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Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic. Since a military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has dominated all branches of government in collaboration with his clan and political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), which he founded in 1991. In April 2016 President Obiang claimed to have received 93.7 percent of the vote in a presidential election that many considered neither free nor fair. In November 2017 the country held legislative and municipal elections that lacked independent domestic or international monitoring and verification of the voter census, registration, and the tabulation of ballots. The ruling PDGE party and its 14 coalition parties won 92 percent of the vote, taking all 75 Senate seats, 99 of 100 seats in the lower chamber, and all except one seat in municipal councils. The voter registration process was not transparent. The government restricted opposition party access to media and blocked access to social media and opposition websites during the electoral campaigns. Official observer communication was restricted on the day of the elections by a shutdown of the internet. Authorities later suspended the one unaligned opposition party that won a seat, preventing it from participating in the legislature.

The vice president (the son of President Obiang) has overall control of the security forces. Police generally are responsible for maintaining law and order in the cities, while gendarmes are responsible for security outside cities and for special events. Both entities report to the minister of national security. Military personnel, who report to the minister of defense, also fulfill police functions in border areas, sensitive sites, and high-traffic areas. Both ministers report to the vice president directly. Additional police elements are in the Ministries of Interior (border and traffic police), Finance (customs police), and Justice (investigative/prosecuting police). Presidential security officials also exercise police functions at or near presidential facilities. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: torture; arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; significant problems with independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive laws on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons (LGBTI); and violence against women and girls, including rape, with limited government action to investigate or prosecute those responsible.

The government took few steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a serious problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president, including his son, the vice president, owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance, arrests, and threats.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely. During the legislative and municipal elections in 2017, the government censored all international channels.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel, which the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country. As most foreigners need visas to visit the country, the time-consuming nature of the process effectively dissuaded some journalists from travelling, although international media covered major events. In other cases, the government may have prevented reporters from obtaining visas.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

On August 27, police in Bata arrested presenter Milanio Ncogo and reporter Ruben Dario Bacale, employees of Asonga TV, and held them without charge until September 8, when both were released from jail and fired from their jobs. The arrests were retaliation for an interview Bacale conducted with Nazario Oyono Kung, a judge suspended by the president of the Supreme Court.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the constitution and law provide for these freedoms.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government often restricted these rights. Multiple members of the opposition reported that the authorities delayed the renewal of their identity documents, effectively limiting their ability to travel within the country and abroad. Gabriel Nze Obiang of CI stated in December that after one and a half months there was no update on his documents renewal, and that his application was not listed in the system, although the regular period of time to receive a new document was approximately two weeks.

In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers and some engaged in petty extortion. Frequent roundups of foreign nationals that the government claimed were necessary to counter irregular immigration, delinquent activities, and coup attempts also occurred at roadblocks.

Foreign Travel: The government has been known to issue temporary travel prohibitions on senior government officials due to alleged national security concerns.

On March 15, authorities detained human rights defender Alfredo Okenve Ndo at the airport in Malabo, handcuffed him, put him on a military flight to his home in Bata, placed him under house arrest, confiscated his passport and cellular telephone, and temporarily banned him from travel outside the country. Authorities had banned him the same day from receiving the “Franco-German prize for human rights,” which had been announced in 2018.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government did not generally cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. UNHCR did not maintain an office in country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited this right.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides severe criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not effectively implement the law. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, as the president and members of his inner circle continued to amass personal fortunes from the revenues associated with monopolies on all domestic commercial ventures, as well as timber and oil exports. Corruption at all levels of government was a severe problem.

Numerous foreign investigations continued into high-level official corruption. According to Freedom House, the budget process was “opaque.” The government implemented a number of IMF recommendations to improve fiscal transparency during the year, including auditing state-owned enterprises and public debt using international accounting firms, and publishing data on public sector debt in the budget.

