Acts of Congress mandate the annual submission of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Country Reports cover internationally recognized civil and political rights, including those set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as worker rights. These include the prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and the prohibitions on arbitrary detention, disappearance, or clandestine detention and other violations of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person. They also include certain rights, such as the right of peaceful assembly and the rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion or belief. Furthermore, the reports cover key internationally recognized worker rights issues, as defined in the Trade Act of 1974, such as the right to freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, the prohibition of forced or compulsory labor, the status of child labor practices and the minimum age for employment of children, discrimination with respect to employment, and acceptable work conditions.
The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are prepared by reviewing information available from a wide variety of credible sources, including U.S. and foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with human rights. Particularly helpful for citation are NGOs, whether within a single country or those with an international perspective.
The Country Reports cover respect for human rights in foreign countries and territories worldwide. They do not describe or assess the human rights implications of actions taken by the U.S. Government or its representatives.
To comply with the congressional requirement for reporting on human rights practices, the Department provides guidance to U.S. diplomatic missions annually in July for submission of updated reports in September and October. The Department updates these texts by year’s end. Multiple concerned bureaus and offices in the Department of State provide contributions, and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor prepares a final draft of each country report. The U.S. Department of Labor contributes to material in section 7 on worker rights (see Appendix B for more detail).
The Department strives to make the Country Reports comprehensive, objective, and uniform in scope. We seek a high standard of consistency in the reports despite the multiplicity of sources and the diversity of countries. For purposes of focus and streamlining, the reports select a few illustrative examples of alleged abuses and follow up in most instances only on the previous year’s high-profile unresolved cases. In recent years the Department’s annual instructions on the update of the Country Reports changed the requirement that information be provided even when no abuse was alleged. An example is a reduction in information on prison conditions when there have not been allegations of inadequate conditions. If there has been no allegation concerning the unavailability of potable water in a prison, then the report need not include information on that condition. It is only an allegation regarding the absence of potable water that would raise prison condition concerns and thus be mentioned. This change allowed the reports to increase the focus on reported abuses.
Additionally, the Department’s annual instructions also made changes to sharpen the focus on reports of violations and abuses of internationally recognized human rights and each government’s actions regarding such violations and abuses. For example, the Executive Summary of each report is sharply focused on credible reports of the significant types of violations and abuses of internationally recognized human rights, if applicable to the country concerned. These include reports of extrajudicial killing, torture, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, and the worst forms of restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion or belief, as well as bias-motivated crimes of violence and similar abuses. The summary does not include many other common issues, such as overcrowding in prisons and societal discrimination, but these matters continue to be covered in the body of the reports.
New beginning in the 2020 reporting season and continuing into 2021 was coverage of adverse country actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that had a negative impact on human rights. The existing format of the reports is used to report these actions.
Also new for 2021 is the restoration of a subsection on reproductive rights in section 6, Women, which was preceded by an addendum to the 2020 reports on the same subject. Another addition for 2021 is a stronger emphasis on reporting of threats and violence against human rights defenders, particularly those exercising their civil and political rights to advocate for the environment and land as well as indigenous peoples’ rights. Additionally, in section 1.e., this year’s reports have more comprehensive reporting on politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country (otherwise known as “transnational repression”). Finally, in section 1.f., the 2021 reports include greater information about the use of technology to arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil or interfere with the privacy of individuals (e.g., citizens/civil society/journalists/members of minority groups).
While the reports continue to report on societal conditions, including discrimination, that can affect the enjoyment of internationally recognized human rights, we have reduced the amount of statistical data in each of the subsections of the report illustrating those conditions. In the age of the internet, the underlying data is generally available. We have provided links to relevant sources rather than repeat the data in the text of the reports. Such links are consolidated in Appendix C.
Evaluating the credibility of reports of human rights violations and abuses remains difficult. Most governments and opposition groups deny they commit human rights violations or abuses and occasionally go to great lengths to conceal any wrongdoing. There may be few eyewitnesses to specific alleged violations or abuses. Frequently, eyewitnesses are intimidated or prevented from reporting what they know. On the other hand, individuals and groups opposed to a government may have incentive to exaggerate or fabricate abuses. In similar fashion, some governments may distort or exaggerate abuses attributed to opposition groups. The Department seeks to identify those groups (for example, government forces) or individuals for whom available, credible evidence indicates probable involvement in human rights violations or abuses or other problematic conduct.
