended the print edition of its publication soon after the state of emergency was declared.

Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. Six private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one private radio station broadcast in the northern Tigray Region, and at least 19 community radio stations broadcast in the regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Radio, which was reportedly affiliated with the ruling party.

The government periodically jammed foreign broadcasts. The law prohibits political and religious organizations and foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists. As of mid-December, at least 12 journalists remained in detention.

In December 2015 police detained Fikadu Mirkana, who worked as news anchor and senior reporter for Oromia State TV. He was released in April.

In December 2015 authorities detained journalist Getachew Shiferaw, editor in chief of a web-based opposition-affiliated newspaper. On May 19, authorities charged him with terrorism and his trial continued at year’s end.

The trial of two journalists affiliated with Radio Bilal whom authorities arrested in February 2015 and charged with terrorism continued at the Federal High Court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government harassment caused journalists to avoid reporting on sensitive topics. Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government through article placement requests and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship, especially after the October 8 implementation of the state of emergency. The government reportedly pressured advertisers not to advertise in publications that were critical of the government.

National Security: The government used the ATP to suppress criticism. Journalists feared covering five groups designated by parliament as terrorist organizations in 2011 (Ginbot 7, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the OLF, al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab), citing ambiguity on whether reporting on these groups might be punishable under the law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It periodically blocked social media sites and internet access in areas of Oromia and Amhara regions, especially during protests. At times the government blocked access throughout the country. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

On June 7, parliament passed the Computer Crime Proclamation. There were concerns its provisions were overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among people, and another provision that provides for a prison sentence for intimidation.

In July officials blocked social media sites for days across the country until the national school examination concluded. The government stated blocking these sites was necessary to provide for an “orderly exam process.” In May the national exams were reportedly leaked on social media, causing the government to postpone the exams.

On August 6 and 7, the government imposed a nationwide internet blackout.

The state of emergency regulations included prohibited agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.

Starting in early October, the government shut down mobile access to the internet in Addis Ababa, most parts of Oromia Region, and other areas. Wired access to several social media and communication sites were also denied. These included social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, news websites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and many other sites, including foreign university homepages and online shopping sites such as Amazon.

The government periodically and increasingly restricted access to certain content on the internet and blocked numerous websites, including blogs, opposition websites, and websites of Ginbot 7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, and RealClearPolitics. Several news blogs and websites run by opposition diaspora groups were not accessible. These included Ethiopian Review, Nazret, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, and the Ethiopian Media Forum.

Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, and e-mails. Authorities took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and e-mail. There were reports such surveillance resulted in arrests. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

In March 2015 Citizen Lab, a Canadian research center at the University of Toronto, reported on attempts in 2014 to infect the computers of U.S.-based employees of ESAT with spyware. ESAT is a diaspora-based television and radio station. According to Citizen Lab, its research suggested involvement of the government and that the attacker may have been the Ethiopian Information and Network Security Agency.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including student enrollment, teachers’ appointments, and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. The state of emergency regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions and closing them or damaging property, gives authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any student or staff member who violates the prohibitions in the regulations, and provides law enforcement the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.

The ruling party, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members commented that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation.

Authorities limited teachers’ ability to deviate from official lesson plans. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested non-EPRDF members were more likely to be transferred to undesirable posts and bypassed for promotions. There were reports of teachers not affiliated with the EPRDF being summarily dismissed for failure to attend party meetings. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities focused heavily on the social sciences.

Reports indicated a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on suspicion of their holding dissenting opinions or participation in peaceful demonstrations. According to reports there was an intense buildup of security forces (uniformed and plainclothes) embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, and in response to student demonstrations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; the state of emergency regulations, however, prohibited demonstrations and town hall meetings that did not have approval from the command post, the entity that oversees the state of emergency. The government did not respect freedom of assembly and killed, injured, detained, and arrested numerous protesters throughout the year (see also sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 1.e.). The majority of protests were in Oromia and Amhara regions. On August 13, HRW reported an estimate that security forces killed more than 500 protesters since November 2015. On January 21 and October 10, UN experts called on the government to end the “crackdown on peaceful protests.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to the regions, which the government did not provide. On November 9, Amnesty international estimated at least 800 had been killed.

On August 6 and 7, security forces reportedly killed approximately 100 persons in response to simultaneous demonstrations in major cities and towns across Oromia and Amhara regions (see section 1.a).

On October 2, dozens were reportedly killed at a religious festival in Bishoftu. Security forces’ response to agitation in the crowd, including the use of teargas and firing into the air, reportedly led to a stampede that left many dead. On October 7, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for an investigation and urged the government allow independent observers access to Oromia and Amhara regions. On October 10, a group of UN human rights experts highlighted the October 2 events and urged the government to allow an international commission of inquiry to investigate the protests and violence used against protesters since November 2015. The government-established EHRC conducted an investigation into the incident. The results of that investigation were unknown.

Prior to the state of emergency, organizers of public meetings of more than two persons or demonstrations had to notify the government 48 hours in advance and obtain a permit. Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit but could require the event be held at a different time or place for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities determined an event should be held at another time or place, the law required organizers be notified in writing within 12 hours of the time of submission of their request. After the state of emergency, prior-issued permits were deemed invalid.

Prior to the state of emergency, the government denied some requests by opposition political parties to hold protests but approved others. Opposition party organizers alleged government interference in most cases, and authorities required several of the protests be moved to different dates or locations from those the organizers requested. Protest organizers alleged the government’s claims of needing to move the protests based on public safety concerns were not credible. Local government officials, almost all of whom were affiliated with the EPRDF, controlled access to municipal halls, and there were many complaints from opposition parties that local officials denied or otherwise obstructed the scheduling of opposition parties’ use of halls for lawful political rallies. There were numerous credible reports owners of hotels and other large facilities cited internal rules forbidding political parties from utilizing their spaces for gatherings. Regional governments, including the Addis Ababa regional administration, were reluctant to grant permits or provide security for large meetings. After the state of emergency, the prohibition on unauthorized demonstrations or town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. For example, members of at least one opposition political party reported they were prevented from having a four-person meeting.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government severely limited this right (see sections 3 and 5).

The state of emergency and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of organizations to operate (see also section 5). The prohibitions relating to communication and acts that undermine tolerance and unity resulted in self-censorship of reports and public statements. The prohibition on unauthorized town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. The prohibition on exchanging information or contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security reduced communication between local organizations and international organizations and others.

The state of emergency regulations also prohibited any political party “from briefing local or foreign journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermining sovereignty and security.”

The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO) law bans anonymous donations to NGOs. All potential donors were therefore aware their names would be public knowledge. The same was true concerning all donations made to political parties.

A 2012 report by the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association stated, “The enforcement of these (the CSO law) provisions has a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to form and operate associations effectively.”

International NGOs seeking to operate in the country had to submit an application via the country’s embassies abroad, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then submitted to the Charities and Societies Agency for approval.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Although the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the state of emergency regulations restricted internal movement. The government also restricted freedom of internal movement and foreign travel.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. At times authorities or armed groups limited the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in areas of insecurity, such as on the country’s borders.

In-country Movement: The state of emergency regulations prohibited diplomats from travelling more than 25 miles outside of Addis Ababa without prior notification to and approval from the command post. The government lifted this restriction in early November. Security concerns forced a temporary halt of deliveries of food and other humanitarian assistance in limited areas in Amhara and Oromia regions.

Foreign Travel: A 2013 ban on unskilled workers travelling to the Middle East for employment continued. The ban did not affect citizens travelling for investment or other business reasons. The government stated it issued the ban to prevent harassment, intimidation, and trauma suffered by those working abroad, particularly in the Middle East, as domestic employees.

There were several reports of authorities restricting foreign travel, similar to the following case: On March 23, National Intelligence and Security Service officials at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa prevented Merera Gudina, chairman of the OFC, from departing the country. On June 15, Merera was permitted to leave. Authorities arrested him on December 1.

Authorities restricted travel of persons in the Zone 9 case. For example, authorities confiscated blogger Zelalem Kibret’s passport in November 2015 and prevented him from boarding his international flight. Airport security officials said he could not leave the country because he had previously been arrested. Authorities returned Zelalem’s passport on June 1, and he was later permitted to travel abroad.

Exile: As in past years, citizens including journalists and others remained abroad in self-imposed exile due to fear of government retribution should they return.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were 684,064 IDPs between August 2015 and August, including protracted and new cases, many of them due to the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon. This was an increase compared with previous years.

Of the IDPs, 397,296 were displaced by flooding and conflict while 188,244 were displaced due to the effects of the drought related to El Nino. Another 33,300 were displaced due to resource-based competition. Most of those affected by El Nino returned to their places of origin.

IOM estimated 657, 224 individuals were considered “protracted IDPs,” meaning they lacked durable solutions such as local integration, internal resettlement, or return to home. The reasons for protracted displacements included interclan and cross-border conflict, natural disasters, political or community considerations in IDP resettlements, and lack of resettlement resources. Of these IDPs, 283,092 resided in Somali Region; 148,482 in Afar; 144,295 in Oromia; 47,950 in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region; 13,245 in Amhara; 2,290 in Dire Dawa; and 2,055 in Harar. An additional 15,815 individuals displaced by flooding were still on the move and thus could not be attributed to any one region.

IOM reported in August 41,316 individuals or 7,844 households were internally displaced in Amhara, Oromia, and Somali regions, due to conflict and flooding. From August 24 through mid-September, approximately 8,000 individuals moved from Amhara Region to northwestern Tigray Region. Many of the IDPs cited as the reason for their departure recent conflicts in the region and a generalized sense they could be targeted because of their ethnicity (Tigrayan). The federal government allocated six million birr ($266,361) to Tigray Region for the IDP response. The funds were distributed among Hemera, Axum, Mekele, and Shire, which were the towns with the greatest IDP influx. The largest volume of arrivals was in Shire, which received 2.6 million birr ($115,423) of the region’s total. The federal government established a committee led by the Tigray Regional Agriculture Department to seek permanent integration options for the IDPs.

The IOM estimated an April 15 attack in Gambella Region by Murle ethnic group from South Sudan displaced more than 21,000 individuals (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

The government, through the Disaster Risk Management Food Security Sector (DRMFSS), continued to play an active role in delivering humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Federal and local DRMFSS officials coordinated with IOM and its partners in monitoring IDP populations.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The state of emergency regulations prohibited entering the country without a visa.

According to UNHCR, the country hosted 743,732 refugees as of August. The majority of refugees were from South Sudan (281,612) and Somalia (254,277), with others from Eritrea (161,615), Sudan (39,317), and other countries. There were 1,554 registered Yemeni asylum seekers.

UNHCR, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, and humanitarian agencies continued to care for Sudanese arrivals fleeing from conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, averaging 1,500 new arrivals per month, according to UNHCR. The government also extended support to asylum seekers from South Sudan, mostly arriving from Upper Nile and Unity states. Persistent conflict and food insecurity prompted the flow of South Sudanese refugees into the country; there were an estimated 2,712 arrivals during August.

Eritrean asylum seekers continued to arrive. Approximately 23 percent were unaccompanied minors. Many who arrived regularly departed for secondary migration through Egypt and Sudan to go to Europe and other final destinations.

Freedom of movement: The state of emergency regulations prohibited leaving refugee camps without permission from an authorized body. The government continued a policy that allowed some Eritrean refugees to live outside a camp. The government gave such permission primarily for persons to attend higher-education institutions, undergo medical treatment, or avoid security threats at the camps.

Employment: The government does not grant refugees work permits.

Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration. The government supported a policy allowing some refugees to live outside camps and engage in informal livelihoods. Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The ruling party’s electoral advantages, however, limited this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May 2015 the country held national elections for the House of People’s Representatives, the country’s parliamentary body. In October 2015 parliament re-elected Hailemariam Desalegn prime minister.

In the May 2015 national parliamentary elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 seats, giving the party a fifth consecutive five-year term. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the vote. The African Union was the sole international organization permitted to observe the elections. Opposition party observers accused local police of interference, harassment, and extrajudicial detention. Independent journalists reported little trouble covering the election, including reports from polling stations. Some independent journalists reported receiving their observation credentials the day before the election, after having submitted proper and timely applications. Six rounds of broadcast debates preceded the elections, and for the most part they were broadcast in full and only slightly edited. The debates included all major political parties. Several laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the 2005 national elections created a clear advantage for the EPRDF throughout the electoral process. In addition the “first past the post” provision, or 50 percent plus one vote required to win a seat in parliament, as stipulated in the constitution, contributed to EPRDF’s advantage in the electoral process. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters. Various reports confirmed at least six election-related deaths during the period before and immediately following the elections. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) is politically dependent on the prime minister, and there is no opportunity for nonruling political parties to have a say in its decisions concerning party registration and candidate qualification. NEBE has sole responsibility for voter education and broadcast radio segments and distributed manuals on voter education in many local languages.

In a preliminary election assessment, the African Union called the elections “calm, peaceful, and credible” and applauded the government for its registration efforts. It raised concerns, however, regarding the legal framework underpinning the election. NEBE registered more than 35 million voters, and did not report any incidents of unfair voter registration practices.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government, controlled by the EPRDF, unduly restricted political parties and members of certain ethnic groups, particularly the Amhara and Oromo, who stated they lacked genuine political representation at the federal level. The state of emergency regulations restricted political parties’ ability to operate. For example, the regulations prohibit any political party “from briefing local or foreign journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermining sovereignty and security.”

Authorities arrested and prosecuted political opposition members including under allegations of terrorism (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). Government officials alleged many members of legitimate Oromo opposition parties were secretly OLF members and, more broadly, that members of many opposition parties had ties to Ginbot 7.

The OFC reported that authorities have kept OFC general secretary Bekele Nega under house arrest since December 30, 2015. Security personnel reportedly told him not to leave his house in Addis Ababa, use his phone, or give any interviews to media. Authorities also arrested other OFC leaders and members including Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial, Political Prisoners and Detainees).

On October 11, authorities arrested Blen Mesfin and three other members of the registered Blue (Semayawi) Party. Blen Mesfin was charged with “inciting the public through false rumors.” Authorities ordered her release on bail. On the day scheduled for her release, authorities rearrested and detained her without charge. She was released on December 21, although it was unclear whether she still faced charges.

Constituent parties of the EPRDF conferred advantages upon their members; the parties directly owned many businesses and were broadly perceived to award jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters. Several opposition parties reported difficulty in renting homes or buildings in which to open offices, citing visits by EPRDF members to the property owners to persuade or threaten them not to rent property to these parties. There were reports authorities terminated the employment of teachers and other government workers who belonged to opposition political parties. According to Oromo opposition groups, the Oromia regional government continued to threaten to dismiss opposition party members, particularly teachers, from their jobs. There were reports unemployed youths not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their wards necessary to get jobs.

Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices. Opposition parties reported difficulty acquiring the required permissions for regional offices, adversely affecting their ability to organize and campaign. Laws requiring parties to report “public meetings” and obtain permission for public rallies were also used to inhibit opposition activities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevented women or minorities from voting or participating in political life, although highly patriarchal customs in some regions limited female participation in political life. Women were significantly underrepresented in both elected and appointed positions. As of the October change in cabinet assignments, women held three of the 22 federal government ministerial positions, including one of three deputy prime minister positions, and also held 212 of 547 seats in the national parliament. The Tigray Regional Council included the highest proportion of women nationwide, at 50 percent (76 of the 152 seats).

The government’s policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies intended to provide for representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of Federation (one of the two chambers of parliament). There were more than 80 ethnic groups, and small groups lacked representation in the other chamber of parliament, the House of People’s Representatives.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Despite the government’s prosecution of some officials for corruption, many officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Although the government cited fighting corruption as a high priority in its public statements, there were perceptions corruption increased in the government.

Corruption: Corruption, especially the solicitation of bribes, including police and judicial corruption, remained problems. Some government officials were thought to manipulate the land allocation process, and state- and party-owned businesses received preferential access to land leases and credit. The federal attorney general was mandated to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

The government attributed some of the unrest in Oromia to corruption. For example, on June 9, authorities detained Zelalem Jemaneh, former head of the Oromia Regional State Agriculture Bureau with the rank of deputy chief administrator, on allegations of corruption.

The trial of Wondimu Biratu Kena’a, former head of the Revenues Bureau of Oromia Region who was arrested in August 2015 on allegations of grand corruption and embezzlement, continued at year’s end.

On May 17, the High Court sentenced former intelligence deputy chief Woldeselassie Woldemichael, who authorities arrested in 2013, to 10 years in prison and a fine of 50,000 birr ($2,220) after convicting him of abuse of power and generation of wealth from unknown sources.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all government officials and employees to register their wealth and personal property. The law includes financial and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. The president and prime minister registered their assets. The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) reported it registered the assets of 26,584 appointees, officials, and employees between July 2015 and April. The commission also carried out reregistration of previously registered assets in the stated period. As of November 2015, 95,000 officials had registered their assets as required by law.

The FEACC held financial disclosure records. By law any person who seeks access to these records may make a request in writing; access to information on family assets may be restricted unless the FEACC deems the disclosure necessary.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but access was largely restricted. The law includes a narrow list of exceptions outlining the grounds for nondisclosure. Responses generally must be made within 30 days of a written request, and fees may not exceed the actual cost of responding to the request. The law includes mechanisms for punishing officials for noncompliance, as well as appeal mechanisms for review of disclosure denials. Information on the number of disclosures or denials during the year was not available.

The government publishes laws and regulations in its national gazette, known as the Federal Negarit Gazeta, prior to their taking effect. The Government Communications Affairs Office managed contacts between the government, the press, and the public; the private press reported the government rarely responded to its queries.

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

A few domestic human rights groups operated but with significant government restrictions. The government was generally distrustful and wary of domestic and international human rights groups and observers. State-controlled media were critical of international human rights groups such as HRW.

The CSO law prohibits charities, societies, and associations (NGOs or CSOs) that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources from engaging in activities that advance human and democratic rights or promote equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, genders, and religions; the rights of children and persons with disabilities; conflict resolution or reconciliation; or the efficiency of justice and law enforcement services. The law severely curtails civil society’s ability to raise questions of good governance, human rights, corruption, and transparency and forced many local and international NGOs working on those issues to either cease advocacy, or reregister and focus on activities other than rights-based advocacy.

Some human rights defender organizations continued to register either as local charities, meaning they could not raise more than 10 percent of their funds from foreign donors but could act in the specified areas, or as resident charities, which allowed foreign donations above 10 percent but prohibited advocacy activities in those areas.

The state of emergency and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of organizations to operate. The prohibitions relating to communication and acts that undermine tolerance and unity resulted in self-censorship of reports and public statements. The prohibition on unauthorized town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. The prohibition on exchanging information or contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security reduced communication between local organizations and international organizations and others. Curfews in certain areas impeded human rights investigations. The obligation of all organizations to give information when asked by law enforcement raised concerns regarding confidentiality of information.

In July, August, and October, authorities arrested seven members of HRCO. On October 23, authorities dispersed a fundraising event celebrating HRCO’s 25th anniversary. Authorities claimed the organization did not seek additional approval from the command post for the gathering, though it had sought and received approval for the event prior to the start of the state of emergency. As of November 27, at least three members of HRCO remained in detention.

The government denied most NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and undisclosed places of detention. The government permitted a local NGO that has an exemption enabling it to raise unlimited funds from foreign sources and to engage in human rights advocacy to visit prisoners. Some NGOs played a positive role in improving prisoners’ chances for clemency.

Authorities limited access of human rights organizations, media, humanitarian agencies, and diplomatic missions in certain areas.

The government continued to lack a clear policy on NGO access to sensitive areas, leading regional government officials and military officials frequently to refer requests for NGO access to the federal government. Officials required journalists to register before entering certain regions or denied access. There were reports of regional police or local militias blocking NGO access to particular locations on particular days, citing security concerns.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not cooperate with requests for investigations from the OHCHR or UN experts. In August the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the government to allow independent observers into Oromia and Amhara regions. The commissioner reportedly said allegations of excessive use of force across the two regions must be investigated. The government dismissed the request through its spokesperson, who, on August 11, told an international media the United Nations was entitled to its opinion, but the government was responsible for the safety of its own citizens. The spokesperson stated the government would launch its own investigation. On October 7, following the deaths at the religious festival in Bishoftu, the OHCHR reiterated the request the government allow independent observers access to Oromia and Amhara regions. On October 10, a group of UN human rights experts urged the government to allow an international commission of inquiry to investigate.

Requests from the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to visit the country remained unanswered.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The EHRC reportedly investigated hundreds of human rights complaints, organized field investigations, conducted prison visits to provide recommendations on improving prison conditions, and produced annual and thematic reports. On June 10, the EHRC reported to parliament that it counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted security forces used appropriate there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. The commission did not publicly release its report. The EHRC also investigated the September 3 fire in Kilinto prison. The commission operated 112 legal aid centers in collaboration with 22 universities and two civil society organizations, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association, and the Ethiopian Christian Lawyers Fellowship.

The Office of the Ombudsman has authority to investigate complaints of administrative mismanagement by executive branch offices. From July 2015 to June, the office received 2,849 complaints; the ombudsman opened investigations into 1,231 (including 209 cases from the previous year) and referred 1,827 cases outside its mandate to other offices. Of the 1,231 cases the office investigated, it reported resolving 1,010 (82 percent); 221 remained pending. The majority of complaints investigated dealt with land, administration of public service, delay in service delivery, unjust decisions, social security, and access to information.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides for penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case. The law does not expressly address spousal rape. The government did not fully enforce the law, partially due to widespread underreporting. Recent statistics on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, or punished were not available.

Domestic violence is illegal, but government enforcement of laws was inconsistent. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. Depending on the severity of damage inflicted, penalties range from small fines to up to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Although women had recourse to police and the courts, societal norms and limited infrastructure prevented many women from seeking legal redress, particularly in rural areas. The government prosecuted offenders on a limited scale.

Domestic violence and rape cases often were delayed significantly and given low priority. In the context of gender-based violence, significant gender gaps in the justice system remained, due to poor documentation and inadequate investigation. Gender-based violence against women and girls was underreported due to cultural acceptance, shame, fear of reprisal, or a victim’s ignorance of legal protections.

“Child friendly” benches hear cases involving violence against children and women. Police officers were required to receive domestic violence training from domestic NGOs and the Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs. There was a commissioner for women and children’s affairs on the EHRC.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, but the government did not actively enforce this prohibition or punish those who practiced it. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 74 percent of women and girls had undergone FGM/C. The penal code criminalizes the practice of clitoridectomy, with sentences of imprisonment of at least three months or a fine of at least 500 birr ($22). Infibulation of the genitals is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. No criminal charges, however, have ever been filed for FGM/C.

The prevalence of FGM/C was reportedly declining. UNICEF cited a 2011 Welfare Monitoring Survey as finding 23 percent of girls between birth and age 14 had undergone FGM/C. Although statistics on FGM/C varied, one report from 2013 cited Afar, Somali, and Dire Dawa regions as having the highest prevalence of FGM/C. It was less common in urban areas.

