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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Sao Tome and Principe

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Sao Tome and Principe, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
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.


The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty democracy. The Government is comprised of an independent judiciary, a unicameral legislature (National Assembly), and an executive branch in which power is divided between the President and the Prime Minister. The Party of Democratic Convergence (PCD) won parliamentary elections in 1991 and thereby earned the right to name the Prime Minister and form a government. Miguel Trovoada, an independent, won Presidential election in 1991. Longstanding disagreement between the President and Prime Minister over interpretation of their respective constitutional powers, among other issues, culminated in July when Trovoada dismissed the Cabinet and the National Assembly and called for early legislative elections. The Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe (MLSTP), which had ruled prior to 1990 as the sole legal party, won a plurality in free and fair parliamentary elections in October and formed the new Government.

The Ministry of Defense, Security, and Internal Order supervises the military, many of whose members are part-time farmers or fishermen. It also supervises the police.

The economy is based on a single product, cocoa, and an archaic, state-run system of plantations called "empresas." Despite initial progress in a land redistribution program, there was little movement toward privatization, and the economy continued to face serious difficulties.

The Government continued to respect the rights of its citizens and managed to resolve serious internal conflicts within the country's legal and constitutional framework without violence or retribution. Nevertheless, the principal human rights problems continued to be an inefficient judicial system, societal discrimination against women, and outdated plantation labor practices that limited workers' rights.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture or cruel and inhuman punishment. There were anecdotal reports of overzealous security forces using excessive force during an arrest on at least one occasion, but no reports of gross violations, such as beatings or other cruel treatment during interrogations. Prison conditions are harsh but not life-threatening.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for procedural protections in case of detention. There was no evidence of arbitrary arrest or detention. Exile is not used as a punishment and all those exiled under the former regime have been given the opportunity to return.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for the right to fair public trial and the right of appeal in civil cases. For criminal cases, it provides for the right to legal representation and a public trial before a judge. In practice, however, the judicial infrastructure suffers from severe budgetary restraints, inadequate facilities, and a shortage of trained judges and lawyers, causing long delays in bringing cases to court and greatly hindering investigations in criminal cases. The judiciary is independent of both the President and the Government and has returned verdicts to the displeasure of both. The government determines salaries for all ministerial employees in accordance with standard government salary guidelines. All Government salaries are extremely low, but there were no reports of judges accepting bribes or being pressured by the Government.

There were no known political prisoners or detainees.

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

The Constitution provides for the integrity of the person and the right to privacy of home, correspondence, and private communication. The Government does not engage in intrusive practices, such as surveillance of individuals or communications. The Judicial Police are responsible for criminal investigations and must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Justice to conduct searches.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and the Government generally respects these in practice. One government-run and four independent newspapers publish periodically; none appeared during the second half of the year, due to financial constraints. Television and radio are state-operated; while no independent stations currently exist, there are no laws forbidding their operation.

The law grants all opposition parties access to the state-run media, including a minimum of 3 minutes per month on television. In late December 1993, then Secretary of State for Social Communications Gustavo dos Anjos suspended this right, reportedly in reaction to a televised press conference in which the MLSTP strongly criticized the PCD Government. When journalists protested in January by covering a second MLSTP conference "without authorization," dos Anjos fired television director Carlos Teixera. By May the Government had restored opposition telecast access, and since the naming of the interim Government in July, opposition parties--including the ousted PCD--have enjoyed steadily increasing access to the media.

The campaign by all parties for October's legislative elections was active and outspoken. In the absence of a facility to produce newspapers, all parties freely distributed newsletters and press releases, criticizing the Government, the President, and one another. There were no reports of government censorship or threats of censorship from any group, nor assertions of national security to suppress criticism.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right to associate freely and to demonstrate publicly, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government requires that requests for authorization of large-scale events be filed 48 hours in advance, and usually grants the appropriate permits. Although bureaucratic delays often occur, there were no instances of authorizations being withheld for political reasons. Numerous rallies and gatherings took place peacefully during the legislative election campaign, and there were no reports of interference with those that occurred spontaneously or lacked authorization. There were no reports of forced restrictions on meetings of municipal committees.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government respects this right in practice. There are no restrictions on the activities of foreign clergy.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Under the Constitution and in practice, citizens have the right to move freely within the country and to emigrate and return. Exit visas are not required.

