Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2006
March 6, 2007

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty democracy with a population of approximately 160,000. Fradique De Menezes was reelected president in July, and parliamentary elections also were held in March; international observers deemed both elections to have been generally 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

The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces arbitrarily and unlawfully killed one citizen.

On June 15, a police officer on traffic duty shot and killed Gustavo Sidonio Pinto in the village of Almas; Pinto was arguing with another motorist at the time. The police officer, Larry Alberto Paris, was arrested and remained in pretrial detention at year's end.

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, but security forces on occasion used excessive force.

On September 15, soldiers accompanying forestry guards shot Argentino dos Ramos 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. The public prosecutor launched an investigation, which was ongoing at year's end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh but 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 only one prison, and no jails or detention centers.

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.

On January 16, a group of police officers mutinied, demanding the dismissal of the police chief, as well as better salaries and working conditions. Their occupation of police headquarters led army units to deploy and raised tensions, but on January 20 the mutineers were persuaded to give up peacefully when the police chief was suspended. There was no action on the mutineers' demand for amnesty, but they had not been punished for their actions by year's end. They were briefly suspended, but all later returned to work.

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, 45 percent of the country's 160 prisoners were awaiting trial as of July, 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 October 2005, had 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. The government-set judicial salaries remained low, and credible suspicions persisted that judges may be tempted to accept bribes. During the year the government took steps to strengthen the judiciary; it created a new Constitutional Court, and a concerted effort to decrease docket backlogs succeeded in reducing the number of people 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. The Constitutional Court was created during the year and 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 resulted 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. Domestic court orders were strictly implemented.

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.

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 October 2005 the government authorized three new independent local radio stations, and two had begun broadcasting by year's end. The Voice of America, Radio International Portugal, and Radio France International were also 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 electronic mail. Severe lack of infrastructure, including inadequate electric and communications networks, limited public access to 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.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution and law provide for religious freedom, 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 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The constitution and law provide for these rights, and the government generally respected them 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 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 they feared persecution. During the year there were no known requests for refugee or asylum status. In the past the government cooperated with 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 with 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 26 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 on July 30, with 60 percent of the vote. International observers deemed both elections generally free and fair. On August 27, for the first time in over a decade, local elections were held; on the same date regional elections were held on 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 the island of Principe.

After a 2003 failed military coup, President De Menezes signed a framework agreement with the perpetrators of the attempted coup, which included a pledge to establish a national consensus on the country's development priorities. The resulting plan of action 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 potential oil wealth; and improvements in the education and health sectors. The government enacted laws establishing measures to manage expected future oil revenues for the benefit of future generations; however, during the year there was no other action taken on the framework agreement.

There were two women in the 55-seat National Assembly, four of the 12 cabinet ministers were women, and the president of the three-member Supreme Court was a woman.

Government Corruption and Transparency

Official corruption was widespread. In December 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 had 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 (see section 6.e.).

There were no laws that provided for public access to government information; however, there were no reports that the government restricted access to information during the year.

Section 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 had been cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution provides for the equality of all citizens regardless of sex, race, social origin, political tendency, creed, or philosophic conviction; however, although the government actively sought to enforce these provisions, women faced discrimination. During the year the government created an Office of Women's Affairs and held seminars and workshops.

Women

Domestic violence against women was common, and on occasion included 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 law does not address domestic violence as such. Penalties for assault depend on the severity of the injury; if the victim loses fewer than 10 days of work, the penalty would be six months in prison, while for 10 to 20 workdays lost the sentence would be one year, and so forth. The law is strictly enforced, including in cases of domestic violence, but there was no data on the number of prosecutions in cases of domestic violence. The newly-created Office of Women's Affairs began setting up a counseling center with a hot line.

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

Prostitution is illegal but did occur. Prostitution was rare in the past, but observers thought 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 to entry into the 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 a program for acquisition of school and medical equipment.

By law, education was 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 78 percent. However, average class time was severely curtailed due to lack of classrooms and double-shift and triple-shift (in 82 and 18 percent of schools, respectively) systems in primary education, with students effectively having only a few hours of class time per day. 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 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 (see section 6.d.).

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.

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, and local organizations have criticized the government for not implementing accessibility programs for such persons.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There was societal discrimination against homosexuals.

Persons with HIV/AIDS were often rejected by their communities and shunned by their families. However, the government provided free AIDS testing and distributed antiretroviral drugs to some patients.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The constitution and law provide 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 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. There are no export processing zones.

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

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 were engaged in labor 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.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no national minimum wage. The legal minimum wage for civil servants was $40 (500,000 dobras) per month, which was insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Working two or more jobs was common, and 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 real value 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. Shopkeepers worked 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 hypothetical.

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