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São Tomé and Príncipe

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Politics and government of
São Tomé and Príncipe



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The U.S. Department of State's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for São Tomé and Príncipe states that the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, despite problems in a few areas.

São Tomé and Príncipe was one of 11 sub-Saharan African countries rated "free" in the 2006 Freedom in the World survey published annually by Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization that monitors political rights, civil liberties, and press freedom around the world. On a scale from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free), São Tomé received a 2 for both political rights and civil liberties.

Contents

Political rights

From independence in 1975 until 1990, the country was a single-party state with restricted political rights. In 1990, citizens approved a constitution that established a multiparty democracy.

Since then, nine national elections in São Tomé and Príncipe have taken place: four elections for president (in 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2006) and five for the National Assembly (1991, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006). All of these elections were conducted to be generally free, fair, and transparent by domestic and international monitors.

Elections at the local level were conducted for the first time in 1992. Príncipe was granted autonomy in 1994 and elected a regional assembly and government in 1995.

Civil liberties

Freedoms of assembly, association, movement, and religion are constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected by the government. Academic freedom is respected.

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Press freedom

According to the U.S. State Department, "The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. It also notes that some journalists practice self-censorship."

Television and radio are state operated and there are no independent stations, due to economic and market constraints. There is no law prohibiting the establishment of such stations and all opposition parties have access to the state-run media, including a minimum of three minutes per month on television. Opposition newsletters and pamphlets criticizing the government circulate freely.

São Tomé's press is rated as 'free' by the Freedom House organization. In its 2006 Press Freedom Survey, São Tomé ranked 5th out of Sub-Saharan Africa's 48 countries in terms of press freedom - trailing only Mali, Mauritius, Ghana, and South Africa.[1]

Freedom House describes the country's press freedom situation as follows: "The Constitution of São Tomé guarantees freedom of the press and the government has an exemplary history of respecting these rights in practice. Publications that criticize official policies circulate freely without journalists being arrested, jailed, tortured or harassed. However, journalists do practice a good degree of self-censorship, and often depend on official news releases for their reports which inhibits the growth of investigative journalism. Lack of advertising revenue, technology, media training and poor salaries also constitute major handicaps for journalists."

Other prominent press freedom organizations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Press Institute (IPI), and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) don't include São Tomé in their annual reports.

Rule of law

Judiciary and judicial process

An independent judiciary, including a Supreme Court with members designated by, and responsible to, the National Assembly, was established by the 1990 referendum on multiparty rule. The Supreme Court has ruled against both the government and the president, but is occasionally subject to manipulation. The court system is overburdened, understaffed, inadequately funded, and plagued by long delays in hearing cases.

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.

Conduct of security forces

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, torture, or politically motivated disappearances.

Prison conditions

Prison conditions in the country are described as "harsh, but not life threatening" in the state department's report. Facilities are reportedly overcrowded, and food was inadequate. Some pretrial prisoners were held with convicted prisoners.

The government permits human rights monitors to visit prisons.

Corruption

Official corruption is a serious problem. São Tomé and Príncipe was not surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Societal Discrimination

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.

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.

Mistreatment of children was not widespread; however, there were few protections for orphans and abandoned children. Child labor was a problem.

There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

Worker Rights

The rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively are guaranteed and respected. Few unions exist, but independent cooperatives have taken advantage of the government land-distribution program to attract workers. Because of its role as the main employer in the wage sector, the government remains the key interlocutor for labor on all matters, including wages. Working conditions on many of the state-owned cocoa plantations are harsh.

See also

References


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