The age at which FGM/C is performed depends on the ethnic group, type of FGM/C performed, and region. In the north FGM/C tended to be performed immediately after birth; in the south, where FGM/C is more closely associated with marriage, it was performed later. Girls typically had clitoridectomies performed on them seven days after birth (consisting of an excision of the clitoris, often with partial labial excision) and infibulation (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM/C) at the onset of puberty. The government’s strategy was to discourage the practice through education in public schools, the Health Extension Program, and broader mass media campaigns rather than to prosecute offenders. International bilateral donors and private organizations were active in community education efforts to reduce the prevalence of FGM/C, following the government’s lead of sensitization rather than legal enforcement.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Marriage by abduction is illegal, although it continued in some regions despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Forced sexual relationships accompanied most marriages by abduction, and women often experienced physical abuse during the abduction. Abductions led to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups. In cases of abduction, the perpetrator did not face punishment if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was widespread. The penal code prescribes penalties of 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not enforce harassment laws.

Reproductive Rights: Individuals and couples generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Traditional practices such as marriage by abduction in which forced sex occurred limited this right in practice. According to a 2016 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), the maternal mortality rate declined to 412 deaths per 100,000 live births. An article surveying maternal mortality listed obstructed labor/uterine rupture, hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, and sepsis/infection as the top four causes from 2000 to 2012. The 2016 DHS found a modern contraceptive prevalence rate of 35 percent nationwide among married women and 55 percent among sexually active unmarried women. For married women the rate increased compared with that found in previous DHS surveys. According to the 2016 DHS, the percentage of births delivered by a skilled attendant increased to 28 percent and those that occurred in a health facility increased to 26 percent. Abortion is illegal but with numerous exceptions. The incidence of illegal, unsafe abortions had declined since legislation changed, which accounted in part for the drop in maternal mortality. All maternal and child health services were provided free of charge in the public sector; however, challenges persisted in accessing quality services in more remote areas of the country due to transportation problems.

Discrimination: Discrimination against women was a problem and was most acute in rural areas, where an estimated 80 percent of the population lived. The law contains discriminatory regulations, such as the recognition of the husband as the legal head of the family and the sole guardian of children more than five years old. Courts generally did not consider domestic violence by itself a justification for granting a divorce. Irrespective of the number of years a marriage existed, the number of children raised, and joint property, the law entitled women to only three months’ financial support if a relationship ended. There was limited legal recognition of common-law marriage. A common-law husband had no obligation to provide financial assistance to his family, and consequently women and children sometimes faced abandonment. Traditional courts continued to apply customary law in economic and social relationships.

The constitution states ownership of land and natural resources “is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia.” Both men and women have land-use rights that they may pass on as an inheritance. Land law varies among regions, however. All federal and regional land laws empower women to access government land. Inheritance laws also enable widows to inherit joint property they acquired during marriage.

In urban areas women had fewer employment opportunities than men did, and the jobs available did not generally provide equal pay for equal work. Women’s access to gainful employment, credit, and the opportunity to own or manage a business was limited by their generally lower level of education and training and by traditional attitudes.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from one’s parents. The law requires all children to be registered at birth. Children born in hospitals were registered; most of those born outside of hospitals were not. The overwhelming majority of children, particularly in rural areas, were born at home. During the year the government initiated a campaign to increase birth registrations.

Education: The law does not make education compulsory. As a policy primary education was universal and tuition free; however, there were not enough schools to accommodate the country’s youth, particularly in rural areas. The cost of school supplies was prohibitive for many families. The number of students enrolled in schools expanded faster than trained teachers could be deployed. The net primary school enrollment rate was 90 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Uvula cutting, tonsil scraping, and milk tooth extraction were amongst the most prevalent harmful traditional practices. The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013, published by the African Child Policy Forum, found the government had increased punishment for sexual violence against children. “Child friendly” benches heard cases involving violence against children and women. There was a commissioner for women and children’s affairs in the EHRC.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal marriage age for girls and boys at 18; however, authorities did not enforce this law uniformly, and rural families sometimes were unaware of this provision. In several regions it was customary for older men to marry girls, although this traditional practice continued to face greater scrutiny and criticism. The government strategy to address underage marriage focused on education and mediation rather than punishment of offenders.

According to a 2015 UNICEF report, 16 percent of women ages 20-24 were married before age 15 and 41 percent before age 18. According to the 2011 DHS, the median age of first marriage among women between ages 20 and 49 who were surveyed was 17.1 years, compared with 16.5 years in 2005.

In Amhara and Tigray regions, girls were married as early as age seven. Child marriage was most prevalent in Amhara Region, where approximately 45 percent of girls marry before age 18, and the median first marriage age was 15.1 years, according to the 2011 DHS, compared with 14.7 years in 2005. Regional governments in Amhara and, to a lesser extent, Tigray offered programs to educate girls, young women, parents, community leaders, and health professionals on problems associated with early marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Information is provided in the women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 18, but authorities did not enforce this law. The law provides for three to 15 years in prison for sexual intercourse with a minor. The law provides for one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 birr ($444) for trafficking in indecent material displaying sexual intercourse by minors. The law prohibits profiting from the prostitution of minors and inducing minors to engage in prostitution; however, commercial sexual exploitation of children continued, particularly in urban areas. Girls as young as age 11 were reportedly recruited to work in brothels. Customers often sought these girls because they believed them to be free of sexually transmitted diseases. Young girls were trafficked from rural to urban areas. They also were exploited as prostitutes in hotels, bars, resort towns, and rural truck stops. Reports indicated family members forced some young girls into prostitution.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Ritual and superstition-based infanticide, including of infants with disabilities, continued in remote tribal areas, particularly South Omo. Local governments worked to educate communities against the practice.

Displaced Children: According to a 2010 report by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, approximately 150,000 children lived on the streets, of whom 60,000 were in the capital. The ministry’s report stated the inability of families to support children due to parental illness or insufficient household income exacerbated the problem. Research in 2014 by the ministry noted rapid urbanization, illegal employment brokers, high expectations of better life in cities, and rural-urban migration were adding to the problem. These children begged, sometimes as part of a gang, or worked in the informal sector. A large number of unaccompanied minors from Eritrea continued to arrive in the country (see section 2.d.).

Institutionalized Children: There were an estimated 4.5 million orphans in the country in 2012, according to statistics published by UNICEF. The vast majority lived with extended family members. Government and privately run orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions were often unsanitary. Due to severe resource constraints, hospitals and orphanages often overlooked or neglected abandoned infants. Institutionalized children did not receive adequate health care.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

On April 15, members of the Murle ethnic group from South Sudan reportedly abducted more than 100 children from Gambella Region (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution does not mandate equal rights for persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment and mandates access to buildings but does not explicitly mention intellectual or sensory disabilities. It is illegal for deaf persons to drive.

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. It also makes employers responsible for providing appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities. The law specifically recognizes the additional burden on women with disabilities. The government took limited measures to enforce the law, for example, by assigning interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing civil service employees (see section 7.d.). The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Public Servants Administration Commission are responsible for the implementation of the Proclamation on The Rights of Disabled Persons to Employment.

The law mandates building accessibility and accessible toilet facilities for persons with physical disabilities, although specific regulations that define the accessibility standards were not adopted. Buildings and toilet facilities were usually not accessible. Property owners are required to give persons with disabilities preference for ground-floor apartments, and this was respected.

Women with disabilities were more disadvantaged than men with disabilities in education and employment. The 2010 Population Council Young Adult Survey found young persons with disabilities were less likely to have ever attended school than those without disabilities. The survey indicated girls with disabilities were less likely than boys to be in school: 23 percent of girls with disabilities were in school, compared with 48 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys without disabilities. Overall, 48 percent of young persons with disabilities surveyed reported not going to school due to their disability. Girls with disabilities also were much more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than girls without disabilities. Of sexually experienced girls with disabilities, 33 percent reported having experienced forced sex. According to the same survey, approximately 6 percent of boys with disabilities had been beaten in the three months prior to the survey, compared with 2 percent of boys without disabilities.

There were several schools for persons with hearing and vision disabilities and several training centers for children and young persons with intellectual disabilities. There was a network of prosthetic and orthopedic centers in five of the nine regional states.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs worked on disability-related problems. The CSO law continued to affect negatively several domestic associations, such as the Ethiopian National Association of the Blind, the Ethiopian National Association of the Deaf, and the Ethiopian National Association of the Physically Handicapped, as it did other civil society organizations. International organizations and some local CSOs were active, particularly on issues concerning accessibility and vocational training for persons with disabilities.

The right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs is not restricted by law, although lack of accessibility can make participation difficult. In the May 2015 national elections, African Union observers reported voters requiring assistance were always provided with assistance, either by a person of their choice or by polling staff. Most polling stations were accessible to persons with disabilities, and priority was given to them as well as to the elderly, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country has more than 80 ethnic groups, of which the Oromo, at approximately 35 percent of the population, is the largest. The federal system drew boundaries approximately along major ethnic group lines. Most political parties remained primarily ethnically based, although the ruling party and one of the largest opposition parties are coalitions of ethnically based parties.

HRCO reported that a few Oromo protesters in Ameya, South West Shoa Zone of Oromia, burnt down homes and property of Amhara residents on December 12, 2015. According to the HRCO report, the attack displaced several hundred farmers and destroyed more than 800 homes. A number of Amhara farmers reportedly retaliated by burning down homes of 96 Oromo farmers. The two communities held joint meetings and condemned the attacks on both sides. They were working together to rebuild the destroyed houses.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. No law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were some reports of violence against LGBTI individuals; reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBTI individuals. Individuals did not identify themselves as LGBTI persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Activists in the LGBTI community stated they were followed and at times feared for their safety. There were no updates on reports of persons incarcerated for allegedly engaging in same-sex sexual activities.

The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were men, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal stigma and discrimination against persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS continued in the areas of education, employment, and community integration. Persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS reported difficulty accessing various services. There were no statistics on the scale of the problem.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violence occurred, including in Gambella Region and during protests.

On April 15, armed men from the Murle ethnic group from South Sudan who crossed into the country reportedly killed more than 200 women and children in three woredas of Nuer Zone in Gambella Region. The attackers also reportedly abducted more than 100 children and stole thousands of cattle. The Murle attack added to the instability of the region, which was already under pressure because of interethnic clashes between Nuer and Anuak groups that started on January 20.

On April 21, South Sudanese refugees living in Jewi camp in Gambella Region reportedly killed 10 Ethiopians contracted by an international NGO to build a secondary education facility. The violence was triggered when an NGO-contracted truck hit and killed two refugee children. Authorities detained 53 refugees suspected of the killings and, on August 15, filed criminal charges against 23 of them. According to the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, the government provided two public defenders to represent the refugees at their trial. The UNHCR Protection Unit as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross had access to the detainees and monitored the legal process.

On June 29, residents of Hana Mariam, Furi, and Mango Cheffe localities of Nifas Silk Laphto Subcity in Addis Ababa clashed with police and killed two police officers and a local official during the start of the city government’s operation to evict residents forcibly. Both Addis Ababa Police Commission and Government Communication Affairs Office confirmed the killings.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide workers, except for civil servants and certain categories of workers primarily in the public sector, with the right to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, although other provisions and laws severely restrict or excessively regulate these rights. The law specifically prohibits managerial employees, teachers, health-care workers, judges, prosecutors, security-service workers, domestic workers, and seasonal and part-time agricultural workers from organizing unions.

A minimum of 10 workers is required to form a union. While the law provides all unions with the right to register, the government may refuse to register trade unions that do not meet its registration requirements including because of a nonpolitical conviction of the union leader within the previous 10 years and the presence of illegal union objectives. The government may unilaterally cancel the registration of a union. Workers may not join more than one trade union per employment. The law stipulates a trade union organization may not act in an overtly political manner. The law allows administrative authorities to appeal to the courts to cancel union registration for engaging in prohibited activities, such as political action.

Other laws and regulations that explicitly or potentially infringe upon workers’ rights to associate freely and to organize include the CSO law, Council of Ministers Regulation No. 168/2009 on Charities and Societies to reinforce the CSO law, and the ATP. The International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations noted the CSO law gives the government power to interfere in the right of workers to organize, including through the registration, internal administration, and dissolution of organizations’ processes.

While the law recognizes the right of collective bargaining, this right was severely restricted. Negotiations aimed at amending or replacing a collective agreement must be completed within three months of its expiration; otherwise, the provisions on wages and other benefits cease to apply. Civil servants, including public school teachers, have the right to establish and join professional associations created by the employees but not to negotiate better wages or working conditions. Arbitration procedures in the public sector are more restrictive than those in the private sector. The law does not provide for effective and adequate sanctions against acts of interference by other agents in the establishment, functioning, or administration of either workers’ or employers’ organizations.

Although the constitution and law provide workers with the right to strike to protect their interests, the law contains detailed provisions prescribing extremely complex and time-consuming formalities that make legal strike actions difficult. The law requires aggrieved workers to attempt reconciliation with employers before striking and includes a lengthy dispute settlement process. These provisions apply equally to an employer’s right to lock workers out. Two-thirds of the workers concerned must support a strike before it is authorized. If a case has not already been referred to a court or labor relations board, workers retain the right to strike without resorting to either of these options, provided they give at least 10 days’ notice to the other party and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and make efforts at reconciliation.

The law also prohibits strikes by workers who provide essential services, including air transport and urban bus service workers, electric power suppliers, gas station personnel, hospital and pharmacy personnel, firefighters, telecommunications personnel, and urban sanitary workers. The list of essential services exceeds the ILO definition of essential services. The law prohibits retribution against strikers, but it also provides for civil or penal penalties against unions and workers involved in unauthorized strike actions. Violation of this procedure is an offense punishable with a fine not exceeding 1,200 birr ($53) if committed by a union or of 300 birr ($13) if committed by an individual worker. If the provisions of the penal code prescribe more severe penalties, the punishment laid down in the code becomes applicable. The government may dissolve unions for carrying out strikes in “essential services.”

The informal labor sector, including domestic workers, was not unionized and was not protected by labor laws. Workers are defined as persons in an employment relationship. Lack of adequate staffing prevented the government from effectively enforcing applicable laws for those sectors protected by law. Court procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were respected, but some legal problems remained. The ILO was critical of the government’s alleged use of the antiterrorism law to punish ringleaders, organizers, or commanders of forbidden societies, meetings, and assemblies. The government refused for the fourth year to register the National Teachers Union (NTA) on grounds a national teachers’ association already existed and that the NTA’s registration application was not submitted in accordance with the CSO law. In 2013 an ILO mission made a working visit and signed a joint statement with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, stating the government was committed to registering the NTA. The ILO’s Ethiopia office reiterated this message and characterized the dispute as an administrative issue focused on naming rights and diaspora membership.

While the government allowed citizens to exercise the right of collective bargaining, enterprise unions are allowed to negotiate wages only at the plant level. Unions in the formal industrial sector made some efforts to enforce labor regulations.

Antiunion activities occurred but were rarely reported. Despite the law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, unions reported employers terminated union activists. There were unconfirmed reports that some major foreign investors generally did not allow workers to form unions, often transferred or dismissed union leaders, and intimidated and pressured members to leave unions. Lawsuits alleging unlawful dismissal often took years to resolve because of case backlogs in the courts. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination were required to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities and generally did so. The law prohibits retribution against strikers, and there were no reported cases of violations. Labor officials reported that high unemployment, fear of retribution, and long delays in hearing labor cases deterred workers from participating in strikes or other labor actions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

In August 2015 the federal government enacted a comprehensive overhaul of its antitrafficking penal code. The code prescribes harsh penalties of up to life imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 birr ($22,197) for human trafficking and exploitation, including slavery, debt bondage, forced prostitution, and servitude.

Although the ban on labor migration to the Gulf States remained in effect, in February the government enacted the Revised Overseas Employment Proclamation (Proclamation No. 923/20 16), a major precondition for lifting the labor migration ban.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor but permits courts to order forced labor as a punitive measure. Slavery, even in disguised form, is punishable with five to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and forced labor occurred. Police at the federal and regional levels began to receive training focused on human trafficking and exploitation. Both adults and children were forced to engage in street vending, begging, traditional weaving, or agricultural work. Children also worked in forced domestic labor. Situations of debt bondage also occurred in traditional weaving, pottery making, cattle herding, and other agricultural activities, mostly in rural areas. Girls were exploited in domestic servitude and prostitution in neighboring African countries. Ethiopian women who migrated for work or fled abusive employers in the Middle East were also vulnerable to sex trafficking. Men and boys migrated to the Gulf States and other African nations, where some were subjected to forced labor.

The government sometimes deployed prisoners to work outside the prisons for private businesses, a practice the ILO stated could constitute compulsory labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

By law the minimum age for wage or salary employment is 14. The minimum age provisions, however, apply only to contractual labor and do not apply to self-employed children or children who perform unpaid work. The law prohibits hazardous or night work for children between 14 and 18. The law defines hazardous work as any work that could jeopardize a child’s health. Prohibited work sectors include passenger transport, work in electric generation plants, factory work, underground work, street cleaning, and many other sectors. The law expressly excludes children under age 16 attending vocational schools from the prohibition on hazardous work. The law does not permit children between ages 14 and 18 to work more than seven hours per day, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., or on public holidays or rest days.

Child labor remained a serious problem. The small number of trained labor inspectors and a lack of enforcement resources resulted in numerous violations. Occupational safety and health measures were not effectively enforced, and significant numbers of children worked in prohibited work sectors, particularly construction.

School enrollment was low, particularly in rural areas. To underscore the importance of attending school, joint NGO and government-led community-based awareness-raising efforts targeted communities where children were heavily engaged in agricultural work. The government invested in modernizing agricultural practices and constructing schools to combat the problem of child labor in agricultural sectors.

In both rural and urban areas, children often began working at young ages. Child labor was particularly pervasive in subsistence agricultural production, traditional weaving, fishing, and domestic work. A growing number of children worked in construction. Children in rural areas, especially boys, engaged in activities such as cattle herding, petty trading, plowing, harvesting, and weeding, while other children, mostly girls, collected firewood and fetched water. Children worked in the production of gold. In small-scale gold mining, they dug mining pits and carried heavy loads of water. Children in urban areas, including orphans, worked in domestic service, often working long hours, which prevented many from attending school regularly. Children also worked in manufacturing, shining shoes, making clothes, parking, public transport, petty trading, as porters, and directing customers to taxis. Some children worked long hours in dangerous environments for little or no wages and without occupational safety protection. Child laborers often faced physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of their employers.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin nationality, gender, marital status, religion, political affiliation, political outlook, pregnancy, socioeconomic status, disability, or “any other conditions.” The law specifically recognizes the additional burden on pregnant women and persons with disabilities (see section 6). Sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status are not specifically protected. The penalty for discrimination on the above grounds is a fine of 1,200 birr ($53). The government took limited measures to enforce the law.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, who had fewer employment opportunities than did men, and the jobs available did not provide equal pay for equal work.

Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred (see section 7.e.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. Some government institutions and public enterprises set their own minimum wages. Public-sector employees, the largest group of wage earners, earned a monthly minimum wage of approximately 420 birr ($19). The official estimate for the poverty income level was 315 birr ($14) per month.

Only a small percentage of the population, concentrated in urban areas, was involved in wage-labor employment. Wages in the informal sector generally were below subsistence levels.

The law provides for a 48-hour maximum legal workweek with a 24-hour rest period, premium pay for overtime, and prohibition of excessive compulsory overtime. The country has 13 paid public holidays per year. The law entitles employees in public enterprises and government financial institutions to overtime pay; civil servants receive compensatory time off for overtime work. The government, industries, and unions negotiated occupational safety and health standards. Workers specifically excluded by law from unionizing, including domestic workers and seasonal and part-time agricultural workers, generally did not benefit from health and safety regulations in the workplace.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ inspection department was responsible for enforcement of workplace standards. In 2015 the country had 423 labor inspectors and, according to the ministry, they completed 37,500 inspections in 2015. The labor inspectors did not enforce standards effectively. The ministry’s severely limited administrative capacity; lack of an effective mechanism for receiving, investigating, and tracking allegations of violations; and lack of detailed, sector-specific health and safety guidelines hampered effective enforcement of these standards. Maximum penalties for different types of violations range from 300 birr ($13) to 1,000 birr ($44), which by themselves are insufficient to deter such violations

Compensation, benefits, and working conditions of seasonal agricultural workers were far below those of unionized permanent agricultural employees. The government did little to enforce the law. Most employees in the formal sector worked a 39-hour workweek. Many foreign, migrant, and informal-sector workers worked more than 48 hours per week.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their employment; there were no reports that workers exercised this right. Hazardous working conditions existed in the agricultural sector, which was the primary base of the country’s economy. There were also reports of hazardous and exploitative working conditions in the construction and industrial sectors, although data on deaths and injuries were not available.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

Nigeria is a federal republic composed of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In 2015 citizens elected President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress party to a four-year term in the first successful democratic transfer of power from a sitting president in the country’s history.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security services.

The insurgency in the Northeast by the militant terrorist group Boko Haram, and its splinter group Islamic State-West Africa, continued. The military drove the insurgents out of major population centers, but they remained in control of rural areas and capable of conducting complex attacks and suicide bombings. Casualty figures increased, and reports of serious human rights abuses by both Boko Haram and security forces continued.

The most serious human rights abuses included those committed by Boko Haram, which conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets that resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of 1.8 million persons, and the external displacement of an estimated 191,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries, principally Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. In its response to Boko Haram attacks, and at times in response to crime and insecurity in general, security services perpetrated extrajudicial killings and engaged in torture, rape, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees, looting, and destruction of property.

The country also suffered from ethnic, regional, and religious violence. Other serious human rights problems included vigilante killings; prolonged pretrial detention, often in poor conditions and with limited independent oversight; civilian detentions in military facilities, often based on flimsy evidence; denial of fair public trial; executive influence on the judiciary; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement; official corruption; violence against women and children, including female genital mutilation/cutting; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons; early and forced marriages; discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; discrimination based on ethnicity, regional origin, religion, and disability; forced and bonded labor; and child labor.

The government took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity remained widespread at all levels of government. The government did not investigate or prosecute most of the major outstanding allegations of human rights violations by the security forces or the majority of cases of police or military extortion or other abuse of power.

Boko Haram’s numerous attacks often targeted civilians. The group, which recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers, carried out bombings–including suicide bombings–and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The government investigated these attacks but prosecuted few members of Boko Haram; it detained the vast majority of suspected Boko Haram supporters in military custody without charge.

Abductions by the group continued. The group subjected many abducted women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages and rape. The government investigated attacks but rarely prosecuted Boko Haram members; it detained the vast majority of suspected Boko Haram supporters in military custody without charge.

The United Nations and other international organizations reported that vigilante groups, collectively known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), which at times aligned with the military against Boko Haram, continued to recruit and use, sometimes by force, child soldiers. The government prohibited these actions and maintained that CJTF forces aligned with the government did not employ child soldiers. Nonetheless, the Borno State government continued to provide financial and in-kind resources to some members of the CJTF, which was also at times aligned with the Nigerian military in operations against Boko Haram.

