Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September 2014, 13:37 GMT

2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Sao Tome and Principe

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 11 March 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Sao Tome and Principe, 11 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b9e52c3c.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2010

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty constitutional democracy with a population of approximately 150,000. The head of state is President Fradique De Menezes, and the head of government, chosen by the National Assembly and approved by the president, is Prime Minister Joaquim Rafael Branco. International observers deemed the 2006 presidential and legislative elections free and fair. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, there were problems in some areas, including harsh prison conditions, prolonged pretrial detention, official corruption, impunity, violence and discrimination against women, child labor, and harsh labor conditions.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and security forces generally observed these prohibitions.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh but generally not life threatening. Facilities were overcrowded, sanitary and medical conditions were poor, and food was inadequate. Pretrial prisoners were held with convicted prisoners, and juveniles were held with adults. Men and women were held separately. There was one prison and no jails or detention centers. In general police stations had a small room or space to incarcerate detainees for brief periods.

There were a total of 240 inmates, approximately 65 of whom were awaiting trial. The number of inmates included seven women and 20 juveniles. There were no reports of prison deaths.

The government permitted human rights monitors to visit the prison; however, there were no visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

In June 2008 the national police and immigration service came under the control of a new ministry, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Government Reforms, and Civilian Protection. The Ministry of National Defense continues to supervise and control the military. Despite increased personnel and training offered throughout the year, police remained ineffective and were widely viewed as corrupt.

Rivalry between military soldiers and police led to two separate confrontations in May and August in which shots were fired. No one was injured in the incidents and no one was held accountable for either incident.

Impunity was a problem, and efforts to reform the Criminal Investigation Police, a separate agency under the Ministry of Justice, were unsuccessful.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention

The law requires that a judge issue arrest warrants to apprehend suspects, unless the suspect is caught during the commission of a crime. The law requires a determination within 48 hours of the legality of a detention, and authorities generally respected this right. Detainees are to be informed promptly of charges against them, and this was generally followed in practice. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees were allowed prompt access to a lawyer and, if indigent, to one provided by the state.

Severe budgetary constraints, inadequate facilities, and a shortage of trained judges and lawyers resulted in lengthy pretrial detention. A total of 27 percent of the country's prisoners were awaiting trial, and some pretrial detainees had been held for more than a year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, at times the judicial system was subject to political influence or manipulation.

The legal system is based on the Portuguese model. The court system has three levels: circuit courts, the Supreme Court, and the Constitutional Court, which is the highest judicial authority.

Trial Procedures

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial by a judge (juries are not used), the right of appeal, the right to legal representation, and, if a person is indigent, the right to an attorney provided by the state. Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to confront their accusers, confront witnesses, access government evidence, and present evidence and witnesses on their own behalf.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The same courts consider both criminal and civil cases, but different procedures are used in civil cases. Plaintiffs may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation; there are also administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights; however, journalists practiced self-censorship. The government owned part or all of most media outlets and had a strong say in what stories or opinions were published or broadcast.

Unlike the media, individuals could privately or publicly criticize the government, including specific officials, without fear of reprisal. There were no reports of the government impeding criticism.

Two government-run and seven independent newspapers and newsletters were published sporadically, usually on a monthly or biweekly basis; resource constraints determined publishing frequency. International media operated freely.

The government operated television and radio stations. The Voice of America, Portuguese Distribution Radio, and Radio France International also were rebroadcast locally. The law grants all opposition parties access to the state-run media, including a minimum of three minutes per month on television.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2008, approximately 15 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of discrimination against members of religious groups.

There was no known Jewish community and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

The law does not prohibit forced exile; however, there were no reports that the government used it.

