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Title: Sao Tome and Principe Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996




                    SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE*


The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty 
democracy.  The Government is composed of an executive branch, a 
unicameral legislature (the National Assembly), and an independent 
judiciary.  The President appoints the Prime Minister, who in turn 
appoints the ministers of the Government.  Miguel Trovoada, an 
independent, was elected President in 1991 for a 5-year term.  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 legislative elections in 1994 and formed the new Government led by 
Prime Minister Carlos da Graca.

The Minister of National Defense, Security, and Internal Order 
supervises the military, many of whose members are part-time farmers or 
fishermen, and the police.  In August a group of military officers 
attempted a coup d'etat, killing one person and holding the President 
hostage for a week.  The Angolan Foreign Minister mediated an agreement 
whereby the officers involved in the coup attempt released President 
Trovoada and received a parliamentary amnesty, endorsed by Presidential 
decree.  As another condition of his return to power, the President 
agreed to give the military officers' council a greater voice in 
decisions affecting the military.

The economy is based on the export of a single product, cocoa, produced 
in an archaic state-run system of plantations called "empresas."  The 
Government has privatized some of the state-held land but has had 
limited success in privatizing state-owned enterprises.  The Government 
began a new structural adjustment program, but the economy continues to 
face serious difficulties.  The annual inflation rate is 35 percent, 
unemployment is 27 percent, total external debt is 15 times gross 
domestic product, and the country is highly dependent on foreign aid.  
Per capita income is less than $250 per year.

The Government continued to respect the rights of its citizens.  The 
principal human rights problems continued to be an inefficient judicial 
system, harsh prison conditions, discrimination and violence against 
women, and outdated plantation labor practices that limit worker rights.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In August military officers seized the presidential palace and killed a 
guard who sought to stop them.  In the settlement restoring civilian 
rule, the National Assembly passed an amnesty sheltering the officers 
involved from prosecution.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture or cruel and inhuman punishment.  
There were no reports of violations such as beatings or other cruel 
treatment during arrests or interrogations.

Prison conditions are harsh but not life threatening.  While there is no 
indication that human rights monitors have requested permission to make 
prison visits, it is believed the Government would permit such visits if 
requested.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for procedural protections in case of 
detention.  The President was held hostage for a week by the military 
but was released after mediation by the Angolan Foreign Minister.  There 
was no evidence of any other arbitrary arrest or detention.

Exile is not used as a punishment, and all those exiled under the one-
party regime of 1975-1990 are free to return.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
judiciary has returned verdicts against both the President and the 
Government.  The legal system is based on Portuguese law and customary 
law, with the Supreme Court at the apex.  The Government has important 
appointive and other judicial powers, including setting salaries for 
judges and all ministerial employees in accordance with standard 
government salary guidelines.  Government salaries are extremely low, 
and the authorities are concerned that judges may be tempted to accept 
bribes.  The authorities maintain that they continue to respect the 
independence of the judiciary.

The Constitution provides for the right to fair public trial, the right 
of appeal, and the right to legal representation.  In practice, however, 
the judicial infrastructure suffers from severe budgetary constraints, 
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.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

  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 people or the monitoring of 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 rights in practice.  
One government-run and four independent newspapers have published in the 
past; none appeared in 1995 due to financial constraints and to the lack 
of printing facilities.

Television and radio are state operated.  While there are no independent 
local stations, there are no laws forbidding them.  The Voice of America 
and Radio France International are 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 distribute newsletters and press releases giving 
their views and criticizing the Government, the President, and one 
another.  There were no reports of government censorship or threats of 
censorship from any group, nor any reports of efforts by national 
security forces to suppress criticism.  During the short military 
intervention in August, national television and radio carried no 
reporting on the domestic political situation except for press 
conferences given by the military.  International telecommunications 
continued to function normally.   Subsequently, the Government invited 
Cable News Network to visit the country to prepare a report on the 
event.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them 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.

  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, to travel abroad, and to emigrate and return.  
The Government has traditionally welcomed those seeking refuge or 
asylum.

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 of October 1994.  These elections resulted in the 
peaceful transfer of power between political party coalitions.  Each of 
the three principal political parties has significant representation in 
the unicameral National Assembly.  Elections are by secret ballot on the 
basis of universal suffrage for citizens 18 years of age or older.

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.  Following restoration of constitutional government 
after the August coup attempt, the President asserted  that "political 
forces" had sought to take advantage of the military.  He declined to 
name any persons or parties in this regard.  Presidential elections are 
scheduled for 1996.

There are no restrictions in law or in practice on the participation of 
women in politics.  However, women are underrepresented in the 
legislature.  They currently hold 3 of the 55 seats in the National 
Assembly, and there are no women in the Cabinet.  A woman elected in 
December to chair a major opposition party declared herself an 
independent candidate for the presidential election in 1996.

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 and 
operate 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 for the equality of all citizens regardless of 
sex, race, racial origin, political tendency, creed, or philosophic 
conviction.  However, the Government has not sought actively to enforce 
these provisions.

  Women

While the extent of the problem is unknown, violence against women 
occurs, and medical professionals and officials report firsthand 
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 bring a complaint or are ignorant of 
their rights under the law.  Traditional beliefs and practices also 
inhibit 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 do 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 leave women with much of the hard work in agriculture, with most 
child-rearing responsibilities, and with less access to education and to 
the professions.  Female literacy is approximately 62 percent (compared 
to male literacy of 85 percent).

  Children

A number of government and donor-funded programs have been established 
to improve conditions for children.  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 is not 
widespread.

  People With Disabilities

The law does not mandate arrangements to provide access to buildings, 
transportation, or services 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 it has met 
with only limited success.  Independent cooperatives, on the other hand, 
have taken advantage of the government land distribution program to 
attract workers and in many cases significantly to improve production 
and incomes.  Public sector employees still comprise the great majority 
of wage earners.  Government employees and other essential workers are 
allowed to strike and did so repeatedly.  There are no laws or 
regulations prohibiting employers from retaliating against strikers.

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 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 such labor is not 
practiced.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Employers in the modern wage sector generally respect the legally 
mandated minimum employment age of 18 years.  The Ministry of Justice 
and Labor is responsible for enforcing this law.  In subsistence 
agriculture, on plantations, and in informal commerce, 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 the medieval.  There is no legally 
mandated minimum wage.  The average salary for plantation workers does 
not permit a decent standard of living, and its real value is constantly 
eroded by high rates of inflation.  In principle, workers are provided 
free (but inadequate) housing, rudimentary education, and health care, 
as well as the privilege of reduced prices and credit at the "company 
store."  These arrangements are intended to subsidize food and clothing.  
Corruption is an everyday fact, however, and international lending 
institutions have criticized the Government for ineffective 
administration of these subsidies.  Workers are often forced to pay 
higher prices on the parallel market to obtain the goods theoretically 
provided at a discount as part of their compensation. 

The legal workweek is 40 hours with 48 consecutive hours mandated for a 
rest period, a norm respected in the modern wage sector.  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.  Employees have the right under the law to leave unsafe 
working conditions.


                   
*There is no U.S. Embassy in Sao Tome and Principe.  Information 
available on the human rights situation is limited.

(###)


[end of document]

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