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

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

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed numerous arbitrary and unlawful killings. The national police, army, and other security services used lethal and excessive force to disperse protesters and apprehend criminals and suspects and committed other extrajudicial killings. Authorities generally did not hold police, military, or other security force personnel accountable for the use of excessive or deadly force or for the deaths of persons in custody. State and federal panels of inquiry investigating suspicious deaths did not make their findings public.

The use by security services of excessive force, including live ammunition, to deal with protesters and disperse demonstrators resulted in numerous killings. On February 9, police and military personnel reportedly used live ammunition to disperse protesting members or supporters of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement at a school in Aba, Abia State, killing at least nine. In June Amnesty International (AI) published the findings of an investigation, concluding that on May 29-30, police and military personnel in Onitsha, Anambra State, killed at least 17 IPOB members or supporters ahead of a planned political demonstration. According to a September AI report, since August 2015 security forces killed at least 150 IPOB members or supporters and arbitrarily arrested hundreds. As of December the government had not investigated these incidents.

In January the government of Kaduna State appointed a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the December 2015 killing by Nigerian Army (NA) forces of members of the Shia group Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) in Zaria, Kaduna State. The federal government indicated it would wait for the results of this investigation before taking action, claiming it would be the most acceptable course of action. During the proceedings, from which the IMN abstained, claiming bias against the group, Kaduna officials revealed the existence of a mass grave holding the remains of 347 IMN members killed by the NA. The government of Kaduna made public the commission’s nonbinding report on July 31. According to the document, 348 IMN members and one soldier died during the December 2015 altercations, which were followed by the government’s destruction of IMN religious sites and property in and around Zaria. The commission found the NA used “excessive and disproportionate” force and recommended the federal government conduct an independent investigation and prosecute anyone found to have acted unlawfully. It also called for the proscription of the IMN and the monitoring of its members and their activities. In December the government of Kaduna published a white paper accepting the commission’s recommendation to investigate and prosecute allegations of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the NA. It also accepted the recommendation to hold IMN leader Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky responsible for all illegal acts committed by IMN members during the altercations and in the preceding 30 years. A federal court in December declared the continued detention without charge of Zakzaky and his wife illegal and unconstitutional. The court ordered the immediate and unconditional release of the IMN leader and his spouse but gave authorities 45 days to carry it out, reasoning that the government needed that time to provide the couple with a dwelling to replace the one destroyed in the wake of the 2015 Zaria incidents. As of December more than two hundred imprisoned IMN members continued to await trial on charges of conspiracy and culpable homicide.

Security forces were allegedly responsible for extrajudicial killings, often arbitrarily killing many individuals at one time. For example, in August military personnel entered a village in Bosso Local Government Area (LGA), Niger State, and allegedly killed seven civilians for denying soldiers permission to enter their houses and search for arms and ammunition. The government of Niger State set up a commission of inquiry to investigate. As of December it had not issued a report.

There were reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings related to internal conflicts in the Northeast and other areas (see section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

According to AI, on August 16, armed men in a sport utility vehicle bearing government license plates shot and abducted pro-Biafra activist Sunday Chucks Obasi outside his home in Amuko Nnewi, Anambra State. In response to inquiries by his family, police in Anambra stated Obasi was not in their custody. As of December his whereabouts remained unknown.

Criminal groups continued to abduct civilians in the Niger Delta and the Southeast, often to collect ransom payments. For example, according to press reports, in June gunmen kidnapped as many as seven cement company contractors, including several expatriates, in the outskirts of Calabar, Cross River State. The kidnappers released the men unharmed several days later.

Other parts of the country continued to experience a significant number of abductions. Prominent and wealthy figures were often targets of abduction. For example, in March gunmen kidnapped, and later killed, NA Colonel Samaila Inusa in Kaduna State. In April kidnappers briefly abducted former minister of education Senator Iyabo Anisulowo in Ogun State, allegedly releasing him after a ransom payment.

Boko Haram continued to conduct large-scale abductions in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States (see section 1.g.).

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

The constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), passed in 2015, prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of arrestees; however, it fails to prescribe penalties for violators. Each state must also individually adopt the ACJA for the legislation to apply beyond the FCT and federal agencies. As of December only the states of Anambra, Ekiti, Enugu, and Lagos had adopted it. Final passage of an antitorture bill, initially passed in 2015 by both houses of the National Assembly but returned by President Buhari to the Senate for amendments, was pending.

The Ministry of Justice established a National Committee against Torture (NCAT). Lack of legal and operational independence and lack of funding, however, continued to prevent NCAT from carrying out its work effectively.

The law prohibits the introduction into trials of evidence and confessions obtained through torture. Authorities did not respect this prohibition, however, and police often used torture to extract confessions later used to try suspects. Police also repeatedly mistreated civilians to extort money.

In September AI reported police officers in the Special Antirobbery Squad (SARS) regularly tortured detainees in custody as a means of extracting confessions and bribes. For example, SARS officers in Enugu State reportedly beat one victim with machetes and heavy sticks, releasing him only after payment of 25,500 naira ($81). In response to AI’s findings, the inspector general of police reportedly admonished SARS commanders and announced broad reforms to correct SARS units’ failures to follow due process and their use of excessive force.

Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international human rights groups continued to accuse the security services of illegal detention, inhuman treatment, and torture of demonstrators, criminal suspects, militants, detainees, and prisoners. Military and police reportedly used a wide range of torture methods, including beatings, shootings, nail and tooth extractions, rape, and other forms of sexual violence. According to reports, security services committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls, often with impunity. For example, in July a police inspector allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl in Mkpat Enin, Akwa Ibom State. As of December there were no reports of any investigation into the incident.

Police continued to use a technique commonly referred to as “parading” of arrestees, which involved walking arrestees through public spaces and subjecting them to public ridicule and abuse. Bystanders often taunted and hurled food and other objects at arrestees.

The sharia courts in 12 northern states may prescribe punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. The sharia criminal procedure code allows defendants 30 days to appeal sentences involving mutilation or death to a higher sharia court. Statutory law mandates state governors treat all court decisions equally, including amputation or death sentences, regardless of whether issued by a sharia or a non-sharia court. Authorities, however, often did not carry out caning, amputation, and stoning sentences passed by sharia courts because defendants frequently appealed, a process that could be lengthy. Federal appellate courts had not ruled on whether such punishments violate the constitution because no relevant cases had reached the federal level. Although sharia appellate courts consistently overturned stoning and amputation sentences on procedural or evidentiary grounds, there were no challenges on constitutional grounds.

There were no reports of canings during the year. Defendants generally did not challenge caning sentences in court as a violation of statutory law. Sharia courts usually carried out caning immediately. In some cases convicted individuals paid fines or went to prison in lieu of caning.

In January a sharia court in Kano confirmed the death sentence for blasphemy of an Islamic cleric and eight others. They had allegedly made blasphemous statements the previous May at a religious gathering in honor of the founder of the Tijaniya sect. As of December the case remained on appeal.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Prisoners and detainees were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, and other abuses. The government often detained suspected militants outside the formal prison system (see section 1.g).

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a significant problem. Although the total designed capacity of the country’s prisons was 50,153 inmates, as of March they held 63,142 prisoners. Approximately 72 percent of inmates were in pretrial detention or remanded. There were 1,225 female inmates as of September 2015. Authorities sometimes held female and male prisoners together, especially in rural areas. In 2013 the NPS reported there were 847 juvenile inmates in juvenile detention centers, but prison authorities often held juvenile suspects with adults.

Prisoners and detainees, the majority of whom had not been tried, were reportedly subjected to extrajudicial execution, torture, gross overcrowding, food and water shortages, inadequate medical treatment, deliberate and incidental exposure to heat and sun, and infrastructure deficiencies that led to wholly inadequate sanitary conditions that could result in death. Guards and prison officials reportedly extorted inmates or levied fees on them to pay for food, prison maintenance, and release from prison. Female inmates in some cases faced the threat of rape.

Most of the 240 prisons were 70 to 80 years old and lacked basic facilities. Lack of potable water, inadequate sewage facilities, and severe overcrowding resulted in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Disease remained pervasive in cramped, poorly ventilated prison facilities, which had chronic shortages of medical supplies. Inadequate medical treatment caused many prisoners to die from treatable illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Although authorities attempted to isolate persons with communicable diseases, facilities often lacked adequate space, and inmates with these illnesses lived with the general prison population. There were no reliable statistics on the number of prison deaths during the year.

Only prisoners with money or support from their families had sufficient food. Prison officials routinely stole money provided for prisoners’ food. Poor inmates often relied on handouts from others to survive. Prison officials, police, and other security force personnel often denied inmates food and medical treatment to punish them or extort money.

In general prisons had no facilities to care for pregnant women or nursing mothers. Infants born to inmate mothers usually remained with the mother until weaned. Although the law prohibits the imprisonment of children, minors–many of whom were born in prison–lived in the prisons. According to the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), in 2013 there were 69 infants in prison with their mothers. Results of a survey of women and children in prisons conducted by CURE-Nigeria and released in March revealed many children in custody did not receive routine immunizations, and authorities made few provisions to accommodate their physical needs, to include hygiene items, proper bedding, proper food, and recreation areas. According to a report by the NGO CURE-Nigeria, female inmates largely relied on charitable organizations to obtain female hygiene items.

Generally, prisons made few efforts to provide mental health services or other accommodations to prisoners with mental disabilities (see section 6).

Several unofficial military prisons reported by domestic and international human rights groups–including the Giwa Barracks facility in Maiduguri, Borno State–continued to operate (see section 1.g.). In May AI reported that at least 149 individuals, including 12 children and babies, had died since January at Giwa Barracks. According to the report, overcrowding coupled with disease and inadequate access to food and water were the most likely causes of the increase in mortality at the installation. The military reportedly detained many of those at Giwa Barracks during arbitrary mass arrests based on random profiling rather than reasonable suspicion of supporting Boko Haram. The military publicly denied the findings of the report but worked with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and by October had released 876 children previously detained at the facility. It was unclear following their release how many other children or adults remained in detention at Giwa Barracks or other unofficial detention facilities.

In 2014 AI reported the mass extrajudicial executions of more than 600 recaptured prisoners at Giwa Barracks following an escape attempt. In 2013 AI had revealed the existence of previously unknown military detention facilities in the Northeast–including Giwa Barracks, and the Sector Alpha (also called “Guantanamo”) and Presidential Lodge (also called “the Guardroom”) facilities in Damaturu, Yobe State. According to AI, the military subjected detainees in them to inhuman and degrading treatment; hundreds allegedly died due to of extrajudicial killings, beatings, torture, or starvation. In response to the Giwa Barracks allegations, the military indicated it would conduct an investigation. As of December the military had not released any reports of an investigation.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners was inadequate, and authorities did not take steps to improve it. Authorities maintained records for individual prisoners in paper form inconsistently and did not make them widely accessible.

While prison authorities allowed visitors within a scheduled timeframe, few visits occurred, largely due to lack of family resources and travel distances.

The country does not have an ombudsman to serve on behalf of convicted prisoners and detainees. The ACJA provides that the chief judge of each state, or any magistrate designated by the chief judge, shall conduct monthly inspections of police stations and other places of detention within the magistrate’s jurisdiction, other than prisons, and may inspect records of arrests, direct the arraignment of suspects, and grant bail if previously refused but appropriate.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducts prison audits and in September announced the start of a new one. Despite an expressed willingness and ability to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions, however, the last audit report it publicly released was in 2012. Through its Legal Aid Council, the Ministry of Justice reportedly provided some monitoring of prisons under the Federal Government Prison Decongestion Program.

Independent Monitoring: There was limited monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to have access to police detention and NPS facilities. It was also able to visit some military detention facilities.

Improvements: Some individual attorneys general and prison administrators worked to improve local facilities and processes. CURE-Nigeria worked with the chief justice of the FCT to review the cases of FCT inmates incarcerated in neighboring states while awaiting trial or after having served their sentences.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, police and security services employed these practices. According to numerous reports, since 2013 the military arbitrarily arrested and detained–often in unmonitored military detention facilities–thousands of persons in the context of the fight against Boko Haram in the Northeast (see section 1.g.). In their prosecution of corruption cases, law enforcement and intelligence agencies often failed to follow due process and arrested suspects without appropriate arrest and search warrants.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police Force (NPF) is the country’s largest law enforcement agency. An inspector general of police, appointed by the president and reporting to the minister of interior, commands the NPF. In addition to traditional police responsibilities of maintaining law and order in communities in each of the states and the FCT, the inspector general oversees law enforcement operations throughout the country involving border security, marine (navigation) matters, and counterterrorism. A state commissioner of police, nominated by the inspector general and approved by the state governor, commands NPF forces in each of the states and the FCT. Although administratively controlled by the inspector general, operationally the state commissioner reports to the governor. In the event of societal violence or emergencies, such as endemic terrorist activity or national disasters that necessitate the temporary deployment to a state of additional law enforcement resources, the governor may also assume operational control of these forces.

The Department of State Services (DSS) is responsible for internal security and reports to the president through the national security adviser. Several other federal organizations have law enforcement components, such as the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, and federal courts.

Due to the inability of law enforcement forces to control societal violence, the government increasingly turned to the armed forces in many cases. In July, for example, the military launched Operation Accord to tackle an increase in the number of herder-farmer conflicts throughout the country.

The police, DSS, and military reported to civilian authorities but periodically acted outside civilian control. The government lacked effective mechanisms and sufficient political will to investigate and punish security force abuse and corruption. The police and military remained susceptible to corruption, committed human rights abuses, and operated with widespread impunity in the apprehension, illegal detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution of suspects. The DSS also reportedly committed human rights abuses. In some cases private citizens or the government brought charges against perpetrators of human rights abuses, but most cases lingered in court or went unresolved after an initial investigation. In the armed forces, a soldier’s commanding officer determined disciplinary action, and the decision was subject to review by the chain of command under the Armed Forces Act. In March the army announced the creation of a human rights desk to investigate complaints of human rights violations brought by civilians, although as of December that office’s mandate remained unclear and no investigations had been formally initiated.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police and other security services have the authority to arrest individuals without first obtaining warrants if they have reasonable suspicion a person committed an offense, a power they often abused. The law requires that, even under a state of emergency, detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours and have access to lawyers and family members. In many instances government and security officials did not adhere to this regulation without being bribed. Police held for interrogation individuals found in the vicinity of a crime for periods ranging from a few hours to several months, and after their release, authorities frequently asked the individuals to return for further questioning. The law requires an arresting officer to inform the accused of charges at the time of arrest, transport the accused to a police station for processing within a reasonable time, and allow the suspect to obtain counsel and post bail. Families were afraid to approach military barracks used as detention facilities. Police routinely detained suspects without informing them of the charges against them or allowing access to counsel and family members; such detentions often included solicitation of bribes. Provision of bail often remained arbitrary or subject to extrajudicial influence. Judges often set exceedingly stringent bail conditions. In many areas with no functioning bail system, suspects remained incarcerated indefinitely under investigative detention. Authorities kept detainees incommunicado for long periods. Numerous detainees alleged police demanded bribes to take them to court hearings or to release them. If family members wanted to attend a trial, police often demanded additional payment.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security force personnel arbitrarily arrested numerous persons during the year, although the number remained unknown. In the Northeast the military and members of vigilante groups, such as the CJTF, reportedly continued to round up individuals during mass arrests, often with no evidence against them.

Security services detained journalists and demonstrators during the year (see sections 2.a. and 2.b.).

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. According to NPS figures from March, 72 percent of the prison population consisted of detainees awaiting trial, often for years. The shortage of trial judges, trial backlogs, endemic corruption, bureaucratic inertia, and undue political influence seriously hampered the judicial system. In many cases multiple adjournments resulted in years-long delays. Many detainees had their cases adjourned because the NPF and the NPS did not have vehicles to transport them to court. Some persons remained in detention because authorities lost their case files.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees can challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court and have the right to submit complaints to the NHRC. For example, in April an Abuja court ordered the EFCC to pay the sum of 10 million naira ($31,750) as damages to the former acting national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party after declaring his arrest and subsequent detention by the commission illegal.

Nevertheless, most detainees found this approach ineffective because, even with legal representation, they often waited years to gain access to court.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. Political leaders influenced the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency, and corruption prevented the judiciary from functioning adequately. Judges frequently failed to appear for trials. In addition, the pay for court officials was low, and they often lacked proper equipment and training.

There was a widespread public perception that judges were easily bribed and litigants could not rely on the courts to render impartial judgments. Citizens encountered long delays and received requests from judicial officials for bribes to expedite cases or obtain favorable rulings.

Although the Ministry of Justice implemented strict requirements for education and length of service for judges at the federal and state levels, no requirements or monitoring bodies existed for judges at the local level. This contributed to corruption and the miscarriage of justice in local courts.

The constitution provides that, in addition to common law courts, states may establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law. Sharia courts functioned in 12 northern states and the FCT. Customary courts functioned in most of the 36 states. The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determined what type of court had jurisdiction. In the case of sharia courts in the North, the impetus to establish them stemmed at least in part from perceptions of inefficiency, cost, and corruption in the common law system.

The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for “civil proceedings,” but they do not have the authority to compel participation by non-Muslims. Non-Muslims have the option to have their cases tried in the sharia courts if involved in civil disputes with Muslims.

The constitution is silent on the use of sharia courts for criminal cases. In addition to civil matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue. Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for “hudud” offenses (serious criminal offenses with punishments prescribed in the Quran) that provide for punishments such as caning, amputation, and death by stoning. Despite constitutional language supporting only secular criminal courts and the prohibition against involuntary participation in sharia criminal courts, a Zamfara State law requires that a sharia court hear all criminal cases involving Muslims.

Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal statutes through the common law appellate courts. As of December no challenges with adequate legal standing had reached the common law appellate system. The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the Supreme Court, staffed by common-law judges who are not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code. Sharia law experts often advise them.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Defendants are presumed innocent and enjoy the rights to: be informed promptly and in detail of charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals); receive a fair and public trial without undue delay; be present at their trial; communicate with an attorney of choice (or have one provided at public expense); have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence; not be compelled to testify or confess guilt; and appeal. The law grants defendants the right to apply directly or through a lawyer for access to government-held evidence.

Authorities did not always respect these rights. Although accused persons are entitled to counsel of their choice, no law prevents a trial from going forward without counsel, except for certain offenses that carry the death penalty. Authorities held defendants in prison awaiting trial for periods well beyond the term allowed by law (see section 1.c.).

Human rights groups alleged the government denied terror suspects detained by the military their rights to legal representation, due process, and to be heard by a judicial authority. Despite announcements in 2015 that the government was preparing to prosecute 350 Boko Haram suspects in custody, as of December there were no reports of the government initiating their prosecutions. Thousands of other individuals suspected of association with Boko Haram remained in detention with no investigations or prosecutions initiated against them.

Under common law women and non-Muslims may testify in civil or criminal proceedings and give testimony that carries the same weight as testimony of other witnesses. Sharia courts usually accorded the testimony of women and non-Muslims less weight than that of Muslim men. Some sharia court judges allowed different evidentiary requirements for male and female defendants to prove adultery or fornication. Pregnancy, for example, was admissible evidence of a woman’s adultery or fornication in some sharia courts. In contrast, sharia courts could convict men only if they confessed or there was eyewitness testimony. Sharia courts, however, provided women some benefits, including increased access to divorce, child custody, and alimony.

Military courts tried only military personnel, but their judgments could be appealed to civilian courts. Members of the military are subject to the Armed Forces Act regarding civil and criminal matters. The operational commanding officer of a member of the armed forces must approve charges against that member. The commanding officer decides whether the accusation merits initiation of court-martial proceedings or lower-level disciplinary action. Such determinations are nominally subject to higher review, although the commanding officer makes the final decision. If the case proceeds, the accused is subject to trial by a four-member court-martial. The law provides for internal appeals before military councils as well as final appeal to the civilian Court of Appeals.

In May the NA announced a special court-martial to try two generals on unspecified charges. In September the court convicted one of them of indiscipline and reduced his rank. In August the NA convened a court-martial to try 16 soldiers and four officers for offenses allegedly committed during operations in the Northeast. Their cases were pending as of December.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no new reports of political prisoners or detainees. Persons arrested in previous years for alleged treason remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the executive and legislative branches, as well as business interests, exerted influence and pressure in civil cases. Official corruption and lack of will to implement court decisions also interfered with due process. The law provides for access to the courts for redress of grievances, and courts may award damages and issue injunctions to stop or prevent a human rights violation, but the decisions of civil courts were difficult to enforce.

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

The law prohibits arbitrary interference, but authorities reportedly infringed on these rights during the year, and police entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization. There were reports of warrantless arrests of young men in the Niger Delta region on suspicion of having links with militant groups. In their pursuit of corruption cases, law enforcement agencies reportedly carried out searches and arrests without warrants.

The Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) continued to threaten to evict residents in communities not deemed in compliance with the Abuja city master plan. The FCDA typically claimed that demolished homes, businesses, or churches lacked proper permits (even if owners were able to produce documentation indicating the structures were built legally), were unsafe, or posed health hazards. Many civil society organizations and citizens claimed property developers with connections to government officials acquired vacated properties. No transparent legal process existed for deciding which homes the government would demolish. Persons who lost homes lacked recourse to appeal and received no compensation. Many observers viewed the demolitions as motivated primarily by corruption and discrimination based on socioeconomic class, since mostly lower- and middle-class persons lost their homes and property.

For example, the government of Kaduna State issued demolition notices in March to residents of Gbagyi Villa despite a court injunction against the planned demolition. Residents claimed the government had not consulted with them or offered alternative housing or compensation.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government frequently restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The constitution entitles every individual to “freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Although federal and state governments usually respected this right, there were reported cases in which the government abridged the right to speech and other expression.

Press and Media Freedoms: Freedom House’s annual survey of media independence, Freedom of the Press 2016, described the press as “partly free.” A large and vibrant private domestic press frequently criticized the government. Because newspapers and television were relatively expensive and literacy levels low, radio remained the most important medium of mass communication and information.

Violence and Harassment: Security services detained and harassed journalists, sometimes for reporting on sensitive problems such as political corruption and security. Security services including police occasionally arrested and detained journalists who criticized the government.

For example, in May a journalist was driving to an assignment when he saw two police officers beating up a driver and his passenger by the side of the road. When he stopped to film the scene, one officer tried to prevent him from doing so while the other slapped him. After a struggle, the officers arrested the journalist and took him to the police station in Mushin LGA, Lagos State. After threatening him, the police released the journalist.

In August EFCC agents arrested a popular blogger known as Abusidiqu after he published a post highly critical of the head of the EFCC. He was released two days later, amid widespread criticism of his arrest.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government controlled much of the electronic media through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is responsible for monitoring and regulating broadcast media. The law prohibits local television stations from transmitting programming from other countries except for special religious programs, sports programs, or events of national interest. Cable and satellite transmission was less restricted. For example, the NBC permitted live transmission of foreign news and programs on cable and satellite networks, but they must dedicate 20 percent of their programming time to local content.

