Sao Tome and Principe

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty democracy with a population of approximately 160,400. Fradique De Menezes was elected president of the country in 2001, and parliamentary elections were held in 2002; international observers deemed both elections free and fair. On June 2, Prime Minister Damiao Vaz D’Almeida resigned, which resulted in the dissolution of the government. President De Menezes appointed Maria do Carmo Trovoada Silveira to replace D'Almeida and formed a new government. Legislative elections were scheduled for March 2006. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Poverty and unemployment exacerbated some the following human rights problems:

 • harsh prison conditions 
 • prolonged pretrial detention 
 • occasional political influence on the judiciary 
 • official corruption 
 • violence and discrimination against women 
 • child labor 
 • harsh labor conditions


Section 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 arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

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

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh but not life threatening. Facilities were overcrowded, and food was inadequate. Some pretrial prisoners were held with convicted prisoners.

The government permitted human rights monitors to visit prisons; however, there were no visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits 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, the police, and immigration. 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 ineffective, primarily due to inadequate resources.

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 provides for a determination within 48 hours of the legality of a detention, and authorities generally respected this right in practice. Detainees were allowed access to attorneys and family members, and indigent detainees were provided attorneys by the state. There was a functioning bail system.

There were no reports of political detainees.

Severe budgetary constraints, inadequate facilities, and a shortage of trained judges and lawyers resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. According to the Sao Tome Supreme Court, 75 percent of the country's 155 prisoners were awaiting trial as of October, and some pretrial detainees had been held for more than a year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, at times, the judicial system 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 is based on the Portuguese model. The court system has two levels: circuit courts and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the appellate court of last resort.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, the right of appeal, the right to legal representation, and, if indigent, the right to an attorney appointed by the state. Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to confront witnesses, and to present evidence on their own behalf. However, inadequate resources resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions and greatly hindered investigations in criminal cases.

Political Prisoners

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits 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 law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Journalists practiced self-censorship.

Two government-run and six independent newspapers and newsletters were published sporadically, usually on a monthly or biweekly 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 three minutes per month on television.

There were no government restrictions on the Internet or academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for religious freedom, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There was no known Jewish community and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The law provides 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 provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN 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 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 law 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.

Elections and Political Participation

President De Menezes was elected in a 2001 election that international observers deemed free and fair. In 2002 President De Menezes dismissed Arcanjo Ferreira da Costa; subsequently a 13-member coalition government was formed under Maria das Neves. In September 2004 De Menezes dismissed das Neves for corruption and appointed Damiao Vaz D'Almeida as prime minister. On June 2, Prime Minister D'Almeida resigned, and the Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe-Social Democratic Party (MLSTP) withdrew from the government; both the prime minister and the MLSTP attributed their actions to the president's alleged corruption. D'Almeida was replaced by Trovoada Silveira, who formed a new government.

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 developmental 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 oil wealth; and improvement in the education and health sectors.

There were 5 women in the 55-seat National Assembly; 3 of the 14 cabinet ministers were women, including the Prime Minister; and the president of the 3-member Supreme Court was a woman.

Government Corruption and Transparency

Official corruption was widespread, and allegations of corruption resulted in the government's dissolution during the year. In June Prime Minister D’Almeida resigned and the MLSTP party withdrew from the government, alleging that President De Menezes awarded oil rights within the Nigerian-Sao Tomean Joint Development Zone in an allegedly corrupt and nontransparent manner. The attorney general was investigating the allegations at year's end. In May Oil Minister Arlindo de Carvalho resigned, citing similar irregularities in the contracting process. 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, the government took steps during the year to improve transparency, including passage of a law governing the use of oil revenues.

Section 4 Government 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, 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.

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law provides for the equality of all citizens regardless of sex, race, racial origin, political tendency, creed, or philosophic conviction, and while the government actively enforced these provisions, women faced discrimination.


Domestic violence against women occurred, including rape, but the extent of the problem was unknown. 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.

Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by 2 to 12 years' imprisonment.

Prostitution is illegal; however, it occurred.

The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem.

The law 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.


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 sixth grade, and tuition-free to the age of 15 or grade 6. In practice some rural students stopped attending school after the fourth grade. Enrollment in primary school was estimated at 74 percent. 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 between the treatment of girls and boys in regard to education.

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 a social services program within the Ministry of Labor collected street children in three centers where they received classes and training. Conditions at the center were good; however, because of overcrowding some children were returned to their families at night, and a few of these children 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 prohibit discrimination against persons with physical and 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 persons with disabilities.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There was societal discrimination against homosexuals. Persons with HIV/AIDS were generally rejected by the communities in which they lived and shunned by their families. However, the government provides free AIDS testing and distributed antiretroviral drugs to some patients.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. Right of Association

The law 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 were no laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination; however, there were no reports of such discrimination.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law 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 law provides for the freedom to strike, even by government employees and other essential workers, and workers exercised this right in practice. On May 30, government workers conducted a nationwide strike for higher wages, which resulted in a negotiated settlement on August 6. The terms of the settlement had not been implemented by year's end.

The law does not prohibit retaliation against strikers, but there were no such reports 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 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 were prosecuted, 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 (400 thousand 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 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 other public service employees.

Working conditions on many of the cocoa plantations--the largest wage employment 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. During the year contaminated water led to cholera outbreaks, including one in April on the Ferreira Governo plantation, where 26 of the plantation's 135 workers fell ill, and 1 died.

The legal workweek is 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, resource constraints hindered the Ministry of Justice and Labor's enforcement of these standards. Employees have the right to leave unsafe working conditions.