There are no specific laws about conflict of interest or nepotism.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require public officials to declare their assets to the National Commission on Public Ethics, although no declarations were made public and the government did not effectively enforce the law. There are no formal procedures to control submission of asset disclosures and no penalties for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The law restricts NGO activity. The country’s few domestic NGOs mainly focused on issues such as health, women’s empowerment, and elder care. CEIDGE was one of the few NGOs that made public statements about government corruption and human rights abuses. Authorities suspended its activities multiple times since 2016 and in March arrested or detained some of CEIDGE’s leaders. After authorities revoked its charter in July, CEIDGE resigned from the commission leading the government’s effort to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

In October 2018 four individuals detained and beat civil society leader and human rights activist Alfredo Okenve Ndo of the CEIDGE. Initial reports suggested security force members may have carried out the attack, mistaking him for his brother Celestino Okenve Ndo, who was a member of an unregistered opposition party. Authorities arrested no one in the case.

The government was generally suspicious of human rights activities, claiming human rights concerns were largely prompted by antigovernment exile groups and hostile foreign NGOs. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. Government officials used media outlets to try to discredit civil society actors, categorizing them as supporters of the opposition and critics of the government. The few local activists who sought to address human rights risked intimidation, harassment, unlawful detention, and other reprisals.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations maintains an office and has several programs in the country. The government funds the majority of local UN operations. Amnesty International, Freedom House, EG Justice, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch focused on human rights. No international NGOs, however, maintained offices in the country. Members of international human rights NGOs continued to report difficulties obtaining visas to visit the country.

Government officials responsible for human rights issues functioned more to defend the government from accusations than to investigate human rights complaints or compile statistics.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to establish unions, affiliate with unions of their choice, and collectively bargain. The law also allows unions to conduct activities without interference. The law requires a union to have at least 50 members from a workplace to register, effectively blocking most union formation. The government, however, did not generally allow unions to organize.

The government did not enforce laws providing freedom of association or the right to collective bargaining. All unions must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. The Union Organization of Small Farmers was the only legal, operational labor union. Authorities refused to recognize other unions, including the Workers Union of Equatorial Guinea, Independent Service Union, Teachers’ Trade Union Association, and the Rural Workers Organization. Most often those seeking to organize were co-opted into existing party structures by means of pressure and incentives. Penalties were not applied and were insufficient to deter violations.

The law broadly acknowledged the right to engage in strikes, but no implementing legislation defines legitimate grounds for striking. No law requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, although such dismissal may fall under wrongful termination. The government has never authorized a strike.

The government did not protect the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference.

Labor NGOs faced restrictions and were unable to operate.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to laws on forced labor. Despite creating an online tool to report cases of forced labor and promoting its efforts online, the government did not effectively enforce the law, did not take sufficient action on ending slavery, and forced labor occurred. Neither penalties nor the government’s inspection efforts were sufficient to deter violations.

Employees in the public and private sector were often paid months late. Some workers, especially those from overseas, quit their jobs because of nonpayment, having effectively worked for months without compensation.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 18, except that with the authorization of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and their parents or guardians, minors between ages 16 and 18 may perform light work that does not interfere with their schooling.

Minors are permitted to work only during the day, and their workday is limited to six hours, for which they are paid the equivalent of an eight-hour daytime work rate. The penalty for employing children younger than 16 is a fine equal to 15 months of the minimum wage per minor, which is doubled for repeat infractions. Penalties are higher for minors younger than 18 who perform night work or work in hazardous environments. The government has yet to publish any list of the hazardous types of work prohibited for children.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but labor inspectors focused mainly on the construction industry and not on child labor. The laws were not effectively enforced, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government does not have data on the worst forms of child labor.

Children were reportedly transported from nearby countries–primarily Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Togo, and Gabon–and forced to work as domestics, market laborers, ambulant vendors, launderers, and beggars. Increasingly there were reports of local children brought from rural areas to work as domestic servants in Malabo and Bata. The government occasionally provided social services on an ad hoc basis to children found working in markets. In January government officials called attention to children working in markets and as street vendors and increased oversight. In February the government issued a decree prohibiting children from working as vendors in the street in an attempt to reduce child labor.

Attention to school attendance generally focused more on citizen children than on their foreign peers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, social status, or union affiliation. Labor laws do not prohibit discrimination based on age, disability, sexual orientation, language, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to political affiliation, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, disability, and HIV/AIDS status. Discrimination against foreign migrant workers occurred. High-ranking members of independent opposition parties were unable to find work and were barred from government employment.