Journalists practiced self-censorship. Local NGOs claimed security services intimidated newspaper editors and owners into censoring reports of killings and other human rights abuses.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a civil offense and requires defendants to prove the truth of the opinion or value judgment contained in news reports or editorials or pay penalties. This limited the circumstances in which media defendants could rely on the common law legal defense of “fair comment on matters of public interest,” and it restricted the right to freedom of expression. Defamation is a criminal offense carrying a penalty of two years’ imprisonment and possible fines.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted. Rising internet usage in the country was due to growing cell phone usage, although high-speed broadband penetration increased from 10 percent in 2014 to 14 percent during the year. According to the World Bank, 47 percent of individuals used the internet in 2015.

Human rights advocates and business executives expressed concern over the inadequacy of laws to protect personal data and privacy rights. Some civil society organizations, government officials, and business executives expressed concern over the broad powers the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 gives law enforcement and other security agencies to intercept private communications. According to civil society organizations, business executives, and network providers, the government in the past conducted massive surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications, and on occasion compelled network operators to release political dissidents’ communication data.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government occasionally banned gatherings when it concluded their political, ethnic, or religious nature might lead to unrest. Open-air religious services held away from places of worship remained prohibited in many states, due to fears they might heighten interreligious tensions. In October several northern states enacted restrictions on religious activities shortly before the Shia commemoration of Ashura. When the IMN attempted to observe Ashura, security forces seeking to enforce the restrictions killed at least 15 IMN members. In November a similar situation between the IMN and the NPF during a pilgrimage march in Kano State resulted in the death of one police officer and more than 40 IMN members.

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, a law prohibiting marriages and civil unions among persons of the same sex, criminalizes the free association of any persons through so-called gay organizations (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

In areas that experienced societal violence, police and other security services permitted public meetings and demonstrations on a case-by-case basis.

Security services continued to use excessive force to disperse demonstrators during the year (see section 1.a.).

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right to associate freely with other persons in political parties, trade unions, or other special interest organizations. While the government generally respected this right, on occasion authorities abrogated it for some groups. In October the government of Kaduna State proscribed the IMN, alleging the group constituted a danger to public order and peace, and ordered the arrest of IMN spokesperson Ibrahim Musa for allegedly violating the ban. As of December Musa was in hiding.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but security officials restricted freedom of movement at times by imposing curfews in areas experiencing terrorist attacks and ethnoreligious violence.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers through the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons.

In-country Movement: The federal, state, or local governments imposed curfews or otherwise restricted movement in the states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe in connection with operations against Boko Haram. Other states imposed curfews in reaction to events such as ethnoreligious violence.

Police continued to conduct “stop and search” operations in cities and on major highways and, on occasion, set up checkpoints. Upon assuming office, the new inspector general of police renewed his predecessor’s order to dismantle all checkpoints. Nonetheless, many checkpoints operated by military and police remained in place.

Exile: There are no legal grounds for forced exile, and there were no examples of formal legal proceedings to exile a citizen. Some citizens chose self-exile for political reasons or for fear for their personal security.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

In December the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported there were approximately 1.8 million persons displaced in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe. Insurgency was the main reasons for displacement, followed by communal clashes. The IOM estimated approximately 24 percent of IDPs lived in camps and camp-like settings and 76 percent with host families. More than half of the IDP population was female and 55 percent children under 18, 48 percent of them under five years of age. The true number of IDPs was likely much higher, as IOM’s efforts did not encompass all states and did not include inaccessible areas of the Northeast.

Food continued to be one of the IDPs’ greatest immediate needs. The United Nations reported in December that 5.1 million persons in the three northeastern states, including most IDPs, were in urgent need of food assistance. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, 20 to 50 percent of children screened by October in recently accessible areas of Borno and Yobe States were acutely malnourished. According to NGOs, in Bama, Borno State, 120 IDPs died in May of starvation over the course of 10 days. In addition to food, IDPs faced shortfalls in clean water, health care, and shelter. After recognizing the severity of the crisis in the Northeast, in September the government appointed an interministerial task force to assess and revamp the response efforts of its various ministries, departments, and agencies.

IDPs, especially those in the Northeast, continued to face severe protection issues. In April UNHCR published the results of a rapid protection assessment of IDPs in camps, settlements, and host communities in Maiduguri, Dikwa, and Damboa. In Maiduguri more than half of areas surveyed reported instances of survival sex in exchange for food or freedom to move in and out of IDP camps. Nearly half of all the areas surveyed reported rapes of women and girls in their camps and communities. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in October documented cases of rape and sexual exploitation of IDP women and girls committed by government officials and other authorities, including camp leaders, vigilante groups, police officers, and soldiers. The government responded quickly to HRW’s findings, indicating it had already ordered investigations into the matter. In November the inspector general of police announced establishment of a special panel to investigate all the cases reported by HRW. Shortly after, the Borno Police Command announced it had deployed 100 female police officers to IDP camps. In December the inspector general announced the arrest of two police officers, one prison warden, two CJTF members, one civil servant, and three servicemen suspected of sexual misconduct toward IDPs.

Slightly more than one-third of all sites in the UNHCR rapid protection assessment reported cases in which security services arrested and detained suspected Boko Haram members at IDP camps and in host communities; most families had not heard from the detainees since their arrest. Other protection concerns among respondents’ included attacks or bombing, lack of accountability and diversion of humanitarian aid, drug abuse, hostility and insecurity, harassment of women and girls, and lack of humanitarian assistance for host communities.

NGOs reported there were insufficient resources available to IDP victims of sexual and gender-based violence, who had limited access to safe, confidential psychosocial counseling and medical services or safe spaces. Women and girls abducted by Boko Haram, as well as the babies born as a result of rape during their captivity, faced stigmatization and community isolation.

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. According to UNHCR, as of November there were approximately 1,363 refugees (including more than 1,100 urban refugees) and 440 asylum seekers. They came mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Sudan, and Guinea, the majority of them living in urban areas in Lagos and Ijebu Ode, in Ogun State.

Employment: Refugees could move and work freely in the country but, like most citizens, had few opportunities for employment.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees, like citizens, had poor access to police and the courts.

Durable Solutions: The government, working with UNHCR, facilitated the voluntary repatriation of 616 Cameroonian refugees by February. It was also implementing a local integration work plan for protracted refugees.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a few hundred individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

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 based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot. The constitution and law allow the free formation of political parties. As of September, 40 parties were registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), an increase from the previous 28. The constitution requires political party sponsorship for all election candidates.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: INEC is the independent electoral body responsible for overseeing elections by regulating the process and preventing electoral misconduct. From November 2015 to August, INEC conducted 139 elections, including end of tenure and by-elections. There were allegations of malpractices in some elections, and INEC suspended 22 of them due to violence.

Many elections, such as the Ondo State gubernatorial election in November, were relatively peaceful. Significant violence and intimidation of voters and election officials by political operatives, however, marred several of the off-cycle and rerun elections. As a result, INEC postponed elections in some states.

There were several instances of INEC canceling, postponing, and rerunning gubernatorial or state legislative elections. In July INEC postponed rerun legislative elections in Rivers State. In the commission’s view, incidents of violence in several of Rivers’ LGAs, inflamed political rhetoric, and attacks against INEC facilities in the state threatened the exercise. The elections had originally taken place in 2015, but an election petition tribunal cancelled the results and ordered a rerun in response to a suit alleging intimidation of voters, unavailability of results sheets, the disappearance of electoral materials, and noncollation of results in several LGAs. According to NGO observers, serious irregularities marred the Three Rivers rerun elections in December. These included breach of the code of conduct and rules of engagement by the security forces and overt bias by electoral managers and others. There were serious cases of violence perpetrated by the NPF, NA, and DSS that resulted in several deaths. At least one police officer was killed. There was evidence of election malpractices and ballot hijacking by party agents under the watch of INEC and security agents.

Civil society organizations reported no legal restrictions on their ability to comment or observe parts of the electoral process. They reported aspects of the electoral process, however, remained opaque, allegedly because of deliberate attempts to undermine or circumvent the integrity of the process by stakeholders or because of INEC’s financial or logistical constraints. According to some civil society organizations, attempts to disenfranchise voters were on the rise through circumvention of permanent voter card procedures and targeted electoral violence. In response to some of these trends, INEC regularly cancelled votes from polling units that failed to use card readers properly.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevent women or minority members from voting, running for office, or serving as electoral monitors. There were no incidents or reports of deliberate exclusion of any group from participating in the political process. Observers attributed fewer leadership opportunities for women in major parties and government, particularly in the North, to religious and cultural barriers. Women occupied approximately 5 percent of National Assembly seats, and six of the 36 cabinet members were women. Few women ran for elected office at the national level: in 2015 just 128 women of 746 total candidates (17 percent) and 270 of the 1,772 House of Representative candidates (15 percent) were women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security services. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) holds broad authorities to prosecute most forms of corruption. The EFCC writ extends only to financial and economic crimes. In October the ICPC had 82 prosecutions underway and 1,311 open investigations, and it had secured eight convictions between September 2015 and August. The EFCC had 66 corruption cases pending in court, had secured 13 convictions during the year, and had 598 open investigations.

Although ICPC and EFCC anticorruption efforts remained largely focused on low- and mid-level government officials, following the 2015 presidential election both organizations started investigations into and brought indictments against various current and former high-level government officials. Many of these cases were pending in court. According to both ICPC and EFCC, the delays were the result of a lack of judges and the widespread practice of filing for and granting multiple adjournments.

EFCC arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC. In a case brought by the EFCC, in November a federal court convicted four firms allegedly used by a former aide of former president Goodluck Jonathan of laundering 1.67 billion naira ($5.3 million) in stolen funds. In its pursuit of corruption, the EFCC often did not observe all pertinent due process safeguards. In November the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice declared unlawful the arrest and detention in November 2015 of former national security advisor Sambo Dasuki. A court had released him on bail in a case brought by the EFCC for the alleged diversion of 13.6 billion naira ($43.2 million) intended to purchase military materiel during the Jonathan administration.

In October and November, the DSS arrested several federal judges, including some Supreme Court justices, for corruption. Prominent civil society representatives denounced the arrests, alleging that as a domestic intelligence agency the DSS lacked the necessary law enforcement powers. Subsequent to their arrests, the government indicted some of the judges for various crimes, ranging from immigration violations to money laundering.

Despite the announcement in 2015 of measures to tackle rampant police corruption and the 2013 propagation of a police code of conduct, as of November there were no reports of pending corruption cases against police officers.

Financial Disclosure: The Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (CCBTA) requires public officials–including the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, cabinet ministers, and legislators (at both federal and state levels)–to declare their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before assuming and after leaving office. The constitution calls for the CCB to “make declarations available for inspection by any citizen of the country on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe.” The law does not address the publication of asset information. Violators risk prosecution, but cases rarely reached conclusion.

In 2015 the CCB brought charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal–a court created by the CCBTA to try violations of that act–against Senate President Bukola Saraki for false declaration of assets. In November the tribunal adjourned the trial until 2017.

Public Access to Information: The law allows any person to request information from a government office. The office must grant access to the information, explain why access was denied within seven days of receiving the request, or transfer the request to the appropriate office within three days. By law all public offices must keep records and ensure that information, except as otherwise noted, is “widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including print, electronic, and online sources.” The law provides immunity for public officers against any form of civil or criminal proceeding for “disclosure in good faith of any information” pursuant to the law, except for that information covered under the criminal code, penal code, and the Official Secrets Act. This exception hinders disclosure and access to information. The law provides a 30-day period during which anyone denied access by any public institution may submit the matter to court for a judicial review. The law includes a fine of 500,000 naira ($1,590) for any institution or public officer who wrongfully denies access to information or records. Destruction of records is a felony punishable by a minimum penalty of one year’s imprisonment. Immunity from this law, however, is provided for the president, vice president, senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, and all state governors. The law requires each public institution to submit an annual report on freedom of information requests and compliance to the attorney general and to make such information available to the public by various means; such information, however, was difficult to locate.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 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 sometimes cooperated and responded to their views, but on some occasions dismissed allegations quickly without investigating the charges.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The law establishes the NHRC as an independent nonjudicial mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights. The NHRC monitors human rights through its zonal affiliates in the country’s six political regions. The NHRC investigates allegations of human rights abuses and publishes periodic reports detailing its findings, including torture and poor prison conditions. The law provides for recognition and enforcement of NHRC awards and recommendations as court decisions.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: There is no comprehensive law for combatting violence against women. As a result, victims and survivors had little or no recourse to justice. While some, mostly southern, states enacted laws prohibiting some forms of gender violence or seeking to safeguard certain rights, a majority of states did not have such legislation.

The Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act addresses sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence, harmful traditional practices, and socioeconomic violence. Under the VAPP, spousal battery, forceful ejection from the home, forced financial dependence or economic abuse, harmful widowhood practices, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), other harmful traditional practices, substance attacks (such as acid attacks), political violence, and violence by state actors (especially government security forces) are offenses. Victims and survivors of violence are entitled to comprehensive medical, psychological, social, and legal assistance by accredited service providers and government agencies, with their identities protected during court cases. Until adoption by the states, however, the provisions of the VAPP Act are only applicable to the FCT.

The law criminalizes rape. The VAPP provides penalties ranging from 12 years’ to life imprisonment for offenders older than 14 and a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment for all others. It also provides for a public register of convicted sexual offenders and appointment of protection officers at the local government level to coordinate with courts and ensure victims receive various forms of assistance (e.g., medical, psychosocial, legal, rehabilitative, reintegrative) provided by the VAPP. The act also includes provisions to protect the identity of rape victims and a provision empowering courts to award appropriate compensation to victims of rape.

Rape remained widespread. According to a study, almost 20 percent of college students surveyed reported at least one incident of rape committed against them. In 2013 Positive Action for Treatment Access, an NGO focused on HIV treatment, released a countrywide survey of 1,000 preadolescents and adolescents (ages 10 to 19), which noted three in 10 girls reported their first sexual encounter was rape.

Societal pressure and the stigma associated with rape reduced the percentage of rapes reported and the penalties imposed for conviction. Sentences for persons convicted of rape and sexual assault were inconsistent and often minor.

No laws of nationwide applicability criminalize gender-based violence. The VAPP provides for up to three years’ imprisonment, a maximum fine of 200,000 naira ($635), or both for spousal battery. It defines spousal/partner battery as the intentional use of force or violence upon a person to include touching, beating, or striking with the intention of causing bodily harm. The act provides up to one year’s imprisonment for anyone found guilty of intimidation by conveying a threat that induces fear, anxiety, or discomfort. It also authorizes courts to issue protection orders upon application by a victim and directs the appointment of a coordinator for the prevention of domestic violence to submit an annual report to the federal government. Notwithstanding these federal provisions, only the states of Cross River, Ebonyi, Jigawa, and Lagos had enacted domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence remained widespread, and many considered it socially acceptable. The CLEEN Foundation’s National Crime Victimization and Safety Survey for 2013 reported 30 percent of male and female respondents countrywide claimed to have been victims of domestic violence.

Police often refused to intervene in domestic disputes or blamed the victim for provoking the abuse. In rural areas courts and police were reluctant to intervene to protect women who formally accused their husbands of abuse if the level of alleged abuse did not exceed local customary norms.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): According to a UNICEF 2016 report, among women 15-49 years of age, 25 percent had undergone the practice. Mothers reported 17 percent of girls age 14 and younger had similarly undergone FGM/C. The age at which women and girls underwent the practice varied from the first week of life until after a woman delivered her first child. Most victims underwent FGM/C before their first birthday. In 2014 UNICEF reported the highest prevalence among women 15 to 49 years of age was in the Southwest (approximately 51 to 80 percent), followed by the Southeast and South (approximately 26 to 50 percent), and on a smaller scale in the North.

The VAPP penalizes a person who performs female circumcision or genital mutilation with a maximum of four years in prison, a fine of 200,000 naira ($635), or both. It punishes anyone who aids or abets such a person with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine of 100,000 naira ($317), or both. For purposes of the act, female circumcision means cutting all or part of the external sex organs of a girl or woman other than on medical grounds. By law an offender is a person who performs FGM/C; engages another to perform it; or incites, aids, abets, or counsels another person to perform FGM/C.

Federal law criminalizes female circumcision or genital mutilation, but the federal government took no legal action to curb the practice. While 12 states banned FGM/C, once a state legislature criminalizes FGM/C, NGOs found they had to convince local authorities that state laws apply in their districts. The Ministry of Health, women’s groups, and many NGOs sponsored public awareness projects to educate communities about the health hazards of FGM/C. Underfunding and logistical obstacles limited their contact with health-care workers.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Under the VAPP, any person who subjects another to harmful traditional practices may be punished with up to four years in prison, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. Anyone subjecting a widow to harmful traditional practices is subject to two years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. For purposes of the VAPP, a harmful traditional practice means all traditional behavior, attitudes, or practices that negatively affect the fundamental rights of women or girls, to include denial of inheritance or succession rights, FGM/C or circumcision, forced marriage, and forced isolation from family and friends.

Despite the federal law, purdah, the cultural practice of secluding women and pubescent girls from unrelated men, continued in parts of the North. In some parts of the country, widows experienced unfavorable conditions as a result of discriminatory traditional customs. “Confinement,” which occurred predominantly in the Northeast, remained the most common rite of deprivation for widows. Confined widows stayed under social restrictions for as long as one year and usually shaved their heads and dressed in black as part of a culturally mandated mourning period. In other areas communities viewed a widow as a part of her husband’s property to be “inherited” by his family. In some traditional southern communities, widows fell under suspicion when their husbands died. To prove their innocence, they were forced to drink the water used to clean their deceased husbands’ bodies.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a common problem. No statutes prohibit sexual harassment, but authorities may prosecute violent harassment under assault statutes. The VAPP criminalizes stalking, with terms of imprisonment of up to two years, a maximum fine of 500,000 naira ($1,590), or both. It does not explicitly criminalize sexual harassment, which it legally defines as physical, verbal, or nonverbal conduct of a sexual nature, based on sex or gender, which is persistent or serious and demeans, humiliates, or creates a hostile or intimidating environment. The act criminalizes emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse and acts of intimidation.

The practice of demanding sexual favors in exchange for employment or university grades remained common. Women suffered harassment for social and religious reasons in some regions. Women’s rights groups reported the Abuja Environmental Protection Board took women into custody under the pretext of removing commercial sex workers from the streets of the capital. According to activists, the board then forced women to buy their freedom or confess to prostitution and undergo rehabilitation. With the support of several civil society organizations, four women filed a joint lawsuit against the board with the ECOWAS Court of Justice. As of November the case was pending.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the legal right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. Information on reproductive health and access to quality reproductive health services and emergency obstetric care was not widely available. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported the maternal mortality rate was 814 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015 due to factors including lack of access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetric care, and other medical services. During the year WHO reported the percentage of births attended by skill health personnel between 2006 and 2014 was 35 percent. The UN Population Division estimated 16 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. The UN Population Fund reported as of 2010 that 28 percent of women ages 20-24 had given birth before the age of 18.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men, women experienced considerable economic discrimination. The law does not mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value, nor does it mandate nondiscrimination based on gender in hiring. No laws bar women from particular fields of employment, but women reportedly faced challenges in obtaining employment in heavy manufacturing and construction. Women often experienced discrimination under traditional and religious practices.

Women generally remained marginalized. No laws prohibit women from owning land, but customary land tenure systems allowed only men to own land, with women gaining access to land only via marriage or family. Many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit her husband’s property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property.

In the 12 states that adopted sharia, sharia and social norms affected women to varying degrees. For example, in Zamfara State local governments enforced laws requiring the separation of Muslim men and women in transportation and health care. In 2013 the Kano State government issued a statement declaring men and women must remain separate while using public transportation.

The testimony of women received less weight than that of men in many criminal courts. Women could arrange but not post bail at most police detention facilities.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive their citizenship from their parents. The government does not require birth registration for either girls or boys, and the majority of births were unregistered. The 2013 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), the most recent data available, found that only 30 percent of births of children under age five were registered. Lack of documents did not result in denial of education, health care, or other public services.

Education: Public schools remained substandard, and limited facilities precluded access to education for many children. The law requires provision of tuition free, compulsory, and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age. Under the constitution, women and girls are supposed to receive career and vocational guidance at all levels, as well as access to quality education, education advancement, and lifelong learning. Despite these provisions, extensive discrimination and impediments to female participation in education persist.

Most educational funding comes from the federal government, with state governments required to pay a share. Public investment was insufficient to achieve universal basic education. Available estimates for public investment in education ranged from 1 percent to just over 7 percent of GDP.

Of the approximately 30 million primary school-age children, an estimated one-third were not enrolled in formally recognized schools. The lowest attendance rates were in the North, where rates for boys and girls were approximately 45 percent and 35 percent, respectively. According to UNICEF, in the North, for every 10 girls in school, more than 22 boys attended. Approximately 25 percent of young persons between ages 17 and 25 had fewer than two years of education.

In many parts of the country, social and economic factors resulted in discrimination against girls in access to education. In the face of economic hardship, many families favored boys over girls in deciding which children to enroll in elementary and secondary schools. According to the 2015 Nigeria Education Data Survey, attendance rates in primary schools increased to 68 percent nationwide, with school-age boys continuing to be somewhat more likely than girls to attend primary school. According to the survey, primary enrollment was 91 percent for boys and 78 percent for girls; secondary enrollment was 88 percent for boys and 77 percent for girls.

The Northeast had the lowest primary school attendance rate, 45 percent for the entire northern region (43 percent for girls, 46 percent for boys). The most pronounced reason was the Boko Haram insurgency, which prevented thousands of children from continuing their education in the states of Borno and Yobe (due to destruction of schools, community displacement, and mass movement of families from those crisis states to safer areas).

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained common throughout the country, but the government took no significant measures to combat it. Findings from the Nigeria Violence Against Children Survey released in 2015 revealed approximately six of every 10 children under age 18 experienced some form of physical, emotional, or sexual violence during childhood. One in two children experienced physical violence, one in four girls and one in 10 boys experienced sexual violence, and one in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence.

In 2010 the Ministerial Committee on Madrasah Education reported 9.5 million children worked as “almajiri,” poor children from rural homes sent to urban areas by their parents ostensibly to study and live with Islamic teachers. Instead of receiving an education, many “almajiri” were forced to work manual jobs or beg for alms that were turned over to their teacher. The religious leaders often did not provide these children with sufficient shelter or food, and many of the children effectively became homeless.

In some states children accused of witchcraft were killed or suffered abuse, such as kidnapping and torture.

So-called baby factories continued to operate, often disguised as orphanages, religious or rehabilitation centers, hospitals, or maternity homes. They offered for sale the newborns of pregnant women–mostly unmarried girls–often held against their will and raped. The persons running the factories sold the children for various purposes, including adoption, child labor, prostitution, or sacrificial rituals, with the boys’ fetching higher prices. In August police in Aba, Abia State, rescued five pregnant women from a house, alleging its owners were engaged in child trafficking. In October police in Asaba, Delta State, rescued seven pregnant women ranging in age from 18 to 20 years, alleging the proprietor and his wife sold the children upon delivery.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets a minimum age of 18 years for marriage for both boys and girls. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016, 43 percent of girls were married before age 18, and 17 percent were married before age 15. The prevalence of child marriage varied widely between regions, with figures ranging from 76 percent in the Northwest to 10 percent in the Southeast. Only 24 state assemblies adopted the Child Rights Act of 2003, which sets the minimum marriage age, and most states, especially northern states, did not uphold the federal official minimum age for marriage. The government engaged religious leaders, emirs, and sultans on the problem, emphasizing the health hazards of early marriage. Certain states worked with NGO programs to establish school subsidies or fee waivers for children to help protect against early marriage. The government did not take legal steps to end sales of young girls into marriage. According to credible reports, poor families sold their daughters into marriage to supplement their incomes or for reasons pertaining to social and religious traditions.

