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2007 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 2008
Cite as United States Department of State, 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Sao Tome and Principe, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47d92c22c.html [accessed 22 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 11, 2008

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty democracy with a population of approximately 160,000. International observers deemed presidential and legislative elections, held in 2006, to have been 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

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 any politically motivated killings. There were no reports that security forces arbitrarily or unlawfully used excessive force.

Police officer Larry Alberto Paris remained in pretrial detention at year's end for the June 2006 shooting of Gustavo Sidonio Pinto. While on traffic duty, Paris shot and killed Pinto in the village of Almas; Pinto was arguing with another motorist at the time.

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, unlike in the previous year, security forces generally observed these prohibitions.

The public prosecutor's investigation into the shooting of Argentino dos Ramos Taty remained open at year's end. In September 2006 soldiers accompanying forestry guards shot Taty. Taty was cutting a log on private property when the mixed patrol approached him, and he was shot in the leg. He told journalists he received no warning, and the patrol left him lying on the ground. Police claimed to have no information on the incident.

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. There was one prison and no jails or detention centers. In general police stations had a small room or space to briefly incarcerate an offender.

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

The Ministry of National Defense and Internal Affairs supervises and controls the military, national police, and immigration service. The police were ineffective and widely viewed as corrupt. Impunity was a problem, and efforts to reform the Criminal Investigation Police, a separate agency under the Ministry of Justice, were unsuccessful primarily due to inadequate resources.

Reports indicated that police corruption became worse during the year, likely due to continued low salaries and rampant inflation.

In October and November, the Special Intervention Police Unit of Sao Tome, known as the "Ninjas," demanding back pay for a training exercise conducted several years previously, carried out a series of armed sieges of police headquarters that culminated in soldiers shooting and killing one Ninja. Ten members of the small, now-disbanded unit were arrested and remained in army custody at year's end.

Arrest and Detention

The law requires arrest warrants issued by an authorized official 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 were promptly informed of charges against them, were allowed access to attorneys and family members, and the state provided attorneys for indigent detainees. There was a functioning bail system.

Severe budgetary constraints, inadequate facilities, and a shortage of trained judges and lawyers resulted in lengthy pretrial detention. According to the director of the Sao Tome prison, 34 percent of the country's prisoners were awaiting trial as of November and some pretrial detainees had been held for more than a year. This represented an improvement following a concerted effort to reduce the number of pretrial detainees, who in 2005 constituted 75 percent of the prison population.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; however, at times the judicial system was subject to political influence or manipulation. Judicial salaries remained low, and credible suspicions persisted that judges were tempted to accept bribes. In 2006 the government took steps to strengthen the judiciary by creating a new Constitutional Court and decreasing docket backlogs to reduce the number of persons in pretrial detention.

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. However, inadequate resources continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention and greatly hindered investigations in criminal cases.

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 as well as 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.

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.

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 sporadically published, usually on a monthly or biweekly basis; resource constraints determined publishing frequency. International media operated freely.

The government operated television and radio stations. In 2005 the government authorized three new independent local radio stations, and two had begun broadcasting by the end of 2006. The Voice of America, Radio International Portugal, 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 chatrooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. Severe lack of infrastructure, including inadequate electricity and communications networks, limited public access to the Internet; however, a number of Internet cafes recently opened in the capital to address this limited access.

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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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 2007 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.

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 UN 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 "refoulement," the return of persons to a country where there is reason to believe they feared persecution. 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.

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

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

Elections and Political Participation

The March 2006 legislative elections gave a plurality of seats in the National Assembly to a coalition of parties, the Democratic Movement of Forces for Change/Party for Democratic Convergence (MDFM/PCD), supporting President De Menezes. The MDFM/PCD subsequently formed a government. President De Menezes was reelected in July 2006 with 60 percent of the vote. International observers deemed both elections generally free and fair. In August 2006, for the first time in over 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 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, three of 12 cabinet positions, one seat on the three-member Supreme Court, and two judgeships in the Circuit Court.

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the law is outdated, a relic from colonial days.

Official corruption was widespread. The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators for 2007 reflected that corruption was a serious problem. In 2005 the attorney general presented to the National Assembly the results of his investigation into allegations of corruption in the awarding of oil blocks. The investigation uncovered serious procedural deficiencies in the process and raised questions about the actions of members of the current and former governments. Lack of cooperation from Nigerian authorities (whose government shares control of the oil blocks) impeded follow-up, and no further action was taken by year's end. Low salaries for civil servants contributed to public corruption.

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.

4. 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. However, because of the general improvement in respect for human rights, during the year such groups were inactive. Government officials generally were 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 gender, race, social origin, political views, creed, or philosophical convictions; however, women still faced discrimination. The Office of Women's Affairs, created in 2006, established a Gender Equality Institute that held numerous seminars and workshops to raise awareness about discrimination against women.

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, including rape, against women increased. 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 law does not specifically address domestic violence; however, there are provisions for assault that may be used in cases of domestic violence. If the victim loses fewer than 10 days of work, the penalty for assault is six months in prison, while for 10 to 20 workdays lost the sentence is one year, and so forth. The law was strictly enforced, including in cases of domestic violence, but there was no data on the number of prosecutions for domestic violence. The Office of Women's Affairs set up a counseling center with a hot line. While the hot line did not receive many calls due to unreliable telephone service, the counseling center received numerous walk-ins. For example, from November 3, 2006, to November 9, 2007, the center attended to 150 victims.

Prostitution is illegal but did occur. Prostitution was rare in the past, but observers estimated its prevalence was 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 was available on its extent.

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. A high teenage pregnancy rate further reduced economic opportunities for women.

Children

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

By law, education is universal, compulsory through sixth grade, and tuition-free to the age of 15 or sixth grade. In practice many rural students stopped attending school after the fourth grade. Schools providing education up to sixth grade were located only in district capitals. Enrollment in primary school was estimated at 73 to 78 percent. During the year the government built many schools and classroom extensions with World Bank funding in an attempt to lessen the problem of the multiple-shift system in primary schools.

Students were responsible for buying books and uniforms, although the government provided both free to children from poor families. Transportation and tuition costs prevented some poor or rural-based students from attending secondary school. There were no reported differences in the treatment of girls and boys in regard to education.

Boys and girls had equal access to state-provided medical care.

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

Child labor was a problem.

During the year the Ministry of Labor and Solidarity operated a social services program that 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 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. During the year the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Economic Community of Central African States held a conference in the country that addressed trafficking in persons.

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 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that criticized the government in the past for not implementing accessibility programs for such persons were not active during the year.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There was societal discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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

6. 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 workers, who constituted the majority of formal sector wage earners, and members of farmers' cooperatives.

There were no laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination; however, there were no reports such discrimination 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 constitution provides for the freedom to strike, including by government employees and other essential workers, although during the year no strikes occurred.

The law does not prohibit 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. The law prohibits minors from working more than seven hours a day and 35 hours a week. 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 is responsible for enforcing child labor laws.

There were initiatives taken to prevent child labor. 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 increased inspections at work sites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no national minimum wage. Although the legal minimum wage for civil servants increased from $35 (500,000 dobras) to $46 (650,000 dobras) per month, it was still insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Working two or more jobs became even more common than during the previous year. 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 extremely 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 a high rate of inflation.

The legal workweek was 40 hours, with 48 consecutive hours mandated for rest. However, shopkeepers could work 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 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.

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