Many governments that profess to respect human rights in principle may in fact secretly order or tacitly condone violations or abuses. Consequently, the Country Reports look beyond statements of policy or intent to examine what a government actually did to protect human rights and promote accountability, including the extent to which it investigated, brought to trial, or punished those responsible for any violations or abuses.
The Country Reports describe facts relevant to human rights concerns as they have been reported by the sources identified above. Notwithstanding terms that may be used in them, they do not state or reach legal conclusions with respect to domestic or international law.
Occasionally a report may state that a country “generally respected” the rights of individuals. The Department uses the phrase “generally respected” because the protection and promotion of human rights is a dynamic endeavor. It cannot be stated with absolute accuracy that any government always respects these rights without qualification, even in the best of circumstances. Accordingly, reports use “generally respected” as a standard phrase to describe countries that attempt to protect and promote human rights in the fullest sense, and it is thus the highest level of respect for human rights assigned by these reports.
Because the Secretary of State designates foreign groups or organizations as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) on the Department of State FTO list, the reports describe as “terrorists” only those groups on the current FTO list.
The following notes on specific sections in each country report provide an overview of the key problems covered, but they are not intended to be comprehensive descriptions:
Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings: Includes killings ordered by governments or committed by governments without fair trial and final appeal guarantees, including when there is evidence of a political motivation. This section also includes illustrative, publicly well-known examples of killings by police or security forces and deaths that resulted from excessive use of force or other abuses contrary to human rights obligations and commitments, including equal protection of law.
While the section generally excludes combat deaths and killings by nonstate actors, it does cover killings by such actors as opposition groups or terrorists or widespread killings by criminal groups. The reports cover deaths in detention due to adverse conditions in section 1.c., under Prison and Detention Center Conditions. Killings by terrorist or other nongovernmental groups are covered after government abuses. In optional section 1.g. used for countries engaged in conflict, the reports cover allegations of civilian casualties, detention-related abuses including torture, and other abuses by the government’s armed forces or other state organs or by nonstate armed groups operating within that state.
Disappearance: Covers cases in which the government may be involved in the detention, abduction, or disappearance of the victim(s) and refuses to acknowledge the detention of or to account for the whereabouts or fate of the victim(s). This includes cases in which the victim(s) has not been found. Cases eventually classified as political killings after the bodies of missing persons are discovered would be covered in the previous section, while those eventually identified as having been arrested or held in detention may be covered in section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention.
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: Covers torture, defined in the Convention against Torture, Article 1, as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind,” and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, defined in the Convention against Torture, Article 16, as acts that do not amount to torture as defined by Article 1, when committed by or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. The subsection discusses reported occurrences without analysis of whether they fit any precise definition, and it includes reported uses of physical and other force that may fall short of torture but which may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. This section also may include reports of mistreatment that may not constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the section covers prison and detention center conditions and deaths in such facilities due to poor conditions or mistreatment.
If there are reports of patterns of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN or other multinational peacekeeping forces, these incidents are reported in this subsection, and they are included in the country report where the alleged abuse occurred and in the country report where the alleged offender originated. Also included would be corrective action taken by the peacekeeping troop-contributing country.
Arbitrary Arrest or Detention: Includes reports of cases in which detainees are held arbitrarily in official custody without being charged or, if charged, without being brought promptly before a judicial authority with power to detain or without trial within a reasonable time.
Denial of Fair Public Trial: Notes whether there is an independent and impartial judiciary free of corruption or political influence and whether trials are fair and public and afford criminal defendants the minimum guarantees recognized internationally as necessary for a criminal defense (failure to hold any trial under Arbitrary Arrest or Detention). The subsection Political Prisoners and Detainees covers persons convicted, imprisoned, or detained essentially for political beliefs or nonviolent acts of dissent or expression, particularly based on overly broad and sweeping charges intended to stifle the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
If applicable, the section includes a subsection Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country: This subsection covers reports of a range of acts including killings, kidnappings, or violence taken by states against individuals living abroad, in particular political opponents, civil society activists, human rights defenders, or journalists, seeking to silence criticism and prevent them from exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also includes credible information regarding a country that, during the year, attempted to misuse international law enforcement tools, such as Interpol systems, for politically motivated reprisals against individuals living outside the country and related efforts by a country to exert bilateral pressure on another country aimed at having that country take adverse action against an individual. Such action could include exerting political pressure for the return of perceived enemies located in other countries.