According to an NGO, education was a key indicator of whether a girl would marry as a child–82 percent of women with no education were married before 18, as opposed to 13 percent of women who had at least finished secondary school education. In the north, parents complained that the quality of education was so poor that schooling could not be considered a viable alternative to marriage for their daughters. Poor families sold their daughters into marriage to supplement their incomes. Families sometimes forced young girls into marriage as early as puberty, regardless of age, to prevent “indecency” associated with premarital sex or for other cultural and religious reasons. Boko Haram subjected abducted girls to forced marriage.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See information for girls under 18 in the Women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The 2003 Child Rights Act prohibits child prostitution and sexual intercourse with a child, providing penalties of up to seven years’ and life imprisonment, respectively, for any adults involved. Two-thirds of the states adopted the act. While the majority of them retained the act’s definition of a child as a person under 18, some lowered the minimum age to accommodate local betrothal and marriage practices.

The VAPP criminalizes incest and provides prison sentences of up to 10 years. The Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes the production, procurement, distribution, and possession of child pornography with prison terms of 10 years, a fine of 20 million naira ($63,500), or both.

Sexual exploitation of children remained a significant problem. Children were trafficked for sex, both within the country and to other countries. In late 2013 Project Alert on Violence against Women released a study showing that children under age 10 faced a 39 percent risk of being victims of sexual violence.

Displaced Children: In December the IOM reported there were approximately 1.8 million persons displaced in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba, and Yobe. Children under 18 constituted 55 percent of the IDP population, with 48 percent of them under five years of age.

Many children were homeless and lived on the streets, although the government had no reliable statistics. Major factors behind child homelessness were instability in the home, poverty, hunger, parental abuse, and displacement caused by clashes in the community.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

An estimated 700 to 900 members of the Jewish community, who were foreign employees of international firms, resided in Abuja. Although not recognized as Jews by mainstream Jewish communities, between 2,000 and 30,000 ethnic Igbos claimed Jewish descent and practiced some form of Judaism. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

No federal laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. The law does, however, prohibit discrimination based on the “circumstances of one’s birth.” Plateau and Lagos States have laws that protect the rights of persons with disabilities, while Akwa-Ibom, Jigawa, Osun, and Oyo States took steps to develop such laws. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development has responsibility for persons with disabilities. Some government agencies, such as the NHRC and the Ministry of Labor and Productivity, designated an employee to work on issues related to disabilities.

Mental health-care services were almost nonexistent. Officials at a small number of prisons used private donations to provide separate mental health facilities for prisoners with mental disabilities. All prisoners with disabilities stayed with the general inmate population and received no specialized services or accommodations.

Persons with disabilities faced social stigma, exploitation, and discrimination, and relatives often regarded them as a source of shame. Many families viewed children with disabilities who could not contribute to family income as liabilities and sometimes severely abused or neglected them. Many indigent persons with disabilities begged on the streets. Persons with intellectual disabilities were stigmatized, sometimes even within the community of persons with disabilities.

The government operated vocational training centers in Abuja and Lagos to train indigent persons with disabilities. Individual states also provided facilities to help persons with physical disabilities become self-supporting. Persons with disabilities established self-help NGOs such as the Hope for the Blind Foundation in Zaria, Kano Polio Victims Trust Association, the Albino Foundation, and Comprehensive Empowerment of Nigerians with Disabilities. The Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities served as the umbrella organization for a range of disability groups. In 2008 the Ministry of Education estimated that, of 3.25 million school-age children with disabilities, only 90,000 were enrolled in primary school and 65,000 in secondary school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The ethnically diverse population consisted of more than 250 groups. Many were concentrated geographically and spoke distinct primary languages. Three major groups–the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba–together constituted approximately half the population. Members of all ethnic groups practiced ethnic discrimination, particularly in private-sector hiring patterns and the segregation of urban neighborhoods. A long history of tension existed between some ethnic groups. The government’s efforts to address tensions between ethnic groups typically involved heavily concentrated security actions, incorporating police, military, and other security services, often in the form of a joint task force. The National Orientation Agency, the government body responsible for communicating official policy, occasionally organized conferences and issued public messages in support of tolerance and national unity.

The law prohibits ethnic discrimination by the government, but most ethnic groups claimed to be marginalized in terms of government revenue allocation, political representation, or both.

The constitution requires the government to have a “federal character,” meaning that cabinet and other high-level positions must be distributed to persons representing each of the 36 states or each of the six geopolitical regions. President Buhari’s cabinet appointments reflected this federal character. Traditional relationships were used to pressure government officials to favor particular ethnic groups in the distribution of important positions and other patronage.

All citizens have the right to live in any part of the country, but state and local governments frequently discriminated against ethnic groups not indigenous to their areas, occasionally compelling individuals to return to a region where their ethnic group originated but where they no longer had ties. State and local governments sometimes compelled nonindigenous persons to move by threats, discrimination in hiring and employment, or destruction of their homes. Those who chose to stay sometimes experienced further discrimination, including denial of scholarships and exclusion from employment in the civil service, police, and military. For example, in Plateau State the predominantly Muslim and nonindigenous Hausa and Fulani faced significant discrimination from the local government in land ownership, jobs, access to education, scholarships, and government representation.

Land disputes, ethnic differences, settler-indigene tensions, and religious affiliation contributed to clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers throughout the Middle Belt (the central part of the country). Determining the motives behind any single attack remained difficult. “Silent killings,” in which individuals disappeared and later were found dead, occurred throughout the year. Reprisal attacks at night in which assailants targeted and attacked individual homes or communities occurred frequently.

Conflicts over land rights continued between members of the Tiv, Kwalla, Jukun, Fulani, and Azara ethnic groups living near the convergence of Nasarawa, Benue, and Taraba States.

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

The 2014 Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) effectively renders illegal all forms of activity supporting or promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) rights. Under the SSMPA, anyone found to have entered into a same-sex marriage or civil union may be punished by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. In addition anyone found guilty of aiding “the solemnization of a same-sex marriage or civil union, or supports the registration, operation, and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions, or meetings,” or “registers, operates, or participates in gay clubs, societies, organizations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship” commits an offense punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. There were no reports the government enforced these provisions during the year.

Following passage of the SSMPA, LGBTI persons reported increased harassment and threats against them based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. News reports and LGBTI advocates reported numerous arrests, but detainees were in all cases released without formal charges after paying a bond, which was oftentimes nothing more than a bribe. In a report published in October, HRW found no evidence of any prosecutions under the SSMPA. According to HRW, however, the law had become a tool used by police and members of the public to legitimize human rights violations against LGBTI persons such as torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, extortion, and violations of due process rights. Other effects of the SSMPA reported by HRW included increased isolation of LGBTI persons and self-censoring behavior, which in some cases led LGBTI persons to marry opposite-sex partners and have children in an attempt to conform to socially acceptable gender norms.

According to a study published in 2015, since passage of the SSMPA, gay and bisexual men were increasingly reluctant to access HIV health-care services due to fear of being “outed.” The 707 gay and bisexual men surveyed were receiving HIV prevention and treatment services from a community-based clinic in 2013 and 2014. They made 756 visits to the clinic before the law passed but only 420 after its enactment.

In the 12 northern states that adopted sharia, adults convicted of engaging in same-sex sexual activity may be subject to execution by stoning. Although sharia courts did not impose such sentences during the year, in previous years individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity were sentenced to lashing.

In August sharia police in Sokoto arrested two men, accusing them of attempting to celebrate a gay marriage. Authorities released both of them and later issued a statement acknowledging they mistakenly arrested them while the two men were taking part in a traditional ceremony featuring cross-dressers.

Because of widespread societal taboos against same-sex sexual activity, very few LGBTI persons were open about their sexual orientation. Several NGOs provided LGBTI groups with legal advice and training in advocacy, media responsibility, and HIV/AIDS awareness, as well as providing safe havens for LGBTI individuals. The government and its agents did not impede the work of these groups during the year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

According to the 2013 NDHS, administered to a broad cross section of society throughout the 36 states and the FCT, 50 percent of women and 46 percent of men reported holding discriminatory attitudes toward those with HIV. The public considered the disease a result of immoral behavior and a punishment for same-sex sexual activity. Persons with HIV/AIDS often lost their jobs or were denied health-care services. Authorities and NGOs sought to reduce the stigma and change perceptions through public education campaigns.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Various reports indicated street mobs killed suspected criminals during the year. In most cases these mob actions resulted in no arrests.

Ritualists who believed certain body parts confer mystical powers kidnapped and killed persons to harvest body parts for rituals and ceremonies. For example, in April police in Ogun State discovered a shrine containing the body of a man allegedly killed for ritual purposes.

Persons born with albinism faced discrimination, were considered bad luck, and were sometimes abandoned at birth or killed for witchcraft purposes.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides all workers, except members of the armed forces and public employees in “essential services,” the right to form or belong to any trade union or other association, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively, but some statutory limitations substantially restricted these rights. Trade unions must meet various registration requirements to be legally established. By law a trade union may be registered if it has a minimum of 50 members and if there is no other union already registered in that trade or profession. A three-month notice period, starting from the date of publication of an application for registration in the Gazette, must elapse before a trade union may be registered. If the Ministry of Labor and Productivity does not receive objections to registration during the three-month notice period, it must register the union within three months of the expiration of the notice period. If an objection is raised, however, the ministry has an indefinite period to review and deliberate over the registration. The registrar may refuse registration because a proper objection has been raised or because a purpose of the trade union violates the Trade Union Act or other laws. Each federation must consist of 12 or more affiliated trade unions, and each trade union must be an exclusive member in a single federation.

The law generally does not provide for a union’s ability to conduct its activities without interference from the government. The law narrowly defines what union activities are legal. The minister of labor and productivity has broad authority to cancel the registration of worker and employer organizations. The registrar of trade unions has broad powers to review union accounts at any time. In addition the law requires government permission before a trade union can be legally affiliated with an international organization.

The law stipulates that every collective agreement on wages be registered with the National Salaries, Income, and Wages Commission, which decides whether the agreement becomes binding. Workers and employers in export processing zones (EPZs) are subject to the provisions of labor law, the 1992 Nigeria Export Processing Zones Decree, and other laws. Workers in the EPZs may organize and engage in collective bargaining, but there are no explicit provisions providing them the right to organize their administration and activities without interference by the government. The law does not allow worker representatives free access to the EPZs to organize workers, and it prohibits workers from striking for 10 years following the commencement of operations by the employer within a zone. In addition the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority, which the federal government created to manage the EPZ program, has exclusive authority to handle the resolution of disputes between employers and employees, thereby limiting the autonomy of the bargaining partners.

The law provides legal restrictions that limit the right to strike. The law requires a majority vote of all registered union members to call a strike. The law limits the right to strike to disputes over rights, including those arising from the negotiation, application, interpretation, or implementation of an employment contract or collective agreement, or those arising from a collective and fundamental breach of an employment contract or collective agreement, such as one related to wages and conditions of work. The law prohibits strikes in essential services, defined in an overly broad manner, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). These include the Central Bank of Nigeria; the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Ltd.; any corporate body licensed to carry out banking under the Banking Act; postal service; sound broadcasting; telecommunications; maintenance of ports, harbors, docks, or airports; transportation of persons, goods, or livestock by road, rail, sea, or river; road cleaning; and refuse collection. Strike actions, including many in nonessential services, may be subject to a compulsory arbitration procedure leading to a final award, which is binding on the parties concerned.

Strikes over national economic policy are prohibited. Penalties for participating in an illegal strike include fines and imprisonment for up to six months.

Workers under collective bargaining agreements may not participate in strikes unless their unions comply with legal requirements, including provisions for mandatory mediation and referral of disputes to the government. Workers may submit labor grievances to the judicial system for review. Laws prohibit workers from forcing persons to join strikes, blocking airports, or obstructing public byways, institutions, or premises of any kind. Persons committing violations are subject to fines and possible prison sentences. The law further restricts the right to strike by making “check-off” payment of union dues conditional on the inclusion of a no-strike clause during the lifetime of a collective agreement. No laws prohibit retribution against strikers and strike leaders, but strikers who believe they are victims of unfair retribution may submit their cases to the Industrial Arbitration Panel with the approval of the Ministry of Labor and Productivity. The panel’s decisions are binding on the parties but may be appealed to the National Industrial Court. The arbitration process was cumbersome, time consuming, and ineffective in deterring retribution against strikers. Individuals also have the right to petition the labor ministry and may request arbitration from the National Industrial Court.

The law does not prohibit general antiunion discrimination; it only protects unskilled workers. The law does not provide for the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

In 2013 the ILO ruled many provisions of the Trade Union Act and the Trade Disputes Act contravened ILO conventions 87 and 98 by limiting freedom of association.

While workers exercised some of their rights, the government generally did not effectively enforce the applicable laws. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations. Inflation reduced the deterrence value of many fines established by older laws. For example, some fines could not exceed 100 naira ($0.32).

The labor ministry registered approximately five unions per year. Officials reported union membership declined in recent years, and a majority of workers labored in the informal economy.

In many cases workers’ fears of negative repercussions inhibited their reporting of antiunion activities. According to labor representatives, police rarely gave permission for public demonstrations and routinely used force to disperse protesters.

The government reported to the ILO that unionization in the EPZs had begun, citing the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service, and Technical and Recreational Services Employees organizing members within the EPZ.

Collective bargaining occurred throughout the public sector and the organized private sector but remained restricted in some parts of the private sector, particularly in banking and telecommunications. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the government and some private-sector employers occasionally failed to honor their collective agreements. For example, the government repeatedly failed to abide by a ruling of the National Industrial Court to implement a 2009 agreement between the government and the Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU). In February health-care workers called off a three-month-old strike following government promises to enforce the agreement. In September JOHESU threatened to go on strike again, alleging noncompliance by the government on unpaid wages.

Union members complained about the increased use of contracted labor and short-term labor contracts by employers seeking to avoid pension contributions and other obligations to their employees. This problem prompted the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers to stage a three-day warning strike in 2014.

While the law does not provide for reinstatement of workers dismissed for their legitimate union activities, the Ministry of Labor and Productivity ordered the rehiring of union members fired for labor activism.

Some foreign employers reportedly failed to comply with labor laws, especially in the construction and textile sectors. For example, in May and July, recently fired workers of a foreign-owned construction company protested its alleged failure to provide proper notice and severance pay and to make mandatory pension contributions. A local NGO reported employers required workers to sign, as a condition of employment, contracts that explicitly prohibited them from attempting to join a union. Some employers dismissed workers involved in organizing unions.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits most forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children, although some laws provide for a sentence that includes compulsory prison labor. The law provides for fines and imprisonment for individuals convicted of engaging in forced or compulsory labor. Enforcement of the law remained ineffective in many parts of the country. The government took steps to identify or eliminate forced labor, but insufficient resources and jurisdictional problems between state and federal governments hampered efforts.

Forced labor remained widespread. Women and girls were subjected to forced labor in domestic service, while boys were subjected to forced labor in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, and begging.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets a general minimum age for employment of 12 years. Persons under the age of 14 may be employed only on a daily basis, must receive the day’s wages at the end of each workday, and must be able to return each night to their parents’ or guardian’s residence. By law these regulations do not apply to domestic service. The law also provides exceptions for light work in agriculture and horticulture if the employer is a family member. No person under age 16 may work underground, in machine work, or on a public holiday. No “young person,” defined as a person under 18 by the Labor Act, may be employed in any job that is injurious to health, dangerous, or immoral. For industrial work and work on vessels where a family member is not employed, the minimum work age is 15, consistent with the age for completing educational requirements. The law states children may not be employed in agricultural or domestic work for more than eight hours per day. Apprenticeship of youths above age 12 is allowed in skilled trades or as domestic servants.

In 2013 the government approved a national action plan and a national strategy for the elimination of child labor. The Ministry of Labor and Productivity is responsible for enforcing labor laws. The federal government’s Child Rights Act requires state-level ratification for full implementation. Twenty-three states and the FCT passed the act. The remaining states were primarily in the North, where sharia is in effect.

The labor ministry dealt specifically with child labor problems and operated an inspections department to enforce legal provisions on conditions of work and protection of workers. In 2014 the ministry reported 1,684 inspections in all areas, resulting in five cases of violations. Labor inspections mostly occurred randomly but occasionally occurred when there was suspicion, rather than actual complaints, of illegal activity. The ministry mainly conducted inspections in the formal business sector, where the incidence of child labor reportedly was not significant. The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) has some responsibility for enforcing child labor laws, although it primarily rehabilitates trafficking and child labor victims. Victims or their guardians rarely complained due to intimidation and fear of losing their jobs. There were no confirmed reports the ministry issued any citations or collected any fines from employers of child labor during the year.

The government’s child labor policy focused on intervention, advocacy, sensitization, legislation, withdrawal of children from potentially harmful labor situations, and rehabilitation and education of children following withdrawal. In an effort to withdraw children from the worst forms of child labor, it operated vocational training centers with NGOs around the country.

Despite the policy and action plan, children remained inadequately protected due to weak or nonexistent enforcement of the law. Child labor was widespread; the Ministry of Labor and Productivity and NAPTIP estimated more than 15 million children participated in child labor, including 2.3 million employed in hazardous work.

The worst forms of child labor identified in the country included commercial agriculture and hazardous farm work (cocoa, cassava); street hawking; exploitative cottage industries such as iron and other metal works; hazardous mechanical workshops; exploitative and hazardous domestic work; commercial fishing; exploitative and hazardous pastoral and herding activities; construction; transportation; mining and quarrying; prostitution and pornography; forced and compulsory labor and debt bondage; forced participation in violence, criminal activity, and ethnic, religious, and political conflicts; and involvement in drug peddling.

Many children worked as beggars, street peddlers, bus conductors, and domestic servants in urban areas. Among child workers the government estimated as many as 9.5 million “almajiri” were engaged in street begging in the North (see section 6, Children). Children also worked in the agricultural sector and in mines. Boys worked as bonded laborers on farms, in restaurants, for small businesses, in granite mines, and as street peddlers and beggars. Girls worked involuntarily as domestic servants, street peddlers, and commercial sex workers. Near Lafia, in Nasawara State, children broke up large pieces of rocks, stacked them into piles, and carried them on their heads. Children also engaged in this work in Bauchi State and the FCT. In Zamfara State, children worked in industrial facilities used to process gold ore, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions.

An international agency worked with state government officials to eliminate the employment of children under the age of 14 and acted as an ombudsman to advocate for 14- to 16-year-old workers.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law does not prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or social status. The government in general did not effectively address discrimination in employment or occupation.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6, Women). No laws bar women from particular fields of employment, but women often experienced discrimination under traditional and religious practices. Police regulations provide for special recruitment requirements and conditions of service applying to women, particularly the criteria and provisions relating to pregnancy and marital status.

NGOs expressed concern over continued discrimination against women in the private sector, particularly in access to employment, promotion to higher professional positions, and salary equity. According to credible reports, many businesses implemented a “get pregnant, get fired” policy. Women remained underrepresented in the formal sector but played active and vital roles in the informal economy, particularly in agriculture, processing of foodstuffs, and selling of goods at markets. The number of women employed in the business sector increased every year, but women did not receive equal pay for equal work and often encountered difficulty in acquiring commercial credit or obtaining tax deductions or rebates as heads of households. Unmarried women in particular endured many forms of discrimination. Several states had laws mandating equal opportunity for women.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal national monthly minimum wage was 18,000 naira ($57). Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from this minimum, and the large majority of workers were not covered. There is no official estimate for the poverty income level. Implementation of the minimum wage, particularly by state governments, remained sporadic despite workers’ protests and warning strikes.

The law mandates a 40-hour workweek, two to four weeks of annual leave, and overtime and holiday pay, except for agricultural and domestic workers. The law does not define premium pay or overtime. The law prohibits excessive compulsory overtime for civilian government employees.

The law establishes general health and safety provisions, some aimed specifically at young or female workers. The law requires employers to compensate injured workers and dependent survivors of workers killed in industrial accidents. The law provides for the protection of factory employees in hazardous situations. The law does not provide other, nonfactory workers with similar protections. The law applies to legal foreign workers, but not all companies respected these laws. The Ministry of Labor and Productivity is responsible for enforcing these standards.

By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.

The labor ministry employs factory inspectors and labor officers, but its Inspectorate Department declared it did not have sufficient staff to properly monitor and enforce health and safety conditions. The department is tasked to inspect factories’ compliance with health and safety standards, but it was underfunded, lacked basic resources and training, and consequently did not sufficiently enforce safety regulations at most enterprises, particularly construction sites and other nonfactory work locations. In addition the government did not enforce the law strictly. Authorities did not enforce standards in the informal sector.

The labor ministry reported that during 2014 there were 25 deaths related to occupational health and safety and one major industrial accident. Multiple sources indicated unsafe conditions were common at worksites across the country. In 2014, aside from the more than 1,684 labor inspections, there were no reports of wider government action to prevent violations and improve working conditions, particularly for hazardous sectors or vulnerable groups.

Uganda

Executive Summary

Uganda is a constitutional republic led since 1986 by President Yoweri Museveni of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. On February 18, voters re-elected Museveni to a fifth five-year term and returned an NRM majority to the unicameral National Assembly. The elections fell short of international standards and were marred by allegations of disenfranchisement and voter intimidation, harassment of the opposition, closure of social media websites, and lack of transparency and independence in the Electoral Commission.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The three most serious human rights problems in the country included lack of respect for individual integrity (unlawful killings, torture, arbitrary detention, and other abuse of suspects and detainees); restrictions on civil liberties (freedoms of press, expression, assembly, association, and political participation); and violence and discrimination against marginalized groups, such as women, children, persons with disabilities, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

Other human rights problems included harsh prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, official corruption, biased application of the law, societal violence, trafficking in persons, and child labor.

The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights violations, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government, and impunity was a problem.

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

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

There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including as a result of torture.

Media outlets reported that, on November 26 and 27 in Kasese District, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and Uganda Police Force (UPF) killed between 60 and 250 persons, including unarmed civilians, during clashes with supporters of Charles Wesley Mumbere, the Rwenzururu king. According to the UPF, on November 26, the king’s royal guards attacked an unspecified number of police stations in Rwenzori Region, resulting in the deaths of 14 police officers; 41 royal guards also were killed. The following day security forces reportedly stormed the palace and arrested the king after he failed to comply with a UPDF order to surrender his royal guards to the military. According to unconfirmed reports, security forces killed women and children who were on the compound during the raid, and several bodies were found with bound hands, possibly indicating victims had submitted to arrest before being killed. Amnesty International reported that “many people appeared to have been summarily shot and their bodies dumped.” One international organization alleged security forces made no attempt to minimize civilian casualties, an assertion security forces did not dispute.