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

Citizens exercised this right for the first time in free and fair presidential and legislative elections in 1991, and again in the legislative elections held October 2, 1994, which resulted in the peaceful transfer of power to the opposition MLSTP party. The MLSTP won 27 seats while the PCD won 14. A third party, the Independent Democratic Action Party, headed by the President's son Patrice, also won 14 seats. Elections are by secret ballot on the basis of universal suffrage at 18 years of age. There are no restrictions in law or practice on the participation of women in politics. Three women currently hold seats in the National Assembly, and women occupy important posts in the Government. There are no women in the Cabinet.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A small number of local human rights groups have formed since 1991 without restriction or governmental interference. There were no known requests by international human rights groups to visit the country.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides that all citizens, regardless of sex, race, racial origin, political tendency, creed or philosophic conviction, are equal under the law.


The Constitution stipulates that women and men have equal rights to full political, economic, and social participation. Women have access to opportunities in education, business, and government, and many women occupy positions of leadership in the private and public sectors. In practice, however, women still encounter substantial discrimination. Traditional beliefs concerning the division of labor between men and women leave women with much of the hard work in agriculture, most child-rearing responsibilities, and less access to education and the professions.

Some evidence indicates that violence against women is a growing problem. Medical professionals, officials from the Ministry of Health and the United Nations report first-hand experience in dealing with violence, including rape. They also report that although women have the right to legal recourse--including against spouses--many are reluctant to complain or are ignorant of their rights under the law. Traditional beliefs and practices also inhibit women from taking domestic disputes outside the family.


A number of government and donor-funded programs are established to improve conditions for children. There has been improvement in maternity and infant care, nutrition and access to basic health services, especially in urban areas. Although no reliable statistics exist on abuse of children, serious mistreatment of children is not widespread.

People with Disabilities

The law does not mandate accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association and the right to strike. Few unions exist in the very small modern wage sector. One confederation, the Independent Union Federation, has been attempting to organize workers on the large state-owned plantations, but organizational difficulties and the country's poverty hindered its efforts. Independent cooperatives, on the other hand, have taken advantage of the government land distribution program to attract workers and, in many cases, significantly improve production and incomes.

With slow progress in the Government's efforts to privatize state-owned industries, state employees continue to comprise the vast majority of the wage-earning work force. Government and other essential workers are allowed to strike. In May, when the Government announced plans to reduce government positions by 18 percent, employees struck for 10 days in protest. In late October, employees in the banking sector also staged a brief strike for higher wages.

There are no restrictions barring trade unions from joining federations or affiliating with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides that workers may organize and bargain collectively. However, due to its role as the principal employer in the wage sector, the Government remains the key interlocutor for labor on all matters, including wages. There are no known laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor and it is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Employers generally respect the legally mandated minimum employment age of 18 years in the modern wage sector. The Ministry of Justice and Labor is responsible for enforcing this law. In subsistence agriculture, on plantations, and in informal commerce, however, children do work, sometimes from an early age.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Working conditions on many of the state-owned plantations--the biggest wage employment sector--border on medieval. There is no legally mandated minimum wage, and the average salary for plantation workers not only does not permit a decent standard of living, but is constantly being eroded by inflation and the depreciating exchange rate. In principle, workers are provided free (but poor) housing, rudimentary education and health care, and the right to reduced prices and credit at the "company store." Clothes and food are subsidized. Corruption is rampant, however, and international lending institutions have criticized the Government for ineffective administration of subsidies. Workers are often forced to purchase the same goods they should receive at government-mandated prices for much greater prices on a parallel market.

The Social Security Law of 1979 prescribes basic occupational health and safety standards. Inspectors from the Ministry of Justice and Labor are responsible for enforcement of these standards, but their efforts are ineffective and often nonexistent. The legal workweek is 40 hours with 48 consecutive hours mandated for a rest period. Officials enforce these laws in the modern wage sector. Employees have the right under the law to leave unsafe working conditions.

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