Protection of Refugees

The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

During the year there were no known requests for refugee or asylum status. In the past the government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic and generally free and fair elections based on universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

The 2006 legislative elections gave a plurality of seats in the National Assembly to a coalition of parties, the Democratic Movement Strength of Change/Democratic Convergence Party (MDFM/PCD), supporting President De Menezes. The MDFM/PCD subsequently formed a government. President De Menezes was reelected in 2006 with 60 percent of the vote. International observers deemed both elections generally free and fair. Also in 2006, for the first time in more than a decade, local elections were held; on the same date, regional elections were held on the island of Principe. The MDFM/PCD won control of five of the six districts in these elections; the principal opposition party, the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP/PSD), won one district, and a new party, Novo Rumo, won one seat in the parliament. The Union for Change and Development of Principe Island (UMPP) won the presidency of the regional government on Principe.

Political parties operated without restriction or government interference.

Women held positions throughout the government, including two seats in the 55-seat National Assembly, four of 13 cabinet positions, one seat on the three-member Supreme Court, and two of the 12 judgeships in the circuit courts.

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

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

Official corruption was widespread. The World Bank's 2008 Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem. In 2008 several high-level officials, including one former prime minister, were brought before the circuit court only for questioning regarding their alleged involvement in the disappearance of millions of dollars from the government's foreign aid fund. The trial resumed on January 30. No high-level officials were tried as they have expansive immunity. However, two administrative officials were convicted and sentenced to nine and seven years in prison, respectively.

Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws.

There are no laws that provide for public access to government information; however, there were no reports that the government restricted access to information by citizens or noncitizens, including foreign media.

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

In the past a small number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution provides for the equality of all citizens regardless of gender, race, social origin or status, political views, creed, philosophical convictions, disability, or language; nevertheless, women faced discrimination.

Women

Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by two to 12 years' imprisonment. Rape occurred occasionally, with prosecution most likely in cases where there was evidence of violent assault as well as rape or if the victim was a minor. However, no statistics on prosecutions were available. Government family planning clinics and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) sought to combat rape by raising awareness of the problem.

Reports of domestic violence against women continued to increase. Although women have the right to legal recourse – including against spouses – many were reluctant to bring legal action or were ignorant of their rights under the law. Tradition inhibited women from taking domestic disputes outside the family. A newly passed law against domestic violence carries penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment. The law was strictly enforced, including in cases of domestic violence, but there were no data on the number of prosecutions for domestic violence.

The Ministry of Justice and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) maintained a counseling center with a hotline. While the hotline did not receive many calls due to unreliable telephone service, the counseling center received numerous walk-ins.

Prostitution is illegal but did occur. Prostitution was rare in the past, but observers estimated its prevalence is increasing with the growing number of foreign workers in the country.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem. No data were available on its extent.

The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Health clinics and local NGOs were permitted to operate freely in disseminating information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health. There were no restrictions on the right to access contraceptives but they were not widely used. NGOs and the Ministry of Health have run out of supply of contraceptives in the past due to lack of funds, leading to a drop in availability and use. The government provided free childbirth services, but lack of sufficient doctors meant many women, especially in rural areas, used nurses or midwives during childbirth, unless the mother or child suffered more serious health complications. Pre-and post-natal care outside of the family is rare. Men and women received equal access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, but women were more likely than men to seek treatment and refer their partners.

The constitution stipulates that women and men have equal political, economic, and social rights. While many women have access to opportunities in education, business, and government, women in general continued to encounter significant societal discrimination. Traditional beliefs left women with most child-rearing responsibilities and with less access to education or entry into the professions. The Gender Equality Institute (INEPG) within the Office of Women's Affairs held numerous seminars and workshops to raise awareness about discrimination against women. A high teenage pregnancy rate further reduced economic opportunities for women. The government held a conference on teen pregnancy in July.

Children

Citizenship is acquired either through parents or by being born within the borders of the country. Either parent, if a citizen, can confer citizenship to a child born outside the country.

A law passed in October requires all children born in the country to be registered in the hospital where they are born. If not born in a hospital, the child must be registered at the nearest precinct. Failure to register a birth can lead to a fine.