UPDF officers claimed soldiers fired in self-defense after royal guards attacked them with machetes, bows and arrows, and spears. Civil society and international organizations claimed the government’s disproportionate use of force was unjustified and that the Rwenzururu Kingdom presented no immediate security threat. The government claimed the kingdom had militant secessionist ambitions, which forced it to take immediate and definitive action.

In addition to the king, 139 royal guards were arrested and charged with murder, terrorism, and treason. On December 15, media published images of the guards at their initial hearing, where defense lawyers asserted their visible injuries resulted from torture. Media reported the president ordered a parliamentary committee tasked with investigating the raid to stop its investigation. The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) had not completed its investigation into the raid by year’s end. Trials of the king and his guards continued at year’s end.

On October 17, media reported game rangers attached to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) killed seven unarmed, suspected poachers. Reports asserted the park rangers facilitated the poachers’ hunts in exchange for a portion of the revenue and then killed the seven for failing to pay the rangers their promised share. The UWA denied its staff was involved in the killings and said the UPF was investigating.

Local leaders and civil society organizations reported that police had yet to take action against officers who in September 2015 allegedly shot and killed five persons in Apaa Parish in the north. The killings occurred during a land dispute related to the government’s border demarcation.

There were no known developments in the investigation into the African Union’s August 2015 indictment of three UPDF soldiers for their alleged role in the July 2015 killing of seven civilians at a wedding party in Marka, Somalia. Media reported the killings occurred following a bomb attack on an African Union Mission in Somalia convoy.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.

Following the December 2015 disappearance of Christopher Aine–campaign aide to Amama Mbabazi, a former prime minister and presidential candidate–police offered a reward of 20 million shillings ($5,700) for information on his whereabouts, ostensibly to question him about his involvement in a clash between President Museveni’s supporters and security team. On April 7, a local television station aired footage of Aine with General Caleb Akandwanaho (aka Salim Saleh), the president’s brother, and a senior advisor at a Kampala hotel. Aine said he had fled to Tanzania in December 2015 to escape harassment and intimidation by state security operatives.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. The 2012 Antitorture Act stipulates that any person convicted of an act of torture may be subject to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 7.2 million shillings ($2,050), or both. The penalty for conviction of aggravated torture is life imprisonment. Nevertheless, there were credible reports security forces tortured and beat suspects.

From January to June, the African Center for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (ACTV) registered 856 allegations of torture by police, the Flying Squad (a UPF unit assigned to violent crimes), special investigations units of police, and the UPDF. The ACTV provided legal advice to 142 torture victims and initiated three public litigation cases of torture against the government.

The ACTV reported that Twaha Kasaija, whom marine police arrested for theft on March 23, was tortured to death at Walukuba Police Station. According to the ACTV, Kasaija’s injuries suggested he was punched, kicked, and beaten with batons, wire cable, and sticks. Kasaija’s brother, Abdul Rahman Muyima, and neighbor, Mohammed Kitakule, also were arrested and appeared to have been beaten with batons, wire cable, and sticks. Police arrested officers Patrick Katete and Charles Okure (the officer in charge) but later released Okure on bond; Katete remained in jail awaiting trial on murder charges at year’s end.

The UHRC reported it awarded 36.6 million shillings ($10,450) in compensation to victims of torture and other abuses from January through June.

PRISON AND DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS

Prison conditions remained poor and, in some cases, life threatening. Serious problems included overcrowding, physical abuse of detainees by security staff and fellow inmates, inadequate food, and understaffing. Local human rights groups, including the ACTV, received reports of torture by security forces and prison personnel. Reports of forced labor continued. Most prisons did not have accommodations for persons with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding remained a problem. According to the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS), the prison system had a maximum inmate capacity of 22,000 but incarcerated 48,689. The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), which had visited 13 police stations and 13 prisons by August, reported that four of the five prisons in the north were particularly overcrowded. Gulu Prison, for example, held 1,400 inmates in a facility designed for 400. Prison authorities blamed the overcrowding on the criminal justice system’s inability to process cases in a timely manner.

As of August, 233 babies stayed in prison with their mothers. Some women’s prisons also had day-care facilities. Authorities in Kampala separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, but prisons in other areas did not.

The UPS reported 67 inmate deaths between January and August. Causes of death included malaria, cardiac arrest, anemia, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Media reported deaths also occurred as a result of suicide and police abuse.

In interviews with prisoners, FHRI received reports of prison staff and fellow inmates beating and abusing prisoners, although there were fewer such reports than in previous years. In Koboko Prison, for example, guards reportedly assigned certain inmates leadership positions and gave them sticks, which they often used to beat fellow prisoners.

The UHRC inspected 106 of the country’s 247 prisons and four military detention facilities during the year. It found that prisons in Koboko and Nebbi districts did not have health centers, requiring inmates to walk long distances, under guard, to access medical care. Outside Kampala, some prisons lacked sufficient food, water, medical care, means to transport inmates to court, bedding, infrastructure, and sanitation facilities.

Provision of food and medical services in jails also was inadequate. According to detainees and guards at the 13 police stations FHRI had visited by August, detainees received only one meal per day. According to the UHRC, which inspected 183 of 300 police stations during the year, some stations did not provide meals to suspects and most lacked the means to transport suspects to court.

Administration: Recordkeeping remained a problem. The UPS claimed it was unable to manage information because it lacked computers.

The UPS reported that its assistant commissioner in charge of human rights investigated and mediated complaints between management and prisoners. The UPS added that each prison had a human rights committee responsible for addressing complaints and relaying them to the assistant commissioner. Prison authorities acknowledged a backlog in the investigation of complaints.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities allowed FHRI and the ACTV to conduct prison visits with advance notification. The International Committee of the Red Cross declined to comment on whether it conducted prison visits during the year.

Improvements: During the year prison authorities hired 1,548 new staff–mainly wardens, cadet principal officers, and cadet assistant superintendents of prisons–increasing the total number of UPS staff to 7,448. The UPS acknowledged, however, that it still had a staff shortage of 5,000. The UPS also installed flush toilets in 47 of the 58 prisons, constructed four new prisons, and renovated two others. Unlike in the previous year, women had separate facilities in all prisons. The UPS had a budget to accommodate pregnant women and mothers with infants, and pregnant mothers received antenatal care services and special diets.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, security forces often arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, including opposition leaders, politicians, activists, demonstrators, and journalists.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the UPF has primary responsibility for law enforcement. The UPDF, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security and may aid civil authorities when responding to riots or other disturbances of the peace. The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence is legally under UPDF authority and may detain civilians suspected of rebel or terrorist activity. Other agencies with law enforcement powers include the Directorate of Counter Terrorism, Joint Intelligence Committee, and Special Forces Brigade, among others.

The UPF reported its ability to perform its law enforcement duties was constrained by limited resources, including low pay and lack of vehicles, equipment, and training. The UPF’s Professional Standards Unit investigated complaints of police abuse, including torture, assault, unlawful arrest and detention, death in custody, mismanagement of case documentation, and corrupt practices. Police continued to use excessive force, including torture, and impunity was a problem (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.).

Between January and August, police ignored the instruction of the director of public prosecution (DPP) to add Aaron Baguma, former commander of Kampala’s Central Police Station, to the list of suspected accomplices in the October 2015 killing of Donah Katusabe, a Kampala businessperson. On August 30, 12 days after the court issued an arrest warrant for Baguma, he turned himself in and was charged with murder, kidnapping with intent to murder, and robbery. The court, which remanded him to Kigo Prison, subsequently released him on bail. The case continued at year’s end.

Police and soldiers not only failed to prevent societal violence, they sometimes targeted opposition supporters. For example, on July 12 and 13, media broadcast videos of police, soldiers, and plainclothes officers using sticks to beat unarmed supporters of the main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, as his car passed on a Kampala street; they also beat motorcycle taxi drivers who appeared uninvolved in Besigye’s procession. In one instance a police truck veered onto a sidewalk to hit from behind and knock over a man waving at Besigye’s passing vehicle. Police arrested Benon Matsiko, an officer, for allegedly driving the truck, noting he would face internal disciplinary measures; Matsiko denied he was the driver. Another man–who media members subsequently identified as Yusuf Lubowa, a member of a progovernment civilian group called Bodaboda 2010–then kicked the fallen man in the same knee struck by the vehicle. Although media reports showed that Lubowa had participated in multiple police operations against Besigye supporters, the UPF claimed it did not know him. Police initiated an internal disciplinary proceeding and charged five officers and four commanders with unlawful exercise of authority and discrediting the reputation of police. There was no known update on these cases by the end of the year.

Private lawyers separately filed a criminal case against Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura and seven senior commanders, accusing them of torture for their role in the July 12 and 13 beatings. On July 21, a magistrate’s court issued criminal summonses for IGP Kayihura and the seven senior police officers to appear on August 10 for arraignment on charges of torture. According to the private prosecution lawyers, the officers refused to receive the summonses, and none appeared in court. On August 26, Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma halted the criminal case against Kayihura and the other officers, stating the case could not proceed until the court resolved NRM Youth League member Robert Rutaro’s petition that challenged the court’s authority to try the IGP as a private citizen for actions he took in his institutional role. By year’s end, the court had not resolved the petition.

The UHRC reported it provided human rights training to 232 security officials in police and district administrations of Fort Portal, Mbarara, and Arua districts.

The UPF reported that it opened an unspecified number of new community police stations to expand its community policing operations. In 2015 it authorized civilians to police their respective communities as “crime preventers.” Crime preventers, nominally under the authority of district police commanders, received one to two months of training and have arrest authority. While estimates of their number varied, the IGP claimed there were 11 million crime preventers nationwide, equating to approximately one-third of the country’s population. UPF officials stated they intended to place 30 crime preventers in each village in the country. Media and civil society reports accused crime preventers of human rights abuses. On April 18, for example, the chief administrative officer of Lira District said his office had received many reports of crime preventers involved in rape, arbitrary arrests, and torture.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires that judges or prosecutors issue a warrant before an arrest is made, unless the arrest is made during commission of a crime or while in pursuit of a perpetrator. Nevertheless, authorities often arrested suspects without warrants. The law requires authorities to charge suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they frequently held suspects longer without charge. Authorities must try suspects arrested under the Antiterrorism Law within 120 days (360 days if charged with a capital offense) or release them on bail; if the case is presented to the court before the expiration of this period, there is no limit on further pretrial detention. While the law requires authorities to inform detainees immediately of the reasons for detention, at times they did not do so. The law provides for bail at the discretion of the judge, but many suspects were unaware of the law. Judges generally granted requests for bail. The law provides detainees the right to legal representation and access to a lawyer; but this right often was not respected. The law requires the government to provide an attorney for indigent defendants charged with capital offenses. Citizens detained without charge may file civil suit against the Attorney General’s Office for compensation for unlawful detention. Security forces held suspects, particularly opposition leaders, incommunicado and under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests, particularly of opposition leaders, remained a problem. Police often carried out “preventative arrests” for alleged treason and incitement of violence.

On February 24, the day of local government elections, police detained opposition candidate Besigye at his home, effectively denying him the right to vote. Following the February elections, police intermittently placed Besigye under 10-day house arrests. Police reportedly confined him to his home for the entire month of March, releasing him on April 1, the day the Supreme Court validated the president’s electoral victory. Despite widespread media and nongovernmental organization (NGO) reporting, the UPF repeatedly denied Besigye was under house arrest, and the IGP claimed police were merely “closely monitoring Besigye’s movements.” Media reported that on May 5, police resumed Besigye’s house arrest and confined Kampala’s opposition-affiliated mayor, Erias Lukwago, and opposition chief whip Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda to their homes.

On May 11, Besigye eluded police surveillance at his home and drove to Kampala’s city center, where he was filmed taking a mock presidential oath of office in front of a crowd of protesters. Police arrested Besigye and flew him to the remote Karamoja Region in the northeast, where they detained him at the Moroto Police Station. Two days later, Besigye was charged with treason and remanded to Moroto Prison. On May 16, he was transferred to Luzira Prison in Kampala after defense lawyers and his family asked for a transfer. He remained in detention until July 12, when the court released him on bail. Besigye’s treason case continued at year’s end.

Pretrial Detention: Case backlogs due to an inefficient judiciary that lacked adequate funding and staff, the absence of plea bargaining prior to 2015, and insufficient use of bail contributed to pretrial detentions as long as seven years. The UPS reported 55 percent of inmates were pretrial detainees. The judiciary introduced a plea bargaining mechanism at High Court circuits across the country in 2015 after a successful pilot program in 2014.

FHRI reported police arrested Moses Tumusime in 2008 on murder charges. He last appeared in court in 2008 and remained in custody in Kitalya Prison. In November the officer in charge of the prison reported Tumusime was still held on remand and that his file was sent to the High Court in 2012.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested have the right to file a legal challenge against their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if a judge determines the detention to have been unlawful. This mechanism was seldom employed and rarely successful.

Amnesty: Since 2000 the government has offered blanket unconditional amnesty for all crimes committed by individuals who engaged in war or armed rebellion against the government, barring grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, genocide, willful killings of innocent civilians, and other serious crimes perpetrated against civilians or communities without military necessity.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Corruption, understaffing, inefficiency, and executive branch interference with judicial rulings often undermined the courts’ independence.

The president appoints Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, and High Court judges and members of the Judicial Service Commission (which makes recommendations on appointments to the judiciary) with the approval of the National Assembly.

Due to vacancies on the Supreme Court, Constitutional Court, High Court, and the lower courts, the judiciary did not deliver justice in a timely manner. At times the lack of judicial quorum precluded cases from proceeding.

Judicial corruption was a problem. The Center for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) reported in August that judicial corruption mainly consisted of cash bribes to clerks and magistrates for favorable treatment. CEPIL noted that instances of corruption in the lower courts were more visible and egregious as magistrates openly contravened court rules to favor one party. In the higher courts (High Court, Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court), corruption was more discreet and nuanced. Media reported several incidents of police arresting lower court judicial officers for allegedly soliciting bribes, while there were no such arrests of higher court officials. CEPIL’s report noted that “systemic corruption within the justice system undermines human rights and public confidence.”

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law provides for a presumption of innocence, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges and have free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, as necessary. An inadequate system of judicial administration resulted in a serious backlog of cases, undermining suspects’ right to a speedy trial. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice. The law requires the government to provide an attorney for indigent defendants accused of capital offenses. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and appeal, with free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to obtain evidence the state intends to use prior to their trial, although this right of disclosure is not absolute in sensitive cases, and authorities did not always respect this right. The law allows defendants to confront or question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. These rights extended to all groups.

All nonmilitary trials are public. A single judge decides cases in the High Court, while a panel of at least five judges decides cases in the constitutional and supreme courts. The law allows military courts to try civilians that assist members of the military in committing offenses or are found possessing arms, ammunition, or other equipment reserved for the armed forces. On September 16, the High Court ruled that member of parliament (MP) Michael Kabaziguruka, who was charged with treason along with 26 military officers, would be tried by a military court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year authorities detained numerous opposition politicians and activists on politically motivated grounds. Authorities released many without charge but charged others with crimes including terrorism, treason, inciting violence, holding illegal meetings, and abuse of office. No statistics on the number of political detainees or prisoners were available.

There was no available information on whether the government permitted international human rights or humanitarian organizations access to political detainees.

On February 29, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) claimed security force personnel had arrested and detained approximately 300 of its supporters nationwide over the course of the election season. The UPF claimed it had arrested 132 persons from various political parties for illegal election-related activities.

On June 8 and 13, police arrested Michael Kabaziguruka, an MP and FDC deputy commissioner on the Electoral Commission, and released him within two days of each arrest. On June 26, police rearrested Kabaziguruka and subsequently transferred him to Kigo Prison, where he awaited trial at year’s end. On June 28, a military court charged Kabaziguruka and 26 others, predominantly military officers, with treason for allegedly plotting the violent overthrow of the government. According to Kabaziguruka’s lawyers, the government based its most recent charges on the same evidence as it used for its 2012 treason case against Kabaziguruka and three other individuals, a case the government dropped. On July 1, in a meeting with opposition politicians, the president accused Kabaziguruka of attempting to assassinate him. On September 16, the High Court ruled that Kabaziguruka be tried in a military court; Kabaziguruka appealed.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Victims may report cases of human rights violations through the regular court system or the UHRC, which has judicial powers under the constitution. These powers include the authority to order the release of detainees, pay compensation to victims, and pursue other legal and administrative remedies, such as mediation. Victims may appeal their cases to the Court of Appeal and thereafter to the Supreme Court but not to an international or regional court. Civil courts and the UHRC have no ability to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses criminally liable, and bureaucratic delays hampered enforcement of judgments that granted financial compensation.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police did not always obtain search warrants to enter private homes and offices.

The Antiterrorism Act and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill authorize government security agencies to tap private conversations to combat terrorism-related offenses. The government utilized both statutes to monitor telephone and internet communications.

The government encouraged university students and government officials, including members of the judiciary, to attend NRM political education and military science courses known as “chaka mchaka.” While the government claimed the courses were not compulsory, human rights activists and opposition politicians reported authorities pressured civil servants and students to attend.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government often restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government restricted opposition political parties from speaking to the press, and police detained activists who publicly criticized the government.

On February 19 and May 9, police raided FDC party headquarters, fired tear gas, blocked entry to the offices, and cancelled scheduled press conferences. According to media reports on February 19, an officer on the scene claimed police sealed the site because of reasonable suspicion the party was planning criminal activity. On May 9, police arrested FDC deputy secretary general Harold Kaija while he addressed a press conference. According to media, a police spokesperson stated that police arrested Kaija “as he attempted to address a press conference on a parallel swearing-in ceremony” for former presidential candidate Besigye, which had been organized by the FDC to parody the official ceremony set for May 12.

Press and Media Freedoms: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions.

Cabinet minister Mwesigwa Rukutana, who owned Radio Ankole in Ntungamo District, directed his staff not to broadcast advertisements placed by independent and opposition politicians during the election season.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces assaulted journalists. For example, on May 24, media reported that Abraham James Byandala, then minister without portfolio, punched a journalist in the abdomen as she was covering a court case in which he was charged with corruption. The journalist filed a complaint against the minister but subsequently withdrew it.

Security forces also arbitrarily arrested journalists. For example, local media reported that, on February 22, a plainclothes police officer pepper-sprayed the eyes of freelance photojournalist Isaac Kasamani while he was covering police confinement of opposition leader Besigye to his home (see section 1.d.). On February 27, police arrested Eriasa Sserunjogi and Abubaker Lubowa, journalists working for opposition-leaning newspaper Daily Monitor, who also were covering the Besigye house arrest. Police detained the two journalists at Kasangati Police Station for several hours before releasing them without charge.

Security forces also harassed and intimidated journalists. On January 10, for example, media reported police in Moroto, in the northeast, confiscated and destroyed journalists’ cameras to stop them from filming a roadblock erected to stop Besigye from traveling to a campaign event. Regional police commander Richard Aruk condemned the action and advised the journalists to file a complaint to enable his office to investigate the incident.

Police also arbitrarily detained foreign journalists. On February 7, police arrested two BBC journalists filming outside Abim Hospital in the northeast. The district police commander claimed they had no permission from the Ministry of Health to film at the hospital. Police released the journalists that night without charge.

On November 27, police detained Kenya Television Network reporter and anchor Joy Doreen Biira for “abetting terrorism” after she reported on the UPF and UPDF’s November 27 raid on the Rwenzururu king’s palace (see section 1.a.). The Committee to Protect Journalists stated, “It is bad enough that Ugandan authorities desired to censor coverage of a newsworthy event, but the use of antiterrorism laws to intimidate a journalist is a vast overreach.” Police released Biira the following day and she was allowed to return to Kenya. Police have not yet charged Biira but claim to be investigating her case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly restricted media coverage and content.

On December 6, for example, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) prohibited further media reporting on the November 27 raid by security forces on the Rwenzururu king’s palace, claiming it could influence an ongoing court case.

In response to the attorney general’s April 28 petition to the Constitutional Court, which claimed the opposition-led civil unrest campaign “Defiance” was an unconstitutional effort to stop the lawful swearing-in ceremony of the president, the Constitutional Court the same day issued a one-month prohibition on activities by the campaign to allow sufficient time for the court to review the attorney general’s petition. On May 5, citing the court ruling, Minister for Information Jim Muhwezi stated that the government would revoke the license of any media house that covered any aspect or activity of the Defiance campaign. Although the swearing-in ceremony took place on May 12, the court had not set a date to hear the petition by year’s end, nor had the attorney general requested an extension of the prohibition.

Many print and broadcast journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when reporting on the president or his inner circle.

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials.

On April 21, the police Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned Daily Monitor journalists Alex Atuhaire and Yasiin Mugerwa concerning alleged criminal libel. The questioning focused on an article reporting statements by members of the Rwenzori Region’s parliament accusing a cabinet minister of inciting postelection violence.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government cited security as justification to restrict and disrupt internet access, especially to social media sites.

On February 17, the UCC ordered telecommunication companies to block user access to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and mobile phone financial transaction services on February 18, election day. The UCC claimed it had evidence of plans to use these sites to foment unrest and violence. The affected sites were inaccessible for almost three days.

On May 11, again citing security, the UCC ordered telecommunications companies to disable access to social media for more than 24 hours while international dignitaries attended the president’s fifth inauguration ceremony.

Citing the Antiterrorism Act, the Regulation of Interception of Communications Bill, and the Computer Misuse Act, the government monitored internet communication. According to the UCC, approximately 37 percent of the population used the internet.

The case of Robert Shaka, who was arrested and released on bail in June 2015 for allegedly violating the president’s privacy by posting statements about his health on Facebook, continued.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government occasionally restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities blocked retired Supreme Court justice George Kanyeihamba, a former NRM loyalist turned critic, from addressing Makerere University law students on the February elections. The Human Rights and Peace Center (HURIPEC) reported government officials also influenced academic appointments at public universities on the basis of political affiliation.

HURIPEC reported government officials attempted to prohibit, censor, cancel, or restrict films and musical presentations that addressed political themes or criticized the administration. Officials unsuccessfully attempted to ban Robert Kyagulanyi’s song Ddembe (“Liberty”), which called for peaceful elections and transfer of power. Media reported the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation declined to air the song, and officials directed radio program directors not to play it. The UCC denied the government had banned the song. HURIPEC also reported the government banned a free DVD about the country’s history, which was widely distributed on Kampala’s streets. Police deemed its possession a crime for its “inappropriate and violent content.”

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government used the 2013 Public Order Management Act (POMA) to limit the right to assemble, especially for political opponents and critics of the government. The act places a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and affords the UPF wide discretion to prevent or disrupt gatherings.

During and after the presidential election, UPF officers disrupted scheduled opposition rallies and meetings, even in some cases when authorities had granted permission. In many instances, the UPF provided no official response to requests to hold public meetings.

In two separate incidents on February 15, the final day of the presidential campaign, UPF officers prevented Besigye from appearing at campaign rallies approved by the Electoral Commission by blocking his access. Police fired teargas to disperse supporters who had gathered at the rally sites. During both incidents police arrested Besigye before releasing him without charge. Media reported that, during the second incident, police also fired bullets to disperse the crowd, resulting in one civilian death.