The government does not have an agency responsible for the protection of persons unable to work due to permanent or temporary illness or other health conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security did not effectively enforce the legal mandate to employ a specific percentage of persons with disabilities in companies with 50 employees or more, nor did the government take steps to accommodate them in the workplace.

The country continued to have large gender gaps in education, equal pay, and employment opportunities. Deep-rooted stereotypes and ethnic traditions impeded women’s employment opportunities. Women mostly worked in the informal sector where they did not have access to benefits or social security. The lack of enforcement left women vulnerable to discrimination, but they rarely complained due to fear of reprisals. The government did not maintain accurate or updated statistics on unemployment generally, nor by segment of society.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law requires employers to pay citizens at the same rate as foreigners and to pay domestic workers not less than 60 percent of the national minimum wage. In reality, neither is enforced.

The standard work week is eight hours a day and 48 hours a week for daytime work, six hours a day and 36 hours a week for night work, and seven hours a day and 42 hours a week for mixed day and night work. Offshore workdays are a minimum of 12 hours, of which eight hours are considered regular work and four hours are counted as overtime. The workday includes one hour for meals and breaks. The law also requires paid leave for government holidays, annual leave, and bonuses of 15 days’ pay twice yearly. Overtime is not mandatory, except as provided by law or special agreement, and is prohibited for pregnant workers. The law allows overtime for night work. Premium pay is required for overtime and holidays. Women had six weeks pre- and postmaternity leave that could be extended for medical reasons. The law provides for two paid daily breaks of one hour each to breast feed.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards provide for protection of workers from occupational hazards, but they were not consistently observed. The law permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for setting and enforcing minimum wage, workweek rules, and OSH standards. The ministry conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to labor laws regarding pay, benefits, and working conditions. When inspectors found violations, the government required some employers to correct the problem, pay fines, or pay reparations to the employees.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, and the small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. The ministry does not publish the results of its OSH inspections.

Legal protections exist for employees who are injured or killed on the job and for those who were exposed to dangerous chemicals, but these protections were generally extended only to those in the formal sector. Protections in the hydrocarbons sector exceeded minimum international safety standards.

The government did not monitor the informal sector, which employed a majority of workers. No credible data or statistics were available.

Foreigners, including migrants from other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, were sometimes subjected to poor working conditions. Some workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals, supplied with insufficient safety gear, and subjected to excessively long hours. The ministry established a website in 2018 and a phone line during the year for workers to report workplace irregularities and violations, including safety concerns and forced labor.

Gabon

Executive Summary

Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government dominated by the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) and headed by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family has held power since 1967. Bongo Ondimba was declared winner of the 2016 presidential election. Observers noted numerous irregularities, including a questionable vote count in Bongo Ondimba’s home province. The government forcibly dispersed violent demonstrations that followed the election. In the October 2018 legislative elections, the PDG won 100 of 143 National Assembly seats. The African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities. Some opposition parties boycotted the elections; however, fewer did so than in the last legislative elections in 2011.

The National Police Forces (FPN), under the Ministry of Interior, and the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for law enforcement and public security. Elements of the armed forces and the Republican Guard, an elite unit that protects the president under his direct authority, sometimes performed internal security functions. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the national police, gendarmerie, Republican Guard, and all other branches of the security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish those found responsible for abuse and corruption.

Significant human rights issues included: harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; significant acts of official corruption; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; violence against women and girls with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; trafficking in persons; and forced labor, including forced child labor.

The government took some steps to prosecute officials and punish those convicted of abuses. Nevertheless, impunity remained a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. Nevertheless, on March 20, the High Authority of Communication (HAC) suspended five media outlets, including the newspapers LAube on April 10 and Echos du Nord in March. HAC suspended LAube for six months for defamation and misleading information related to former high representative for the president Maixent Accrombessi. Following two 2018 suspensions, Echos du Nord was suspended for four months for defamation of the president of the Constitutional Court.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole daily newspaper, LUnion, was progovernment. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media. According to NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law on freedom of expression and media freedom did not meet international standards.

