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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Sao Tome and Principe

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 28 February 2005
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Sao Tome and Principe , 28 February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4226d9707.html [accessed 30 October 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
February 28, 2005

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty democracy. Fradique de Menezes was elected President of the country in a 2001 election deemed free and fair by international observers. In 2002 parliamentary elections, also deemed free and fair, 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 won 23 seats, and the Ue-Kedadji coalition won 8 seats; Gabriel Arcanjo Ferreira da Costa was named Prime Minister. In 2002, President Menezes dismissed Costa, and a new 13-member coalition government was formed under Maria das Neves. In September, das Neves was dismissed for corruption and replaced by Damiao Vaz D'Almeida. During the year, the Government held town hall meetings throughout the country to establish a national consensus on the country's priorities; the search for consensus was one of the military's stipulations to end the 2003 attempted coup. The judiciary was generally independent but was subject at times to influence and manipulation.

The Minister of National Defense and Internal Affairs supervises and controls the military services, the police, and immigration. In July, the Government raised military salaries 30 percent as part of a continuing effort to improve soldiers' living conditions and benefits following the 2003 coup attempt. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces. There were no reports that security forces committed human rights abuses.

The mainstay of the mixed economy was the export of cocoa; coffee, vanilla, and pepper also were produced for export. The population was approximately 181,500; per capita annual income was $280. Unemployment remained high. The Government has privatized all state-held land and was somewhat successful in its efforts at structural adjustment; however, the country remained highly dependent on foreign aid.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Prison conditions were harsh, and the judicial system was inefficient. Violence and discrimination against women occurred, child labor was a problem, and labor practices on plantations were sometimes harsh.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

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; however, there have been reports in the past that security forces at times beat and abused detainees in custody. There were no reports that police beat detainees during the year.

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. Because of overcrowding, some pretrial prisoners were held with convicted prisoners.

The Government permitted human rights monitors to make prison visits; however, no visits were made during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained demonstrators.

The police force, under the Ministry of Defense, was ineffective and widely viewed as corrupt. Efforts to reform the Criminal Investigation Police, a separate agency under the Ministry of Justice, were hampered during the year by a lack of financial and human resources.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial system at times was subject to political influence or manipulation. The Government set judicial salaries, which remained low, and suspicion persisted that judges may be tempted to accept bribes. During the year, the Government took steps to strengthen the judiciary.

The legal system was based on the 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.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and the Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights and did not restrict academic freedom.

Two government-run and six independent newspapers and newsletters were published sporadically, usually on a monthly or bi-weekly basis; resource constraints determined publishing frequency.

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

Television and radio were state operated. There were no independent local stations due to financial and market constraints; however, there were no laws prohibiting such stations. 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.

There were no cases of defamation during the year.

The Government did not restrict access to the Internet.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful 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, and it usually granted the required permits.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that security forces killed or injured demonstrators.

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 2004 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.

Unlike in the previous year, no curfews were imposed.

The Constitution does not prohibit forced exile; however, there were no reports of anyone being sent into forced exile.

The law does not provide 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, and the Government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. During the year, there were no reports that the Government granted refugee status or asylum; there also were no known requests for refugee or asylum status. The Government cooperated with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

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 have 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 approves the Prime Minister, who appoints government ministers.

President Menezes was elected in July 2001; in December 2001, he dissolved the National Assembly and called for new elections. In a March 2002 election deemed free and fair by international observers, the MLSTP won 24 seats, the MDFM coalition won 23 seats, and the Ue-Kedadji coalition won 8 seats; Gabriel Arcanjo Ferreira da Costa was named Prime Minister. In September 2002, President Menezes dismissed Costa and in October 2002, a 13-member coalition government was formed under Maria das Neves, the first woman to hold the position of Prime Minister. In March, four MDFN ministers resigned from the Government; in September, Menezes dismissed das Neves for corruption and appointed Damiao Vaz D'Almeida as Prime Minister.