On February 19, a day after the elections, police arrested senior FDC officials, blockaded their party headquarters, and cancelled a scheduled FDC press conference. When FDC supporters gathered at party headquarters to protest, police reportedly fired tear gas and bullets to disperse the crowd and arrested eight supporters.

After the elections the UPF cited its legal powers of “preventive arrest,” which allow police to remove and detain persons to prevent them from committing a crime and the POMA to harass opposition leaders. Police “preventively” arrested several opposition leaders attempting to hold meetings and other events, generally releasing them the same day. Police often prevented Besigye and other opposition leaders from participating in political events by confining them to their residences. When police allowed Besigye to leave his home, they often arrested him to prevent him from meeting with supporters or party officials. FHRI reported that, on February 22, police arrested Besigye and remanded him to the Naggalama Police Station after he attempted to go to the Electoral Commission to collect forms to contest the election results. According to IGP Kayihura, Besigye’s intent was to rally supporters and cause chaos in the city, in violation of the POMA.

In response to the FDC’s “Free My Vote” campaign, which called for an independent audit of presidential election results, police often disbanded peaceful protest meetings, including prayer groups, and arrested protest organizers.

In response to the FDC’s May 5 call for nationwide protests to contest the outcome of the presidential election, the head of the Constitutional Court, Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma, issued an order prohibiting the FDC from organizing “demonstrations, processions, other public meetings, media campaigns or pronouncements including but not limited to planned demonstrations or processions scheduled for May 5 or any other day among other orders.” On May 6, media reported police had arrested 88 opposition supporters for participating in banned demonstrations.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not always respect this right. On January 30, the president signed the NGO Act passed by the National Assembly in November 2015. The law includes a clause that requires NGOs to receive approval from local NGO monitoring committees, local governments, and relevant line ministries in each district in which they operate to be registered and active. The law also prohibits NGOs from engaging in acts “prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.” Discriminatory aspects of the law prevented LGBTI organizations from registering as NGOs.

The NGO Board, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, regulates NGO activities and approves their registrations. It is composed of representatives from various ministries, including the security services.

FHRI reported that during the year intruders broke into various NGO offices, taking computers, files, and other sources of information. The nature of the crimes, along with limited police action to pursue perpetrators, led some of the affected organizations to suspect government involvement. In a May 22 incident, closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed four unidentified intruders breaking into the Kampala office of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), which provides legal support for sexual minorities. The next morning, HRAPF staff found the dead body of the guard on duty at the time of the break-in, along with documents, a television screen, and keys, on the organization’s compound. Police arrived at the scene two hours after HRAPF reported the incident, but no investigation had been initiated by year’s end.

On April 10, according to Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) staff, a late evening female visitor to HRNJ’s Kampala office offered the security guard food laced with sedatives. CCTV footage showed four men entering the premises and ransacking them after the guard apparently had passed out.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The government has consistently provided a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers. As of November 1, UNHCR, in partnership with the government, had identified an estimated 898,000 refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities. Of these, 270,000 were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 476,000 from South Sudan. Other countries of origin included Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, and Eritrea. The government provided adequate protection to refugees, including temporary protection, resettlement, and other long-term solutions.

As of July there were 39,000 asylum seekers in the country. According to UNHCR, the government made little progress in clearing the backlog because the Refugee Appeals Board has not operated since 2014.

The government did not fulfill UNHCR’s 2012-13 recommendation to implement a cessation clause and lift the blanket refugee status conferred on approximately 4,000 Rwandan refugees who arrived in the country prior to 1999. The government stated it would not invoke the cessation clause while ambiguities concerning the local integration and permanent legal status for these long-term refugees remained unresolved. The government had yet to fully implement administrative processes for the naturalization of refugees who fell within the scope of the October 2015 Constitutional Court ruling, which allows long-staying refugees (in most cases, requiring more than 20 years’ presence) to obtain citizenship through naturalization.

Access to Basic Services: Although the government granted refugees the same access as citizens to public health, education, and other services, there were anecdotal reports of discrimination against some refugees due to language barriers or xenophobia. The Refugee Commission of the Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR, its implementing partners, and other NGOs worked to reduce barriers to access.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from foreign countries, but it facilitated UNHCR efforts to resettle refugees in foreign countries. The government assisted the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Nevertheless, the February 18 presidential and National Assembly elections were marred by serious irregularities.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On February 18, the country held its fifth presidential and legislative elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The president was reelected with 61 percent of the vote, and FDC candidate Besigye finished second with 36 percent. The ruling NRM party captured approximately 70 percent of the seats in the 431-member unicameral National Assembly.

Domestic and international election observers stated that the elections fell short of international standards for credible democratic elections. The Commonwealth Observer Mission’s report noted flawed processes, and the EU’s report noted an atmosphere of intimidation and police use of excessive force against opposition supporters, media workers, and the general public. Domestic and international election observers noted biased media coverage and the Electoral Commission’s (EC’s) lack of transparency and independence.

Media reported voter bribery, multiple voting, ballot box stuffing, and the alteration of precinct and district results.

Late delivery of voting materials on election day, including ballots, disenfranchised many voters. The most significant delays–up to eight hours–occurred in opposition-affiliated areas, including Kampala and Wakiso districts. While the EC extended voting from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at a number of polling stations that experienced delayed starts, officials at more than 30 of the most delayed stations cancelled voting and postponed it to the following day.

From February 19 to 29, the 10-day period during which opposition candidates could contest election results, police confined Besigye to his home and limited his access to lawyers and party leadership. Besigye’s lawyers claimed police actions rendered it impossible for Besigye to file a legal challenge to election results, although Amama Mbabazi, who came third in the election, did challenge election results. On March 20, the Supreme Court upheld Museveni’s victory, ruling that any incidents of noncompliance with electoral laws before and during the election process did not substantially affect results. On August 26, the Supreme Court recommended changes to electoral laws to increase fairness, including campaign finance reform and equal access for all candidates to state-owned media. The Supreme Court instructed the attorney general to report in two years on government implementation of reforms.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There were 29 registered parties, according to the EC. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained opposition leaders and intimidated and beat their supporters. While the ruling NRM party operated without restriction, regularly holding rallies and conducting political activities, authorities often prevented opposition parties and critical civil society organizations from organizing meetings or conducting activities. Authorities denied opposition parties access to media.

Domestic election observer groups, such as the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy, FHRI, and Citizens’ Election Observers Network (CEON-U), reported authorities denied observers access to some stations and district tally centers. Security forces reportedly questioned the leaders of some groups after they released reports critical of the electoral process. In some districts resident district commissioners, who were the president’s district level representatives, ordered accreditation committees to deny accreditation to CEON-U observers.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The law requires elections for seats reserved for special interest groups: 117 for women, five for labor, five for persons with disabilities, five for youth, and 10 for the UPDF. A single government-supported NGO organized an electoral college process that selected the five representatives for persons with disabilities.

Cultural factors limited women’s political participation. CEON-U reported incidents of electoral intimidation in the Acholi, Rwenzori, Buganda, Karamoja, Teso, and Lango Regions that specifically targeted women. CEON-U also reported that amended laws to increase the fee required to nominate a candidate disproportionately affected women, who had less access to financial resources than their male counterparts. The law requires candidates seeking political public office to pay the government a nonrefundable nomination fee, which varied by position.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The 2009 Anticorruption Act provides criminal penalties for official corruption, including up to 12 years’ imprisonment upon conviction. A 2015 amendment to the act mandates confiscation of the convicted persons’ property. Nevertheless, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Government agencies responsible for combating corruption lacked the political will to combat corruption, particularly at the highest levels of government, and many corruption cases remained pending for years. Media reported numerous cases of government corruption during the year. Police arrested and suspended several police officers implicated in bribery, extortion, and corruption cases. Authorities arrested several magistrates and judicial officials for forgery as well as for soliciting and receiving bribes.

The auditor general’s annual audit findings for the fiscal year ending June 2015 concluded that the government flouted procurement rules, failed to implement internal controls, and spent funds without proper authorization.

Corruption: The 2015 audit report noted the government contravened procurement laws by directly procuring engineering and construction services to build two dams, valued at 7.7 trillion shillings ($2.2 billion), without an open international tender. The report also concluded the cost of the government’s direct procurement of services for the construction of highways to the airport exceeded the market rate. According to the report, the government made more than 11 billion shillings ($3.1 million) in pension payments to beneficiaries whom the Ministry of Public Service could not confirm were alive.

On February 26, the Global Fund reported the government failed to account for $21.4 million (equivalent to 74.9 billion shillings) of donated medicines stored in government operated warehouses and that $2.4 million (equivalent to 8.4 billion shillings) worth of donated test kits issued to the government were not received by the targeted health facilities. It also reported the government could not account for $200,000 (equivalent to 700 million shillings) it generated from selling condoms that were meant to be distributed free of charge. Government officials reportedly sold Global Fund-subsidized antimalarial drugs for 50 percent more than the agreed price and did not account for the difference.

In August the DPP charged five suspects with diverting government resources, theft, forgery, and conspiracy to steal for diverting 15.4 billion shillings ($4.4 million) from a law firm that represented pensioners in a case against the government. Three of the suspects were also accused in the 2013 embezzlement case involving officials from the Ministries of Public Service and Finance; the officials allegedly embezzled more than 165 billion shillings ($47 million) from government pension funds by creating 2,605 ghost pensioners. In the case, eight officials were charged with corruption, but the court dismissed it in April 2015 after the state failed to present a witness after two years. In August 2015 the DPP reinstated the case and charged the same three officials with corruption for allegedly misappropriating 88 billion shillings ($25 million) in government funds. These cases continued at year’s end.

On May 25, the Commission of Inquiry, which reports to the president, released the findings of its investigation into corruption in the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA). The inquiry revealed that UNRA officials misappropriated up to nine trillion shillings ($2.6 billion) from 2008 to 2015. The report noted “dramatic wheeling and dealing, insider trading and outright fraud.” The report called for the prosecution of 90 officials and confiscation of their assets. The president ordered the inspector general of government (IGG), the director of the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Department, police, and the Office of the Auditor General to conduct an investigation based on the report. On July 14, however, the High Court suspended the investigation due to a challenge of the report’s findings issued by two construction firms, Dott Services Ltd. and General Nile Company for Roads and Bridges, which claimed their implication in the report was unfair and hurting their businesses. The case continued at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are required to disclose their income, assets, and liabilities and those of their spouse, children, and dependents within three months after assuming office and every two years thereafter. The requirement applies to 42 position classifications, including ministers, MPs, leaders of political parties, judicial officers, permanent secretaries, and heads of government departments, among others. While these financial disclosures are officially considered public information, the IGG only released the records in response to a specific request. Public officials who vacate office six or more months after they declared their finances are required to refile as they conclude their term in office. The IGG is responsible for monitoring compliance; penalties include a warning or caution, demotion, dismissal, and administrative leave from office. According to Transparency International, most officials did not comply with disclosure requirements and those who did tended to underreport their assets.

Public Access to Information: The 2005 Access to Information (ATI) Act provides for public access to government information, but the law was not effectively implemented. According to The Hub for Investigative Media (HIM), a local NGO promoting government transparency, few citizens were aware of their right to public information, and government officials were often slow to respond, denied requests improperly, or did not respond at all. HIM has filed 39 cases against government departments that declined to provide information. The Africa Freedom of Information Center reported the government’s $100,000 (equivalent to 350 million shillings) budget to implement the ATI was inadequate to train government officials and raise public awareness. The government could deny information requests based on security or sovereignty grounds, and the law provides for redress through internal dispute resolution processes or courts.

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

Some domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Authorities denied local LGBTI-related organizations official status due to discriminatory laws preventing their registration, however, and NGOs that worked in the areas of governance, human rights, and political participation were sometimes subject to extra scrutiny. The government was often unresponsive to concerns of local and international human rights organizations, and government officials often dismissed NGO claims of human rights abuses by security forces.

On March 4, for example, after NGOs criticized the arrests of journalists covering opposition protests, the police spokesperson dismissed the criticism as untrue, claiming the journalists were “obstructing police officers on duty and disobeying lawful orders.”

In June HRAPF reported police refused to investigate a break-in at their office during which a private security guard was killed, although HRAPF provided police with television footage showing the intruders inside the office. Media reported a police spokesperson accused HRAPF management of “masterminding” the break-in.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In December 2015 the World Bank cancelled the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project, worth $265 million (equivalent to 927 billion shillings), due to the government’s failure to address allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse by contractors with underage girls residing near the project site, sexual harassment of female employees, and child labor. The bank announced it would resume funding once the government established adequate measures to stop the abuses. In January, in response to the cancellation, President Museveni ordered the arrest of the project’s government supervisors, although only low-level laborers had been charged with abuses by year’s end. On May 16, media reported that the Fort Portal magistrate’s court charged three persons with statutory rape. In June, after resuming the project with its own funds, the executive director of the National Roads Authority publicly warned such violations would not be tolerated and promised that his agency would closely monitor the project going forward. In May UNRA sponsored community training sessions on the protection of girls from labor exploitation and sexual abuse in the affected project areas.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The UHRC is a constitutionally mandated institution with quasi-judicial powers to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, direct the release of detainees, and award compensation to abuse victims. The president appoints its board, consisting of a chairperson and five commissioners. Unlike in the previous year, since February the UHRC had the necessary quorum of three commissioners to fulfill its duties; in that month the president reappointed three previous commissioners and appointed two new ones.

The UHRC, which had 21 branches nationwide, pursued suspected human rights abusers, including in the military and police forces. On August 1, the UHRC released its 2015 annual report, which noted 4,227 complaints, an increase of approximately 8 percent over 2014. For the sixth straight year, the highest number of complaints–more than 50 percent–were against the UPF; 13 percent of complaints were against the UPDF. The highest number of complaints involved torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, followed by detention beyond 48 hours, child neglect, land disputes, and deprivation of life. The report also urged the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to pay the more than five billion shillings ($1.43 million) in outstanding compensation awards owed to victims of human rights violations. Of the 579 million shillings ($165,000) awarded in 2015, most resulted from UPF violations, followed by those of the UPDF, and the UPF’s Rapid Response Unit/Violent Crime Crack Unit.

Many human rights activists asserted the UHRC lacked the political will to investigate or identify senior-level perpetrators of abuses. Other observers commended the UHRC’s 2015 report for the range of human rights problems identified and the report’s recommendations, including that police adopt modern investigation techniques “to avoid [the] use of torture in obtaining information.”

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, which is punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty; the law does not address spousal rape. The penal code defines rape as “unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or a girl without her consent.” Men accused of raping men are tried under section 145(a) of the penal code that prohibits “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The law also criminalizes domestic violence and provides up to two years’ imprisonment for conviction.

Rape remained a serious problem throughout the country, and the government did not effectively enforce the law. Although the government arrested, prosecuted, and convicted persons for rape, the crime was seriously underreported, and police did not investigate most cases. The Center for Domestic Violence Protection (CEDOVIP) reported security officers often responded to women’s claims of sexual violence with skepticism. Police lacked the criminal forensic capacity to collect evidence, which hampered prosecution and conviction. Although the law mandates police training on gender-based violence, training was often ad hoc and poorly attended, according to CEDOVIP.

The UPF crime report through June 2015, the most recent available, noted 10,163 reported sexual offenses, of which 787 were rapes, 8,954 statutory rapes, 308 indecent assaults, 56 incest, and 58 “unnatural offenses.” Gulu District police told the media on April 1 they registered an average of 60 cases of statutory rape a month, with most cases involving girls younger than 14. According to the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA), few cases involving rape and statutory rape were brought to trial and completed, in part due to societal factors. Parents, husbands, local leaders, religious leaders, police, prosecutors, and sometimes courts pressured victims to settle cases out of court. According to FIDA, these settlements often left perpetrators unpunished and discouraged other victims from seeking redress.

According to the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), which the government conducted every five years, at least 27 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 experienced some form of domestic violence in 2010. The same survey found at least 56 percent of married women reported some form of domestic violence. According to a representative from the UPF’s Child and Family Protection Unit, victims often did not report domestic violence because society generally did not consider it a crime, and police officers often did not consider it a serious offense.

In 2015 local NGOs operated hotlines in 11 of the country’s 112 districts. The government worked with local and international NGOs and religious institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, to increase understanding of domestic violence as a human rights abuse. A few NGOs ran domestic violence shelters, including Action Aid, Mifumi, and Uganda Women’s Network. Action Aid reported its shelters received between three and 10 domestic violence survivors daily. CEDOVIP operated a fund to provide victims of gender-based violence with emergency medical treatment, legal aid, transportation to police stations, and other services.

On August 17, the judiciary reported the introduction of audio/video link technology into the court system to enable vulnerable witnesses, especially children and victims of sexual assault, to testify without being in the same room as their alleged attacker. FIDA reported it was working with the judiciary to expedite gender-based violence cases through the court system by organizing special court sessions for victims.

On August 17, the cabinet passed a policy that requires the government to allocate funds to implement laws against gender-based violence, including the Domestic Violence Act of 2010, Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2010, and the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2009. On November 25, the minister of gender, labor, and social development launched a five-year national action plan to eliminate gender-based violence, promote gender equality, and remove barriers to the advancement of women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law and constitution prohibit FGM/C of women and girls and establish a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted perpetrators, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) statistics updated in February showed 1 percent of women below the age of 50 had been subjected to FGM/C. The government, women’s groups, and international organizations combated the practice through education and livelihood skills training. These programs, which received support from some local leaders, emphasized close cooperation with traditional authority figures and peer counseling. Nevertheless, the Sabiny and Pokot ethnic groups in the east along the Kenyan border continued the practice; the Sabiny practiced types I and II, and the Pokot practiced type III.

Local NGOs, including Reproductive Education and Community Health and the Kapchorwa Civil Organizations Alliance, held drama and theatrical plays in their communities to teach the legal provisions, penalties, and dangers associated with FGM/C. In December 2015, during the Sabiny’s cultural day celebrations in Bukwo District, a delegation of Sabiny leaders led by Mzei Anguria Stephen, chairman of the Bukwo Elders Union, openly denounced FGM/C and urged the Sabiny people to shun the practice and educate their girls. In July, during the Pokot’s annual cultural day in Amudat District, the district chairperson said local leaders had resolved to intensify the fight against FGM/C, which would save the lives of many young girls in the area. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) collaborated with local churches to fight FGM/C.

Media reported on April 23 that pregnant women in eastern Kapchorwa District opted to give birth at home to avoid exposing themselves to health workers as having undergone FGM/C; this practice had the unfortunate consequence of increased infant and maternal mortality rates in the district.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Media reported several cases of ritual child killings. Kyampisi Childcare Ministries reported in February that six children were mutilated and killed during the election season as part of rituals to bring good fortune to political candidates. The Coordination Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons reported nine victims of ritual killings through June.

On May 25, police arrested Herbert Were after they found him with his eight-year-old brother’s head. Police said Were confessed to beheading his brother as a precondition for joining a cult named “illuminati,” which promised he would become wealthy.

Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment and provides for penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, but authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual harassment was a serious and widespread problem in homes, schools, universities, and workplaces. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development (MGLSD) reported that fear of retaliation deterred many victims from reporting harassment.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, discrimination, or violence; however, family planning information and assistance were difficult to access, particularly in rural areas, where there were few health clinics. According to the 2011 DHS, one in three married women wanted to delay childbirth or space their children but could not access family planning aids. During the year the Ministry of Health reported that 36 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 49 used contraception. Women also faced challenges of religious restrictions imposed by faiths that oppose contraception.

Men’s lack of support for, or active opposition to, family planning often was a main deterrent to contraceptive use, according to a study conducted during the year by the NGO Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development. In August the spokesperson for the government-run National Medical Stores reported men often harassed and beat their wives for using contraceptives.

According to the World Health Organization, the country’s maternal mortality rate was 343 per 100,000 live births. Health officials attributed the high maternal mortality rate to medical complications during delivery and the inability of healthcare facilities to manage them; media cited staff shortages and inadequate supplies at healthcare centers, also noting that health-care centers in rural communities often were inaccessible. According to UNFPA, only 57 percent of births were attended by skilled healthcare personnel.

In June 2015 the Ministry of Health established standards and guidelines to reduce morbidity and mortality related to unsafe abortions, including increasing access to family planning services and legal postabortion care and services. Fear of arrest often made healthcare professionals unwilling to attend to women who had undergone an abortion because the service providers feared police would accuse them of having performed the abortion. Abortion is a criminal offense and punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment for the practitioner and seven years for the mother.

Discrimination: The law provides women the same legal status and rights as men. Discrimination against women, however, was widespread, especially in rural areas. Local NGOs reported numerous cases of discrimination against women in divorce, employment, owning or managing businesses and property, education, and other areas. Many customary laws discriminate against women in adoption, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Under local customary law in many areas, women may not own or inherit property or retain custody of their children. Traditional divorce law in many areas requires women to meet stricter evidentiary standards than men to prove adultery. Polygyny is legal under both customary and Islamic law. In some ethnic groups, men may “inherit” the widows of their deceased brothers.

During the year CEDOVIP reported receiving 18 cases concerning widows whose in-laws denied them access to marital property, housing, and their children, particularly in cases where the women’s names were absent from the property documents and when the women were in polygynous relationships. The law does not recognize cohabiting relationships, and women involved in such relationships had no judicial recourse to protect their rights.

The law provides that “every employer shall pay males and females equal remuneration for work of equal value.” In 2013 the National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU) reported, however, that women received much lower wages than men for the same work.

Children

Birth Registration: The law accords citizenship to children born in or outside the country if at least one parent or grandparent is a citizen at the time of birth. Abandoned children under the age of 18 with no known parents are considered citizens, as are children under the age of 18 adopted by citizens.

The law requires citizens to register a birth within three months. The National Identification and Registration Authority, established in 2015, is responsible for registering all persons in the country for the purpose of national identification. According to the 2011 DHS, only 29 percent of rural and 38 percent of urban births were registered. Lack of birth registration generally did not result in denial of public services. Some primary schools, however, required birth certificates for enrollment, especially those in urban centers. Enrollment in public secondary schools, university, and tertiary institutions required birth certificates.

Education: The government provided free universal primary education to four children per family as well as universal secondary education, although parents were required to provide lunch and schooling materials for children in secondary school.

A 2015 International Center for Research on Women study indicated more than 50 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 18 dropped out of school due to poverty and early pregnancy. The government reported significantly higher dropout rates for girls than boys, due to early pregnancy, child marriages, sexual harassment and abuse, lack of access to sanitary pads, and poverty.

Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a serious problem. Authorities maintained a national hotline to report child abuse and received 4,891 reports between June 2014 and August 2015. Adolescent children were particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, early marriage, human trafficking, drug and substance abuse, involvement in social unrest, and engaging in criminal activities. From January through June 2015, the most recent data available, police registered 7,349 child related offenses, including 4,430 cases of child neglect, 1,366 of abandonment, 755 of abuse, 674 kidnappings (enticing a minor from a guardian) and abductions (forcing a minor away from a guardian), 76 cases of trafficking, and 48 of infanticide.