Violence and Harassment: There were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists reported they received anonymous instructions or calls from persons suspected of being connected with the government not to report on certain issues.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners. In September HAC suspended the online daily Gabon Review for three months because it published an editorial critical of HAC and ordered internet providers to block access to its site.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($849 to $8,489). Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, on March 20, HAC issued a four-month suspension to Echos du Nord. HAC suspended several media outlets for commentary on the president’s health it stated was derogatory and banned other media from covering political activities during the suspension period.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedom of peaceful assembly but not freedom of association.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. Nevertheless, since January 2018 the government prevented opposition leader Jean Ping from traveling abroad by court order based on Ping’s refusal to appear in court as a witness for questioning regarding another opposition leader. On August 23, without explanation authorities also prohibited Leon Paul Ngoulakia of the Coalition for the New Republic from traveling abroad.

In-country Movement: Although there were no legal restrictions on freedom of internal movement, military and police personnel and gendarmes stopped travelers at checkpoints to check identity, residence, or registration documents and on some occasions to solicit bribes. Refugees required a travel document endorsed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and government authorities to circulate freely within the country.

Foreign Travel: The law requires a married woman to have her husband’s permission to obtain a passport and to travel abroad. The law prohibits individuals under criminal investigation from leaving the country. Most holders of a residence permit and refugees need an exit visa to leave from and return to the country. Exit visas were not always issued promptly, which impeded persons’ ability to depart.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. Despite efforts by the government and UNHCR to reduce discrimination, refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security force members. Some security force members harassed asylum seekers or refugees working as merchants, service-sector employees, and manual laborers and, in order to extort bribes, refused to recognize valid documents held by refugees and asylum seekers.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Access to Basic Services: The law provides refugees equal access to public services, although there were reports that in some cases school and hospital employees improperly required refugees to pay additional fees. The National Health Insurance and Social Welfare Fund did not provide services to refugees.

Durable Solutions: The nationality code allows refugees to apply for naturalization; however, the process is long and expensive, costing 1.2 million CFA francs ($2,037). At age 18 children born in the country of refugee parents may apply for citizenship.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage; however, international monitors of the 2016 presidential election observed anomalies. The governing party has dominated all levels of government for five decades. Citizens participated in presidential, legislative, and municipal elections.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Police, gendarmes, and military members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. In February 2018 taxi drivers held a strike to protest higher fuel prices and police harassment, including exacting bribes.

Corruption: There were numerous reports of official corruption during the year similar to the following example. On May 21, then vice president Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and then minister of water and forestry Guy Bertrand Mapangou were removed from office for involvement in the harvesting and exportation of timber from protected tree species. As of September they had yet to be indicted.

In 2017 the government launched an anticorruption campaign. A number of officials, including several directors of agencies, a minister, and two former ministers, were arrested on corruption charges. For example, former minister of economy and presidential advisor Magloire Ngambia and Minister of Petrol and Hydrocarbons Etienne Dieudonne Ngoubou were arrested and charged with corruption. In October 2018 Ngoubou was released on bail, but Ngambia remained in detention at year’s end.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires executive-level civil servants and civil servants who manage budgets to disclose their financial assets to the National Commission against Illicit Enrichment within three months of assuming office. Most officials complied, but some attempted to withhold information. The government did not make these declarations available to the public. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but they were not enforced.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic human rights groups operated, albeit with government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Several human rights NGOs reported governmental intimidation and a general lack of responsiveness to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Interior and Justice coordinates government efforts to improve respect for human rights, organize human rights training for government officials, and address major human rights problems. The National Human Rights Commission, composed of representatives from civil society, media, religious groups, and the judiciary, had a degree of independence. Commission members provided basic human rights training to police and gendarmes and inspected detention conditions at Libreville police stations.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law protects the rights of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively. The law provides for the right to strike, with restrictions. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, and the law provides for reinstatement for workers dismissed for union activities. Unions must register with the government to obtain official recognition, and the government routinely grants registration. Agreements negotiated by unions also applied to nonunion workers.

Strikes may be called only after eight days’ advance notification and only after mandatory arbitration fails. Public-sector employees’ right to strike could be restricted where the government determines that it poses a threat to public safety. The law does not define the essential-services sectors in which strikes are prohibited; however, armed services are prohibited from unionizing and striking. The law prohibits government action against strikers who abide by the notification and arbitration provisions and excludes no groups from this protection. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the country’s two export-processing zones.

