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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

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 .

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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