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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Sao Tome and Principe

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 31 March 2003
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Sao Tome and Principe , 31 March 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3e918c2e0.html [accessed 20 December 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty democracy. The Government is composed of an executive branch and a unicameral legislature (the National Assembly). The President appoints the Prime Minister, who in turn appoints the ministers of the Government. In December 2001, President Fradique de Menezes dissolved the 55-member National Assembly and called for new elections. In a March election deemed free and fair by international observers, the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP) won 24 seats, the Movement for the Democratic Force of Change (MDFM) coalition took 23 seats, and the Ue-Kedadji coalition won 8 seats. On March 26, the MDFM's Gabriel Arcanjo Ferreira da Costa was named Prime Minister, and 2 days later he formed a 13-member coalition Government. On September 27, President Menezes dismissed Costa and his government. On October 6, a new 13-member coalition government was formed under Maria das Neves, the country's first female head of government. The judiciary was generally independent; however, it was subject at times to influence and manipulation.

The Minister of National Defense and Interior supervised and effectively controlled the military services and the police. Many members of the military were part-time farmers or fishermen. The Government and international donors continued to dedicate resources to improving soldiers' living conditions. No defense expenditures were used for lethal weapons since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990.

The mainstay of the economy was the export of a single product, cocoa, produced on formerly state-run plantations. According to the 2002 census, the country had a population of 137,500. The Government privatized all of the state-held land, but it had limited success in privatizing state-owned enterprises. The Government was somewhat successful in its efforts at structural adjustment. The country remained highly dependent on foreign aid. Although difficult to quantify, unemployment remained high.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. The principal human rights problems continued to be harsh prison conditions, an inefficient judicial system, violence and discrimination against women, child labor, and outdated plantation labor practices that limit worker rights. Sao Tome and Principe was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There was one report of a possible arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life by the Government or its agents. On October 29, police arrested 24-year-old Ineas Cravid for the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl. After 2 hours in custody, police took Cravid to the National Hospital where he was declared dead. An autopsy determined that he died of poisoning. In response to public pressure, the Government requested a Portuguese physician to perform a second autopsy, which confirmed he had died of poisoning. However, there were growing doubts about police conduct: Reportedly a senior police official, who may have filed the original complaint, was a close relative of the alleged rape victim; Cravid reportedly told police that he intended to marry the girl; and after his death, the girl told the media that he had not molested her. At year's end, the Portuguese specialist was performing further tests to determine what toxins were present in Cravid's body.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison conditions were harsh but not life threatening. Facilities were overcrowded, and food was inadequate. Women and men were held separately, and juveniles were separated from adults.

Human rights monitors were not known to have requested permission to make prison visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.

Forced exile was not used.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice; however, the judicial system at times was subject to political influence or manipulation. In previous years, the judiciary returned verdicts against both the President and the Government. The Government has important powers relating to the judiciary, including setting salaries for judges and all ministerial employees in accordance with standard government salary guidelines. Government salaries were extremely low, and the authorities were concerned that judges may be tempted to accept bribes (see Section 6.e.).

The legal system was based on a Portuguese model. The court system had two levels: Circuit courts and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was the appellate court of last resort.

The Constitution provides for the right to fair public trial, the right of appeal, and the right to legal representation. However, in practice the judicial infrastructure suffered from severe budgetary constraints, inadequate facilities, and a shortage of trained judges and lawyers, which caused delays from 3 to 9 months in bringing cases to court and greatly hindered investigations in criminal cases.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. The judicial police were responsible for criminal investigations and must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Justice to conduct searches.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. Two government-run and six independent newspapers and newsletters were published sporadically, usually on a monthly or bimonthly basis.

Television and radio were state operated. While there were no independent local stations, no laws forbade them. The Voice of America, Radio International Portugal, and Radio France International were rebroadcast locally. The law grants all opposition parties access to the state-run media, including a minimum of 3 minutes per month on television.

All parties freely distributed newsletters and press releases stating their views and criticizing the Government, the President, and one another.

The Government did not restrict access to or the use of e-mail, the Internet, or satellite telephones. However, the only domestic Internet service provider was a joint venture in which the Government's Post and Telecommunications Office was a partner. The cost of Internet access remained high; consequently, access remained limited in practice.

The Government did not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. The Government required that requests for authorization for large-scale events be filed 48 hours in advance, but it generally granted the appropriate permits.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.

The law does not provide specifically for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Regarding the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. However, the authorities traditionally welcomed those seeking refuge or asylum. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise during the year.