The subsection Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies covers whether there is access to an independent and impartial court or other competent authority to seek civil remedies for alleged human rights abuses, such as damages for or cessation of the alleged abuse. If applicable, the section includes a subsection Property Seizure and Restitution if there is a systemic failure of a government to enforce court orders with respect to restitution or compensation for the taking of private property under domestic law. This subsection is not intended to discuss or evaluate individual claims.
Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence: Covers whether government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, and whether a government accessed, collected, or used private communications or personal data arbitrarily (such as by targeting individuals based on the exercise of their human rights) or without appropriate legal authority. This section also examines if governments have in place laws, regulations, or practices that enable them to use technology to monitor individuals arbitrarily or unlawfully and whether any “national security” laws are used by governments to conduct arbitrary or unlawful surveillance. If necessary, this section also reports if informer systems were employed and if authorities punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives.
Conflict-related Abuses (if applicable): This section applies only to countries engaged in armed conflicts and describes reported abuses in such situations. It includes reports of unlawful killings and abuses, including torture, of civilians by members of the armed forces or other state organs or by organized nonstate armed groups within the state engaged in the conflict. Any reports of the unlawful use of child soldiers by either government forces or by other organized armed groups are discussed in this subsection. Also covered are reports of attacks on health-care facilities, workers, or ambulances, as well as schools. For countries conducting military operations in another country or engaging in peacekeeping operations in another country, the reports note any human rights concerns with the subject country’s activity in optional section 1.g. as well as in the report on the country where the operations took place.
Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media: Evaluates whether freedom of expression, including for members of the media, is respected and describes any direct or indirect restrictions, including intimidation of journalists and censorship. The subsection Internet Freedom includes discussion of monitoring or restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression online, including the freedom to seek, receive, or impart information, ideas, and opinions. Another subsection, Academic Freedom and Cultural Events, includes information on restrictions, intimidation, and censorship in these fields.
Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association: Evaluates the ability of individuals, including with others (such as through political parties) to exercise these freedoms. It considers instances of government failure to provide permits or licenses for meetings and demonstrations as well as information on the ability of trade associations, professional bodies, NGOs, and similar groups to register, maintain relations, or affiliate with recognized international bodies in their fields. (Section 7, Worker Rights, discusses the right of workers to associate, organize, and bargain collectively.)
Freedom of Religion: Provides a hyperlink to the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report. Information on anti-Semitism also appears in section 6 under a heading by that name.
Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country: Discusses whether and under what circumstances governments exiled citizens; restricted internal and foreign travel, including for women or members of minority populations; and revoked passports.
Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons (if applicable): This optional section is included if there were large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in a country. It covers the causes of displacement and number of IDPs, restrictions on their movement, targeting of specific groups, and any failure to provide protection or humanitarian assistance to IDPs. It reports if IDPs suffered significant abuses and whether the government promoted the safe, voluntary, and dignified return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs.
Protection of Refugees: As defined in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, refugees generally are persons outside their country of nationality or, if stateless, outside their country of former habitual residence, who are unable or unwilling to return to that country based on a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Under certain regional instruments, such as the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, the term refugee may also refer to persons who have fled their country because their lives, safety, or freedom have been threatened by, among other things, generalized violence or internal conflict. The Protection of Refugees section covers abuse and discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers. It also reviews the government’s extension of assistance and protection to refugees, including protection against refoulement, the provision of temporary protection, and support for voluntary repatriation, longer-term integration opportunities, and resettlement in another country.
“Protection against refoulement” refers to whether the government refrained from (1) expelling or returning a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, or (2) expelling, returning, or extraditing a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
Stateless Persons (if applicable): This section is included if a country has a significant number of habitual residents who are stateless (not recognized as nationals by any state under the operation of its law). It reviews whether the government has implemented effectively laws and policies to provide such persons the opportunity to gain nationality on a nondiscriminatory basis. The section examines, among other matters, whether there is violence or discrimination against members of resident stateless populations in employment, education, housing, health services, marriage or birth registration, access to courts, or the owning of property.