The government generally enforced applicable laws. Resources to protect the right to form unions, bargain collectively, and strike were adequate. Penalties for violations of these rights are compensatory, determined on a case-by-case basis, and generally sufficient to deter them. Administrative and judicial procedures were sometimes delayed.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. Some unions were politically active, and the government accused them of siding with opposition parties. The government has sometimes restricted strikes.

Employers created and controlled some unions. Although antiunion discrimination is illegal, some trade unionists in both the public and private sectors complained of occasional discrimination, including the blacklisting of union members, unfair dismissals, and threats to workers who unionized. Trade union representatives complained they experienced hurdles accessing educational establishments during their efforts to represent and defend their members’ interests. Key labor union leaders noted the majority of labor violations stemmed from unwarranted dismissals, occasionally of workers on strike, leaving them without social security and insurance benefits.

In 2017 the Port-Gentil Court of Appeal upheld a judge’s ruling that ordered the revocation of a strike declaration by the National Organization of Oil Industry Employees (ONEP); the judge found ONEP failed to establish minimum service and that the strike constituted an unlawful disturbance. According to a government report submitted to the ILO in May, ONEP did not seek review of the appeal ruling and legal proceedings were closed. In June, however, the ILO requested the government open an independent investigation to establish the facts regarding ONEP’s allegations that police and other security force members dispersed striking workers in 2017 using violent means that produced multiple injuries among striking workers.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits and criminalizes trafficking for the purposes of servitude or slavery. The government enforced the law more actively to combat forced labor of children. Penalties reflect the serious nature of the offense and were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.

Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. The lack of sufficient vehicles, budget, and personnel impeded the ability of labor inspectors to investigate allegations of forced labor. Additionally, labor inspectors found it difficult to access family-owned commercial farms and private households due to inadequate roads. The government provided trafficking-in-persons training to law enforcement officers.

Boys were subject to forced labor as mechanics, as well as in work in handicraft shops. Boys and men were subject to forced labor in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and mining. Girls and women were exploited in domestic servitude, market vending, restaurants, and commercial sexual exploitation. Conditions included very low pay and long forced hours. Migrants were especially vulnerable to forced labor (see section 7.c.).

Forced labor of foreign workers employed in special economic zones was reported. In April a UN group of experts raised concerns regarding approximately 40 Indian workers in the Nkok Special Economic Zone who were deceptively recruited and required to work under conditions that may have amounted to forced labor; their travel documents were confiscated.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment of children younger than 16 without the expressed consent of the Ministry of Employment, Public Administration, Labor, and Professional Training, in charge of Social Dialogue; the Ministry of Education; and the Ministry of Health. The law provides for penalties that were sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Employment, Public Administration, Labor, and Professional Training, in charge of Social Dialogue is responsible for receiving, investigating, and addressing child labor complaints through inspectors. The Interministerial Committee for the Fight against Child Trafficking files and responds to complaints. Complaints are referred to police, who carry out investigations and refer cases to the courts for prosecution.

The government somewhat effectively enforced the law. Children were sometimes subject to forced and exploitive labor in markets, restaurants, and handicraft shops, as well as on farms and in sand quarries. As of September the government organized the repatriation of approximately 22 foreign children exploited in trafficking.

Child labor remained a problem. Noncitizen children were more likely than were children of citizens to work in informal and illegal sectors of the economy, where laws against child labor were seldom enforced. An unknown number of children, primarily noncitizens, worked in marketplaces or performed domestic labor. Many of these children were the victims of child trafficking (see section 7.b.). Citizen children, particularly street children, also worked in the informal sector.

Child laborers generally did not attend school, received only limited medical attention, and often experienced exploitation by employers or foster families. In an effort to curb the problem, police often fined the parents of children who were not in school. Laws forbidding child labor covered these children, but abuses often were not reported.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor code prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and work conditions based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, disability, national origin or citizenship, or social background. It does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or language. The government did not effectively enforce the law. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work, and women’s pay lagged behind that of men. Discrimination in employment occurred with respect to indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and LGBTI persons. There were reports of labor exploitation of indigenous persons by their Bantu neighbors, who paid them much less than the minimum wage. Undocumented foreign workers frequently experienced wage discrimination and poor work conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government established a national monthly minimum wage that was above the official poverty line. Authorities did not enforce wage laws adequately, although workers could file suit if they received less than the minimum wage. Labor inspections were infrequent. Minimum wage laws were not enforced in the informal sector, which accounted for the vast majority of workers.