There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. The Constitution provides for the election of the President, who as Head of State names the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister appoints members of the Government. In December 2001, President Fradique de Menezes dissolved the 55-member National Assembly and called for new elections. In a March election deemed free and fair by international observers, the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP) won 24 seats, the Movement for the Democratic Force of Change (MDFM) coalition took 23 seats, and the Ue-Kedadji coalition won eight. On March 26, the MDFM's Gabriel Arcanjo Ferreira da Costa was named Prime Minister, and 2 days later he formed a 13-member coalition Government. On September 27, President Menezes dismissed Costa and his government. A new 13-member coalition government was formed on October 6 under Maria das Neves, the country's first female head of government.

There were 5 women in the 55-seat National Assembly, and, at year's end, women held 5 of 13 seats in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister and the President of the 3-member Supreme Court were women.

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

A small number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views. During the year, there were no known requests by international human rights groups to visit the country.

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

The Constitution provides for the equality of all citizens regardless of sex, race, racial origin, political tendency, creed, or philosophic conviction; however, the Government has not enforced actively these provisions.

Women

While the extent of the problem was unknown, medical professionals report that domestic violence against women occurred, including rape. They also reported that 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. Traditional beliefs and practices also inhibited women from taking domestic disputes outside the family.

While the Constitution stipulates that women and men have equal political, economic, and social rights, and while many women have access to opportunities in education, business, and government, in practice women still encounter significant societal discrimination. Traditional beliefs concerning the division of labor between men and women left women with much of the hard work in agriculture, with most child-rearing responsibilities, and with less access to education and to professions.

Children

A number of government- and donor-funded programs were established to improve conditions for children, notably an ongoing malaria control project and purchase of school and medical equipment. There has been improvement in maternity and infant care, in nutrition, and in access to basic health services, especially in urban areas. Mistreatment of children was not widespread; however, there were few social protections for orphans and abandoned children.

Education was free to the age of 14 and universal; there were no differences between the treatment of girls and boys in regard to education. Education was compulsory through the sixth grade; however, education after the sixth grade or the age of 14, whichever came first, was not free.

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not mandate access to buildings, transportation, or services for persons with disabilities. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association. Few unions existed in the very small modern wage sector. The two major unions were the General Union of Workers and the National Organization of Workers of Sao Tome and Principe. Independent cooperatives took advantage of the Government's land distribution program to attract workers and in many cases to improve production and incomes significantly. Public sector employees still made up the great majority of wage earners.

There were no laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination; however, there were no reports of antiunion discrimination.

There were no restrictions against trade unions joining federations or affiliating with international bodies, but none have done so.

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 remained the key interlocutor for labor on all matters, including wages.

The Constitution provides for the freedom to strike, even by government employees and other essential workers. In July the State Workers Union (STE) staged a 2-day public sector general strike to demand a minimum salary increase. Although the STE publicly refused the Government's proposal of a 30 percent ($8 or 70,000 dobras) minimum wage increase, the strike ended peacefully after the Government and union officials reached an undisclosed agreement. There were no laws or regulations that prohibit employers from retaliating against strikers; however, there were no reports of retaliation following strikes.

There were no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

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

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Employers in the modern wage sector generally respected the legally mandated minimum employment age of 14 years or 18 years for dangerous jobs or those requiring heavy manual labor. The law prohibits minors from working more than 7 hours a day and 35 hours a week. Children were engaged in labor in subsistence agriculture, on plantations, and in informal commerce, sometimes from an early age. Although no cases of child labor abuses have been prosecuted, the law states that employers can be fined for employing underage workers.

The Government has not ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Working conditions on many of the cocoa plantations – the largest wage employment sector – were extremely hard. The legal minimum wage was $16.50 (150,000 dobras) per month, with an additional stipend of $2.20 (20,000 dobras) for civil servants. The average salary for plantation workers did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, and the real value of their pay was eroded constantly by high rates of inflation. In principle workers and their families were provided free (but inadequate) housing, rudimentary education for their children, and health care, as well as the privilege of reduced prices and credit at the "company store." These arrangements were intended to subsidize food and clothing. However, corruption was widespread, and international lending institutions have criticized the Government for ineffective administration of these subsidies. Workers often were forced to pay higher prices on the open market to obtain the goods theoretically provided at a discount as part of their compensation.

During the 1990s, the Government, with foreign donor assistance, privatized or redistributed the land in many state-run plantations in an effort to improve work, pay, and living conditions. While the program redistributed some land, not all of the newly privatized plantations were successful, particularly because the world price for cocoa dropped.

As a result of a 1999 salary increase for some civil servants, (such as those working in the court system, Finance Ministry, Customs, Education Ministry, and Criminal Investigation Police) government workers in these departments earned up to 400 percent more than their counterparts in the rest of the public sector.

The legal workweek was 40 hours, with 48 consecutive hours mandated for a rest period, a norm respected in the modern wage sector. The law prescribes basic occupational health and safety standards. Inspectors from the Ministry of Justice and Labor were responsible for enforcement of these standards, but their efforts were ineffective. Employees had the right under the law to leave unsafe working conditions.

f. Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

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