After a July 2003 failed military coup attempt, President Menezes signed a framework agreement with the rebels, which included a pledge to establish a national consensus on the country's developmental priorities. During the year, the Government held the National Forum for National Reconciliation, which was initiated with 59 town hall meetings across the country that allowed the first-ever inclusion of the country's rural population in such decision-making. In the subsequent 3-day plenary session, government leaders and 200 representatives agreed to a plan of action, which recommended: The conversion from political party-based to geographically-based representation in the National Assembly; improvement in living conditions of the army; land and agricultural reform; establishment of legal and regulatory measures to manage the country's oil wealth; and improvement in the education and health sectors.

Official corruption was widespread. During the year, an investigation into the diversion of funds from the sale of donated rice implicated Prime Minister das Neves, who was dismissed in September and subsequently fled the country.

There were no laws that provided for public access to government information; however, the Government took steps during the year to improve transparency.

There were 5 women in the 55-seat National Assembly, 1 of the 14 Cabinet Ministers was a woman, and the President of the 3-member Supreme Court was a woman.

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

A small number of domestic human rights groups generally operated in the past without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases; however, with the general improvement in human rights, such groups were inactive during the year. Government officials generally had been cooperative and responsive to their views.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The Constitution provides for the equality of all citizens regardless of sex, race, racial origin, political tendency, creed, or philosophic conviction. The Government actively enforced these provisions; however, women faced discrimination.

Women

While the extent of the problem was unknown, domestic violence against women occurred, including rape. 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.

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, in practice, women still encountered significant societal discrimination. Traditional beliefs left women with most child-rearing responsibilities and with less access to education and to professions; a high teenage pregnancy rate further reduced economic opportunities for women. An estimated 70 percent of households were headed by women.

Children

A number of government and donor-funded programs operated to improve conditions for children, notably an ongoing malaria control project and acquisition of school and medical equipment.

Education was universal, compulsory through the 6th grade, and tuition-free to the age of 15. In practice, some rural students stopped attending school after the 4th grade. Students were responsible for buying books and uniforms; however, the Government provided both free to children from poor families. Enrollment in primary school was estimated at 74 percent. After grade 6 or age 15, whichever comes first, education is no longer free; transportation and tuition costs prevented some poor or rural-based students from attending secondary school. There were no differences between the treatment of girls and boys in regard to education.

Nutrition, maternity and infant care, and access to basic health services have improved, especially in urban areas. Mistreatment of children was not widespread; however, there were few protections for orphans and abandoned children.

During the year, a social-services program tried to collect street children in three centers where they received classes and training. Conditions at the center were good; however, because of overcrowding, some children were sent back to their families at night, and these children frequently ran away. Children who stayed full time at the center did not run 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.

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 such persons; however, local organizations have criticized the Government for not implementing accessibility programs for persons with disabilities as it promised.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association, 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 workers, who constituted the majority of wage earners, and members of farmers' cooperatives.

There are no laws prohibiting anti-union discrimination; however, there were no reports of such discrimination.

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. There are no export processing zones.

The Constitution provides for the freedom to strike, even by government employees and other essential workers. During the year, threatened strikes, mostly by government workers, were averted through negotiation. There were no laws or regulations prohibiting employers from retaliation against strikers; however, there were no reports of retaliation against workers for activities related to labor organization.

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. 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 of underage workers can be fined.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Working conditions on many of the cocoa plantations – the largest wage employment sector – were extremely harsh. The legal minimum wage was $35.57 (350,000 dobras) per month 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 further eroded by a 9 percent rate of inflation. Working two or more jobs was so common that the Government modified its hours so civil servants could pursue a second career; the labor law specifies areas 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, education, and the Criminal Investigation Police, earned up to 400 percent more than their counterparts in the remainder of the public sector.

In the past, plantation workers and their families were provided free (but inadequate) housing, rudimentary education for their children, and health care; however, in recent years, most plantations have moved to a wage-only compensation system.

The legal workweek is 40 hours, with 48 consecutive hours mandated for rest. Shopkeepers worked 48 hours a week. The law prescribes basic occupational health and safety standards. Inspectors for the Ministry of Justice and Labor are responsible for enforcement of these standards; however, resource constraints hindered their efforts. Employees have the right to leave unsafe working conditions.

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