The labor code stipulates a 40-hour workweek with a minimum rest period of 48 consecutive hours. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. Employers must compensate workers for overtime work as determined by collective agreements or government regulations. By law the daily limit for compulsory overtime may be extended from 30 minutes to two hours to perform specified preparatory or complementary work, such as starting machines in a factory or supervising a workplace. It also may be extended for urgent work to prevent or repair damage from accidents. The daily limit does not apply to establishments in which work is continuous or to establishments providing retail, transport, dock work, hotel and catering services, housekeeping, security services, medical establishments, domestic work, and journalism.

The Ministry of Health establishes occupational safety and health standards. The Ministry of Employment, Public Administration, Labor, and Professional Training, in charge of Social Dialogue is responsible for enforcing minimum wage, overtime, and safety and health standards in the formal sector. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to enforce compliance. Employers generally respected minimum wage standards. Formal-sector employees could submit complaints regarding overtime or health and safety standards, and the ministry’s labor inspectors investigated such complaints. The government penalized violations with a range of fines that contributed to deterring them. In the formal sector, workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The government did not enforce labor code provisions in the informal economy or in sectors where the majority of the labor force was foreign, such as in the mining and timber sectors. Employers obliged foreign workers to work under substandard conditions, dismissed them without notice or recourse, and often physically mistreated them. Employers frequently paid noncitizens less than they paid citizens for the same work and required them to work longer hours, often hiring them on a short-term, casual basis to avoid paying taxes, social security contributions, and other benefits.

Sao Tome and Principe

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe is a multiparty constitutional democracy. In 2016 voters elected President Evaristo do Espirito Santo Carvalho as head of state. The legislative elections in October 2018 produced a peaceful transfer of power from the Independent Democratic Action (ADI) to a coalition of other parties. International observers deemed the presidential and legislative elections generally free and fair.

The national police and judicial police maintain internal security. The army and coast guard are responsible for external security. Both national police and the military report to the Ministry of Defense and Internal Affairs. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has responsibility for the judicial police. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included lengthy pretrial detention; official corruption; and widespread domestic violence against women and girls, where government lack of action for prosecution and accountability contributed to an atmosphere of impunity.

The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed abuses; however, impunity was a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. A somewhat independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, although the press sometimes was susceptible to political influence and manipulation. The law grants all opposition parties access to state-run media, including a minimum of three minutes for each party per month on television. Some opposition leaders claimed newscasters did not always respect the minimum time, or the government edited content during that time.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media remained underdeveloped and subject to pressure and manipulation. Privately owned as well as government-owned radio and television stations broadcast throughout the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists claimed to have practiced self-censorship, particularly at government-owned media entities, which were the country’s most significant sources of news. Private news sources have also censored their own reporting.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. During the year there were no known requests for refugee or asylum status.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Unlike in prior years, opposition members did not fear retribution for expressing their opinions or criticizing the government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government generally did not implement the law effectively. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. At year’s end the government of Prime Minister Bom Jesus was conducting several investigations of corruption allegations against former high-ranking officials.

Corruption: The prime minister stated fighting corruption would be a priority of his administration. The coalition government initiated investigations into two former ministers and the former head of the state-owned water and electricity enterprise. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators indicated corruption remained a problem. Many citizens viewed police as ineffective and corrupt.

Financial Disclosure: The law does not require public officials to disclose their assets or income, but it permits such disclosures. Public disclosure of these financial statements, however, rarely occurred.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A small number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to the views of domestic human rights groups.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Committee, under the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, was moderately effective.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. While the law recognizes the right to collective bargaining, there are no regulations governing this right. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or acts of interference committed by employers against trade unions. While the law provides for the right to strike, including by government employees and other essential workers, this right is strictly regulated. The provisions regulating strikes require agreement by a majority of workers before a strike may be called, and replacement workers may be hired without consultation with trade unions to perform essential services if an enterprise is threatened by a strike. The law does not provide a list of specific minimum or essential services. In the event of disagreement in determining what constitutes a “minimum service,” the employer and the workers’ union arrive at a decision on a case-by-case basis through negotiation (instead of through an independent body). The law also requires compulsory arbitration for services, including postal, banking, and loan services. The law does not prohibit retaliation against strikers.