Freedom to Participate in the Political Process: Discusses whether the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and whether in practice citizens were able to participate in the conduct of public affairs free of discrimination or unreasonable restriction. The subsections Elections and Political Participation and Participation of Women and Minorities assess whether elections were free and fair, including whether women and minorities had the opportunity to participate on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens.
Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government: Covers allegations of corruption in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and actions taken to combat it.
Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights: Discusses whether the government permits the free functioning of local human rights groups (including by allowing investigations and the publication of the groups’ findings on alleged human rights abuses), whether these groups are subject to retaliation by government or other forces (including for their participation in international forums), and whether government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views. The section also discusses whether the government grants access to and cooperates with outside entities (including foreign human rights organizations, the United Nations and other international organizations, and foreign governments) interested in human rights developments in the country. It reports on national human rights commissions, parliamentary commissions, and relations with international human rights organizations.
Discrimination and Societal Abuses: Contains sections on Women; Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination; Children; Anti-Semitism; Trafficking in Persons; Persons with Disabilities; and Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It also includes optional subsections on Indigenous Peoples, Organ Harvesting, HIV and AIDS Social Stigma, and Other Societal Violence or Discrimination. The Discrimination and Societal Abuses section addresses abuses and discrimination not discussed elsewhere in the report, focusing on violence or threats of violence against such individuals and laws, regulations, and state practices denying or impeding equal access to employment, education, health care, or other governmental benefits for members of specific groups.
Reluctance to report abuse – by women; children; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons (LGBTQI+); persons with disabilities, and members of other groups – is, of course, often a factor in the underreporting of abuses. To avoid being repetitive, we do not make this point every time we cover a particular issue, but readers should be aware that it is a significant factor in these kinds of abuses in all countries and cultures. (The Country Reports address allegations of abuses by government or opposition forces, such as killing, torture and other violence, or restriction of voting rights or freedom of expression that discriminate against specific groups, under the appropriate preceding sections.)
Women: Discusses violence against women, such as domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation/cutting, dowry deaths, and “honor killings.” Information is included on any government tolerance of, and efforts to prevent, such practices, as well as the extent to which women have access to equality of economic opportunity and protection from discrimination and sexual harassment. A restored subsection on Reproductive Rights covers maternal health issues such as maternal mortality, government policy adversely affecting access to contraception, access to skilled health care during pregnancy and childbirth, access to emergency health care, and discrimination against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, including for sexually transmitted infections.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination: This is a new section in the 2021 Country Reports. It covers a country’s laws to protect members of racial or ethnic minorities or groups from violence and discrimination and whether the government enforced them effectively. It reports governmental or societal violence or discrimination against members of racial, ethnic, or national minorities and official action to investigate, prosecute, and punish persons complicit in violence and abuses, whether by state or nonstate actors. The section also describes government actions to mitigate factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and societal racial and ethnic biases, that contributed to the problem and if possible, estimates their adequacy and effectiveness.
Children: Discusses acquisition of citizenship, early and forced marriage, and sexual exploitation of children. As applicable, it also addresses access to education and health care and violence or other abuse against children as well as other issues.
Anti-Semitism: Covers reports of anti-Semitic activity and the government’s response. Section 2.c. on Religious Freedom provides a hyperlink to the most recent International Religious Freedom Report, which also contains material on anti-Semitism.
Trafficking in Persons: This section contains a hyperlink to the Department of State’s most recent Trafficking in Persons Report.
Persons with Disabilities: Covers discrimination against persons with physical, mental, or intellectual disabilities in, among other things, employment, education, and the provision of other government services.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: Notes laws and policies criminalizing same-sex activity or conduct, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics and punishments such as imprisonment or the death penalty. The section also addresses violence by state and nonstate actors targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons such as corrective rape, forced anal exams, conversion therapy, forced marriage, domestic violence, and unnecessary surgical procedures. The section reports on discrimination by state and nonstate actors against LGBTQI+ persons with respect to housing, employment, parental status, education, health care, and access to government services, including official action to investigate and punish discriminatory acts. The section documents the targeting of LGBTQI+ NGOs and human rights defenders and restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression with respect to LGBTQI+ issues. Finally, the section takes note of legislative and other progress towards the full enjoyment of human rights for LGBTQI+ persons.