By law education is universal and compulsory through sixth grade, and tuition-free to the age of 15 or sixth grade, whichever comes first. In practice many rural students stopped attending school after the fourth grade.

Mistreatment of children was not widespread; however, there were few protections for orphans and abandoned children.

Child labor was a problem within the family.

The Ministry of Labor and Solidarity collected street children in three centers, where they attended classes and received training. Conditions at the centers were good; however, because of overcrowding, some children were returned to their families to sleep at night, and a few of these children ran away.

Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country. In 2007 the UNICEF and the Economic Community of Central African States held a conference in the country that addressed trafficking in persons and continued with an awareness campaign about the issue.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities; however, there were no reports of discrimination against such persons. The law does not mandate access to buildings, transportation, or services for persons with disabilities. Local NGOs that criticized the government in the past for not implementing accessibility programs for such persons were not active during the year.

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

There is no law criminalizing homosexual activity and there were no reports of societal discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Persons with HIV/AIDS were often rejected by their communities and shunned by their families. However, there were no reports that workers were discriminated against due to their HIV/AIDS status. As in the previous year, there were a number of government and NGO sponsored workshops and awareness campaigns to reduce such instances. The government also provided free AIDS testing and distributed antiretroviral drugs to many recognized patients.

Section 7 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The constitution and law allow workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and workers generally exercised this right in practice. Only two unions existed in the very small formal wage sector: the General Union of Workers and the National Organization of Workers of Sao Tome and Principe. Both represented government and private workers, who constituted the majority of formal sector wage earners, and members of farmers' cooperatives.

The constitution provides for the freedom to strike, including by government employees and other essential workers, although during the year no strikes occurred.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The constitution and law state that workers may organize and bargain collectively; however, due to its role as the principal employer in the formal wage sector, the government remained the key interlocutor for organized labor on all matters, including wages.

The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or retaliation against strikers, but there were no reports of such actions during the year.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Employers in the formal wage sector generally respected the legally mandated minimum employment age of 18; however, child labor was a problem within families. The law prohibits minors of 14 years old and up from working more than seven hours a day and 35 hours a week. However, 14-year-olds are permitted to work in family businesses or in an apprentice position. Children worked in subsistence agriculture, on plantations, in informal commerce, and in domestic work. No cases of child labor abuses were prosecuted, although the law states that employers of underage workers can be fined. The Ministry of Labor and Solidarity is responsible for enforcing labor laws.

Limited initiatives taken by the government in previous years to prevent child labor continued. The Ministry of Education extended compulsory school attendance from the fourth to the sixth grade, and the government granted some assistance to several low-income families to keep their children in school. The Ministry of Labor also created teams of labor inspectors to increase inspections at work sites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. Although the legal minimum wage for civil servants was 650,000 dobras ($41) per month, it was insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. There has been no adjustment to the minimum wage since 2007. Working two or more jobs was common. The labor law specifies occupations in which civil servants may work if they pursue a second job. Civil servants in "strategic sectors," such as the court system, the Ministries of Finance, Customs, and Education, and the Criminal Investigation Police, earned up to 400 percent more than other public sector employees.

Working conditions on many of the cocoa plantations, the largest informal wage sector, were harsh. The average salary for plantation workers did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, and the purchasing power of their pay was further eroded by the high rate of inflation. While difficult, the situation is not forced labor since most of the workers own a portion of the land due to agricultural reforms recommended by the World Bank in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, with 48 consecutive hours mandated for rest. However, shopkeepers could work up to 48 hours a week. The law provides for compensation for overtime work.

The law prescribes basic occupational health and safety standards; however, due to resource constraints, the Ministry of Justice's and the Ministry of Labor and Solidarity's enforcement of these standards was not effective. Employees have the right to leave unsafe working conditions, but none sought to do so, and enforcement of the right was very limited. Migrant work is all but unknown, although all workers would be entitled to the same protections.

Search Refworld