The law considers sexual contact outside marriage with children under the age of 18, regardless of consent or age of the perpetrator, as “statutory rape,” which carries a maximum penalty of death. Payment to the child’s parents often settled such cases. In September 2015 IGP Mugenyi said statutory rape was the most common crime against children. In 2013 the Ministry of Education and Sports and UNICEF released a study indicating 78 percent of primary school children and 82 percent of secondary students had experienced sexual abuse. In most cases the perpetrators were teachers. Of the victims, only 40 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys reported the abuse to authorities.

The government continued to work with UNICEF and NGOs–including Save the Children, Child Fund, and the African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN)–to combat child abuse. The UPF provided free rape and statutory rape medical examination kits to hospitals and medical practitioners throughout the country to assist investigations.

Corporal punishment is illegal, but remained a problem in schools and sometimes resulted in permanent injuries. On May 20, the president signed the 2015 Children Amendment Act, which makes corporal punishment in schools punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The amendment also seeks to protect children from hazardous employment and harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and FGM/C.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, but authorities generally did not enforce the law. Marriage of underage girls by parental arrangement was common in rural areas. In 2015 local NGOs and the police’s Family and Children Unit reported some parents arranged marriages or other sexual arrangements for girls as young as 12. UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report estimated 10 percent of the country’s girls married before the age of 15 and 40 percent were married by the age of 18.

On January 6, media reported police arrested seven persons in Jinja District for allegedly attempting to marry a 14-year-old girl to a 19-year-old man.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under the age of 18 in the women’s section above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: While the law prohibits sexual exploitation of children, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and the problem was extensive. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Statutory rape, which refers to any sexual contact with a minor, carries a maximum penalty of death. Victims’ parents, however, often opted to settle cases out of court for a payment. The law prohibits child pornography.

The 2011 Computer Misuse Act carries a definition of child pornography that adheres to international legal standards, but the act does not specifically address the solicitation of children for sexual purposes.

Child prostitution remained a problem. The National Information Technology Authority (NITA) reported an increase in the number of child sex abuse cases, noting the internet makes it easier for pedophiles to target children online. The Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted several training sessions for police officers on combatting online child abuse, and NITA reported it established a portal on its website to receive complaints of online child sexual abuse and child pornography. The local NGO Uganda Youth Development Link estimated in 2015 that at least 18,000 girls and women engaged in sex work across the country.

Child Soldiers: In July Katumba Wamala, army commander and chief of defense forces, warned that the rebel Allied Democratic Forces recruited child soldiers, particularly in the east.

The Lord’s Resistance Army continued to hold women and children against their will and to abduct children from neighboring countries.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: From January to June 2015, the most recent information available, the UPF reported 48 infanticides.

Displaced Children: Families in the remote Karamoja Region sent many children to Kampala during the dry season to find work and beg on the streets. In March the International Human Trafficking Institute reported that some Karamojong parents sent their children to Kampala with recruiters who promised to find them work but instead forced them to beg on the streets. A 2015 study by ANPPCAN found that 57 percent of Kampala’s street children were from Karamoja.

Police routinely rounded up street children and relocated them to a custodial home for juvenile delinquents, where staff attempted to locate the children’s families and return them to their homes. Media reported police often found that children who had been returned to their families reappeared on Kampala’s streets soon thereafter. In April the MGLSD reported the government completed and opened a rehabilitation institution in Karamoja to assist Karamojong children.

Institutionalized Children: There were reports of abuses in several orphanages. For example, on April 8, media reported that police closed an illegal orphanage in Lwengo District that housed 26 children in three rooms, denied them food for several days, and prevented them from going to school.

According to regulations issued in 2014, an approved orphanage “shall only receive children in an emergency from a police officer or under an interim care order from a judge.” All approved homes are required to keep proper accounts, employ a qualified warden and registered nurse, keep health records for each child, provide adequate sleeping facilities, and provide for an appropriate education. Nevertheless, the government lacked the resources to register and monitor orphanages.

In 2015 the MGLSD estimated there were more than 50,000 children in approximately 1,000 orphanages in the country, of which only 83 were licensed by the ministry. More than half of the orphanages did not meet minimal standards and held children illegally. Nearly 70 percent of orphanages maintained inadequate records on the children present. Most children in orphanages had at least one living parent.

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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community had approximately 2,000 members centered in Mbale District, in the eastern part of the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. The law, however, does not establish penalties for those engaging in discrimination. The law provides for access to all buildings “where the public is invited” and information and communications for persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce the law effectively. A 2013 study conducted by architects in Kampala found that 95 percent of the city’s buildings were inaccessible to persons with disabilities due to lack of ramps or elevators.

Persons with disabilities faced societal discrimination and very limited job and educational opportunities. The UHRC received complaints of discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.) and access to transport and other public services.

Most schools did not accommodate persons with disabilities.

In June Plan International reported many children with disabilities were victims of physical and emotional abuse, including bullying, ridicule, and social isolation. Perpetrators included parents, foster parents, and teachers as well as peers. Plan International reported that 84 percent of children with disabilities had been victims of violence, compared with 54 percent of children without disabilities. A 2012 report released by the National Council on Disability (NCD), the most recent information available, indicated 45 percent of persons with disabilities were literate, compared with 71 percent in the general population. The report found children with mental disabilities were sometimes denied food and tied to trees and beds with ropes to control their movements.

The government took steps during the year to address the needs of persons with disabilities. The government increased fiscal year 2016 funding by 34 percent for training teachers working with children with special needs. The Mukono District Council passed a resolution that banned the construction of buildings that do not have provisions of access for persons living with disabilities.

In July the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda petitioned the chief justice to improve access to courthouses for persons with disabilities and to introduce sign language and Braille systems in the courts.

The law reserves five seats in the National Assembly for representatives of persons with disabilities. The NCD reported participation by persons with disabilities in the February elections was minimal, in part due to inaccessibility of polling centers. Election materials were not modified for persons with vision disabilities, and polling stations lacked support services such as guides, helpers, and sign language interpreters. The NCD also noted civic education offered by the government to citizens through electronic and print media was inaccessible to many persons with disabilities.

Government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, including the Ministry of State for Disabled Persons under the MGLSD and the NCD, lacked sufficient funding to undertake significant initiatives.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were reports of violence among ethnic minorities over land, grazing rights, border demarcations, and other contested matters.

On July 15, the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that during a March 11-25 operation to quell interethnic violence between the Bamba and Bakonzo tribes, the UPDF and UPF shot and killed 17 civilians in Bundibugyo and Kasese Districts. According to HRW, 13 of the civilians were unarmed. A police spokesperson claimed security forces were responding to attacks with machetes and stones. The National Assembly’s Defense and Internal Affairs Committee launched an investigation, but no report had been released by year’s end.

On February 8, media reported a group of citizens and residents of foreign extraction complained of discrimination in the process of applying for national identity cards. The group, called the Uganda Multiracial Community, alleged the Ministry of Internal Affairs denied some of its members, citizens and noncitizens, official registration. Yasin Omar, the group’s head, said that some persons of multiracial backgrounds paid up to 500,000 shillings ($142) to obtain identity cards, although the government was supposed to issue them without charge. The president met the group in February and promised to resolve their problems with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. No further update was available.

Indigenous People

The constitution recognizes 56 indigenous ethnicities. The government has historically displaced indigenous groups to create national parks and reserves.

Unlike in previous years, media did not report any clashes between the Benet ethnic group, evicted from its land on Mount Elgon in 1983, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. It was unknown whether the government had fully complied with a 2005 ruling that returned lands within Mount Elgon to the Benet.

Unlike in previous years, there were no known reports of neighboring communities discriminating against the Batwa ethnic group, which the government displaced in 1992 when it created Mgahinga National Park, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and Echuya Central Forest Reserve. Conflict in previous years resulted from resentment by local ethnic groups residing in the area where the government resettled the Batwa.

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

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal according to a colonial era law that criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature” and provides for a penalty of up to life imprisonment. LGBTI persons faced discrimination, legal restrictions, societal harassment and violence, intimidation, and threats.

On August 4, police raided an LGBTI pride week event at a Kampala nightclub and ordered the approximately 300 attendees to huddle in a corner and sit on the floor. There were multiple reports police beat other attendees who hid in the club’s bathrooms or attempted to exit the club. There were also reports police sexually assaulted transgender individuals. According to witnesses, police ordered the event organizers to come forward, arrested 16 individuals without charge, and kept them for several hours in a holding cell, where police incited other detainees in the cell to beat them.

In a separate case, the LGBTI community cancelled a pride week parade event after the minister for ethics and integrity, Simon Lokodo, threatened to mobilize civilians to beat participants. The minister then released a statement saying LGBTI activities were criminal and illegal. The minister, who later denied the threat, claimed police cancelled the event because organizers had failed to obtain prior police permission, a claim HRW disputed.

In 2015 the Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB) rejected the application of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) to reserve its name, the first step required to register as an NGO. As explanation for its refusal, the URSB cited the 2012 Companies Act that allows it to refuse any requested name that “in the opinion of the registrar is undesirable.” On June 1, SMUG, with support from HRAPF, filed a suit claiming the URSB’s decision violated the organization’s constitutional rights to associate and assemble. The case continued at year’s end.

In January 2015 police arrested nine men who helped organize an HIV/AIDS testing clinic in the western Ntungamo District for “carnal knowledge against the order of nature.” Police claimed four of those arrested were engaged in sexual activity at the time of arrest, a charge disputed by those arrested. The men, who were subjected to forced anal exams, were released on bond. The case continued at year’s end.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, discrimination was common and prevented persons with HIV/AIDS from obtaining treatment and support. International and local NGOs, in cooperation with the government, sponsored public awareness campaigns to eliminate the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Counselors encouraged clients to be tested and to receive information about HIV/AIDS with their partners and family. Persons with HIV/AIDS formed support groups to promote awareness in their communities.

Police and the UPDF regularly refused to recruit persons who tested positive for HIV, claiming their bodies would be too weak for rigorous training and subsequent deployment.

In 2014 the National Assembly passed the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Bill that creates a legal framework for the prevention and control of HIV, disclosure of seropositive status to reduce transmissions, testing and counseling services, and prescribes penalties for the intentional spread of HIV. In July 2015 the president signed the bill into law. Human rights and HIV/AIDS activists criticized the bill, asserting it represented a dangerous backslide in the country’s effort to respond to HIV. Activists expressed concern about a clause in the bill that criminalizes attempted and intentional transmission of HIV. A person convicted of these offenses faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine of approximately five million shillings ($1,430).

In September the International Community of Women Living with HIV Eastern Africa reported the results of research in 2014-15 indicating that healthcare workers sterilized 72 women living with HIV without their consent between 1993 and 2013. Most of the cases took place in government-run hospitals during childbirth by caesarian section.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence remained a problem. Mobs attacked and killed persons suspected of robbery, killing, rape, theft, ritual sacrifice, and witchcraft, among other crimes. Mobs beat, lynched, burned, and otherwise brutalized their victims.

On March 22, media reported that motorcycle taxi drivers organized an illegal court in Lugazi, which tried, sentenced to death, and subsequently beat to death a man accused of stealing a motorcycle.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law allows workers, except members of the armed forces, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and take industrial action. Unions must obtain a document of recognition before engaging in collective bargaining. Employers who violate a worker’s right to form and join a trade union or bargain collectively may face up to four years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1.9 million shillings ($542).

The law allows unions to conduct activities without interference, prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and provides for reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The law also empowers the minister of gender, labor, and social development and labor officers to refer disputes to the Industrial Court if initial mediation and arbitration attempts fail.

The government did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. MGLSD officials said their ministry was inadequately funded and failed to undertake sufficient labor inspections. Penalties were generally not adequate to deter violations.

The government generally did not respect the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and the government did not always protect these rights. Labor activists reported some employers avoided the legal requirement to enter into collective bargaining agreements with registered unions by subcontracting and outsourcing services. NOTU reported some employers used a “recognition agreement” to allow union operations at the workplace. Most employers did not provide their employees written employment contracts, resulting in a lack of job security and union representation.

Trade associations were independent of the government and political parties, but MPs who held the five National Assembly seats reserved for workers tended to be affiliated with a political party (currently four were members of the ruling NRM party and the fifth was unaffiliated). To register, trade unions must submit an application to the registrar of unions, including copies of the union’s constitution, rules, address, list of members, employees, and a registration fee. The registrar should grant a certificate of registration within 90 days of receiving a completed application. In November 2015 the National Assembly passed the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, which for the first time allowed nonunionized workers to vote for their representatives in the National Assembly.

On August 1, nearly 4,000 nonteaching staff members at five of the country’s six public universities began a 17-day sit-down strike. The nonteaching staff demanded back pay amounting to 56 billion shillings ($16 million) and a salary increase. The strike delayed the start of the academic year by more than two weeks. Describing the strike as a sign of indiscipline and lack of professional ethics, the president vowed on August 14 that the government would not give strikers a raise. Two days later, following a meeting with the Public Universities Nonteaching Staff Executives Forum, Museveni promised to pay the salary arrears by December, ending the strike. The government had not paid the promised salary arrears by year’s end.

Antiunion discrimination occurred, and labor activists accused several companies of preventing employees from joining unions by denying promotions, not renewing work contracts, and sometimes refusing to recognize unions. NOTU officials reported many workers were discouraged from joining trade unions due to fear of harassment and dismissal.

Public service unions, including medical staff and teachers, were able to negotiate salaries and employment terms for members. The government fixed salaries for “essential government employees,” including police, military, and management level officials.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, but does not prohibit prison labor. The law states that prison labor would only be considered forced labor if a worker is “hired out to, or placed at the disposal of, a private individual, company, or association.” Those convicted of forced labor may be fined up to 960,000 shillings ($274), sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, or both, and required to pay a fine of 80,000 shillings ($23) “for each day the compulsory labor continued.”

The government’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (AHTTF) and the MGLSD reported that many citizens working overseas, particularly in the Arab Persian Gulf States, became victims of forced labor. In January the government announced a three-month ban on its citizens’ working as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia in response to growing concerns over human rights abuse of these workers in the country. The ban, which was initially intended to allow the MGLSD time to investigate the problem, remained in effect at year’s end, despite the MGLSD’s September 22 announcement that it had completed the investigation and would lift the ban. According to the MGLSD investigation, none of the victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation had been recruited by registered companies. The MGLSD reported there were 53 registered recruitment companies, 34 of which belonged to the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies. The minister also announced that the MGLSD was drafting stringent regulations to control citizens’ labor migration and protect them from labor exploitation. According to media reports, the recruitment of domestic workers continued largely unabated due largely to the government’s poor enforcement of the ban. The AHTTF reported the government did not have funds to investigate cases abroad and relied on assistance from civil society to repatriate citizens.

In 2015 FHRI noted cases of forced labor in 23 of the 31 prisons it inspected. In addition persons held in pretrial detention often were subjected to forced labor. Prison officials allegedly hired out prisoners to work on private farms and construction sites. Male prisoners tended to do arduous physical labor, while female prisoners often produced marketable handicrafts, such as woven baskets. When paid, compensation was generally very low. On April 12, a mayor in Lwengo District publicly denounced the practice of hiring out prisoners to work on private farms and accused prison wardens of stealing their wages.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law bars children younger than 12 from doing any work, but allows employers to hire children younger than 16 to do work the law defines as “nonhazardous,” such as domestic work, if it does not interfere with the child’s education. MGLSD regulations prohibit children between the ages of 15 and 17 from working overtime (more than 48 hours a week). The law prohibits children working from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. or from being employed in work that is “injurious to their health, dangerous or hazardous or otherwise unsuitable.” The law provides for government inspection of workplaces, identification of workplace hazards, and other related matters for all workers, including children. Violations of child labor laws carry a 685,055 shilling ($195) fine. There were no known convictions under the law since its adoption in 2006. Children’s rights activists reported the employment of children as young as five.

Institutions responsible for enforcing child labor laws and policies included the National Council of Children, the police Child and Family Protection Unit, the Industrial Court, and the MGLSD. The government’s enforcement of applicable laws was ineffective due to understaffing, lack of funding, insufficient training, and weak interagency coordination mechanisms, according to NOTU. MGLSD officials acknowledged financial constraints limited enforcement efforts. The ministry, in conjunction with civil society, provided social services to children working in the worst forms of child labor and other vulnerable groups and conducted training sessions for some staff members, local leaders, and district labor inspectors. MGLSD labor officers conducted inspections and reported child labor problems to the minister; however, more than half the country’s 117 districts were without a labor officer. In some districts without labor officers, district community development officers (CDOs) doubled as labor officers, although these CDOs had no additional funding to support labor functions. Due to lack of funds and logistical support, district labor officials have not conducted any inspections exclusively for child labor since 2004.

The government coordinated its efforts to stop child labor through the National Steering Committee on Child Labor, which included representatives of the MGLSD, the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Health. Other organizations represented included the National Council for Children, the UPF’s Child and Family Protection Unit, the Federation of Uganda Employers, NOTU, the Central Organization of Free Trade Unions, the Uganda National Teachers’ Union, NGOs, journalists, and academics.

The government cooperated with the International Labor Organization, foreign governments, and NGOs on several initiatives to combat child labor, including education and reintegration of child laborers into their communities. Several human rights NGOs continued programs to remove children from hazardous work situations, including commercial sexual exploitation and domestic work, among others.

Child labor was common, especially in the informal sector. Child labor predominantly occurred in cattle herding, transport, gold mining, street vending, begging, scrap collecting, stone quarrying, brick making, road construction and repair, car washing, fishing, domestic services, bar or club service work, cross-border smuggling, and commercial farming (including the production of tea, coffee, sugarcane, vanilla, tobacco, rice, cotton, charcoal, and palm oil). In urban areas, children sold small items on the street, worked in shops, begged for money, and were exploited in the commercial sex industry. Multiple reports found children engaged in gold mining sometimes worked during school breaks, after classes, and on weekends. In some cases children worked full time and did not attend school. Many children left school and engaged in agricultural or domestic work to help meet expenses or perform the work of absent or sick parents, a common situation throughout the country. The problem was particularly acute among the large orphan population. According to UNICEF’s 2016 State of the World’s Children report, 16 percent of the country’s children between the ages of five and 14 were engaged in child labor.

In December 2015 the World Bank cancelled the Uganda Transport Sector Development Project, worth $265 million (equivalent to 927 billion shillings), after allegations of misconduct and abuse by contractors, including child labor.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and employment laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, age, language, and HIV/communicable disease status; however, the law does not address sexual orientation or gender identity. There were cases of employment discrimination based on these categories. In June the local NGO Platform for Labor Action, which focuses on workers’ rights, reported some employers forced their domestic staff to undergo HIV testing and fired those who tested positive.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum wage was set in 1984 at 6,000 shillings ($1.71) per month. In 2003 the government and the private sector agreed in principle to increase the minimum wage to 54,000 shillings ($15.42) per month. The government has yet to implement this agreement. In May 2015 the president argued against setting a minimum wage, claiming it would undermine investment by increasing labor costs. In June 2015 the government established the Minimum Wages Advisory Board consisting of representatives from the government, workers, and employers to assess the feasibility of a minimum wage. In May the permanent secretary of the MGLSD reported that the advisory board had submitted its preliminary findings to the president’s office and ministers, but did not release them publicly.

In September the World Bank released a poverty assessment report for 2006-13 that indicated 35 percent of the population lived below the international poverty line of $1.90 (equivalent to 6,650 shillings) a day while 20 percent lived below the national poverty line, which ranged from $0.88 (equivalent to 3,080 shillings) to $1.04 (equivalent to 3,640 shillings) a day.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, and the maximum workday is 10 hours. The law provides that the workweek may be extended to 56 hours per week, including overtime, with the employee’s consent. An employee may work more than 10 hours in a single day if the average number of hours over a period of three weeks does not exceed 10 hours per day, or 56 hours per week. For employees who work beyond 48 hours in a single week, the law requires employers to pay a minimum of 1.5 times the employee’s normal hourly rate for the overtime hours, and twice the employee’s normal hourly rate for work on public holidays. The law grants employees a 30-minute break during every eight-hour work shift. For every four months of continuous employment, an employee is entitled to seven days of paid annual leave. Many industries paid workers annual bonuses in lieu of overtime.

The law establishes occupational safety and health standards and regulations for all workers, enforced by the MGLSD’s Department of Occupational Safety and Health. The law provides labor inspectors authority to access and examine any workplace and prosecute suspected violators of the law. Labor officials conducted desk reviews and site inspections to assess compliance with safety and health standards in several sectors, including the production of beer and other beverages, sugar processing, and steel manufacturing.

Authorities did not effectively enforce labor laws. The MGLSD mainly conducted labor inspections in response to complaints. Only 49 of the country’s 117 districts had a labor officer, and their training, funding, and logistical support were inadequate. The MGLSD reported that it conducted more than 100 on-site inspections, 120 desk reviews, and 50 routine inspections during the year. In some of the districts without labor officers, community development officers assumed this responsibility. Community development officers are local officials responsible for supervising government-funded development programs. While such individuals are supposed to conduct labor inspections, they lacked the training and often only addressed labor issues reported to them. As a result, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health carried out some site inspections during the year. NOTU officials claimed the government favored investors over workers, making it difficult for labor inspectors to enforce the law. Labor officials reported the labor law does not protect workers in the informal, domestic, and agricultural sectors.

On April 25, media outlets reported the Federation of Ugandan Employers (FUE) conducted a one-day training session on the country’s labor laws for the Chinese companies in the country. At the training session, FUE distributed a simplified guide on labor laws, translated into Chinese. According to the embassy of China in Kampala, Chinese companies employed an estimated 20,000 persons, mainly in construction, television assembly, fabrication of plastic products, oil exploration, and woodworking.

NOTU officials reported that, due to the country’s high unemployment rate, which the 2014 National Census report estimated at 9.4 percent, and underemployment rate, which the Bureau of Statistics reported at 12.9 percent in 2015, employers had disproportionate power to determine employees’ salaries. Sometimes employers paid workers as little as 50,000 shillings ($14.25) per month. Workers often were subjected to hazardous working conditions. Violations of standard wages, overtime pay, or safety and health standards were common in several sectors, including steel fabrication, factory work, domestic work, and the informal sector.

On June 16, the Uganda Retirement Benefits Regulatory Authority (URBRA) licensed the country’s retirement programs for the informal sector. The new programs cover traders and individuals engaged in various forms of informal work. Figures released by the Bureau of Statistics in 2014 estimated the informal sector produced 49 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and employed up to 80 percent of the labor force. URBRA reported most of the country’s 13 million eligible workers were in the informal and agricultural sectors. The formal pension systems cover less than 10 percent of the working population.

Deaths occurred due to unsafe working environments. For example, media outlets reported in December 2015 that two staff members working at a copper mine died in separate incidents, one crushed by the factory’s conveyor drum and another by an underground copper carrier. The MGLSD and civil society reported that, due to the high unemployment rate and rate of informal labor, workers felt compelled to remain in work situations that endangered their health, and feared reprisals if they demanded improved conditions. The government did not effectively protect employees in these situations, due to insufficient legislation and resources for monitoring mechanisms.