The government did not effectively enforce the law, and there were no collective bargaining agreements in the country. Both the government and employers generally respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Worker organizations were restricted in some sectors but generally were independent of government and political parties. The penalties were sufficient to deter violations in some areas, but the penalties for acts of antiunion discrimination or acts of interference against trade union organizations were insufficient.

Workers’ collective bargaining rights remained relatively weak due to the government’s role as the principal employer in the formal wage sector and key interlocutor for organized labor on all matters, including wages. The two labor unions–the General Union of Workers of Sao Tome and Principe and the National Organization of Workers of Sao Tome and Principe–negotiated with the government on behalf of their members as needed. There were no reported attempts by unions or workers to negotiate collective agreements during the year.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by children. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were no reports of forced or compulsory labor, or evidence that such practices occurred.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. The law protects children from exploitation in the formal sector. The minimum employment age is 18 for full-time work. The law sets the minimum age for nonhazardous work at 14. In April a labor law was adopted that includes a list of hazardous work prohibited for children. The law allows minors between ages 15 and 17 to work up to 40 hours per week, provided employers permit them to attend school.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Penalties for violations of child labor law include fines and the loss of operating licenses, and these penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The government conducted a media campaign aimed at preventing child labor. The Ministry of Education mandates compulsory school attendance through the ninth grade, according to a new education law adopted in 2018, and the government granted some assistance to several thousand low-income families to keep their children in school.

Employers in the formal wage sector generally respected the legally mandated minimum employment age. Exceptions included apprentice-type work such as car repair and carpentry; some employers abused this status. Children worked in informal commerce, including street work. Children also commonly performed agricultural and domestic activities such as washing clothes or childcare to help their parents, which is not prohibited under the law.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, and religious belief. Additionally, the constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination based on political affiliation, social origin, and philosophical conviction. The law, however, does not prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation based on color, age, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV-positive status or having other communicable diseases. There were anecdotal instances of discrimination against HIV-positive employees. Advocacy groups conducted awareness campaigns to address discrimination.

There were no reports of gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 6, Women). The law allows women to request permission to retire at age 57 or older and men at age 62 but does not oblige them to do so. During the year there were no reports the government subjected women to discriminatory early termination from employment.

The law does not distinguish between migrant workers and citizens in terms of protections, wages, and working conditions.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for public employees is above the poverty line. There is no minimum wage in the private sector. The legal workweek is 40 hours, with 48 consecutive hours per week mandated for rest. According to law workers earn 22 days of annual leave per year. Shopkeepers who wish to keep their stores open longer may ask for an exception, which if granted requires them to pay their workers overtime or have them work in shifts. The law provides for compensation for overtime work and prescribes basic occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. The law specifies occupations in which civil servants may work second jobs.

Working two or more jobs was common. Working conditions on many of the largely family-owned cocoa farms–the largest informal economic sector–were unregulated and harsh, with long hours for workers and limited protection from the sun.

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs are responsible for enforcement of appropriate OSH standards. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ labor inspectors were insufficient in number to enforce the law. They did not monitor labor conditions sufficiently, and enforcement of the standards seldom occurred. Department of Labor inspectors lacked the necessary financial and human resources, as well as basic equipment, to conduct regular inspections. Reliable data on workplace fatalities or accidents was not available. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but authorities had limited inspection capacity to ensure this right was respected. Since the government is the largest employer, it sets the standards on hours of work and effectively enforced OSH standards in the public sector. Approximately one-third of the labor force worked in the informal sector, where laws were not strictly enforced.

Working conditions in the agricultural sector were sometimes hazardous because the sector lacked investment and all work was manual. Salaries were low, although workers also received payment in kind. Most farms were family-owned, consisting of small parcels distributed by the government. Less hazardous working conditions existed for those who worked in domestic households.

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