The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Sao Tomé and Principe is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Sao Tomé and Principe is also a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Sao Tomé and Principe is a state party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Sao Tomé and Principe is a signatory but not a state party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 33 of the 1975 Constitution of Sao Tomé and Principe (as amended) governs the right of peaceful assembly:
1. All citizens have the right to meet, peacefully and without arms, even in places open to the public.
2. The right to demonstrate is recognized for all citizens, within the terms of the law.
Under domestic law, two days’ notice must be given by organisers in advance of any public assembly.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and prioportionate to that purpose.
Article 32(1) of the 2017 Internal Security Law stipulates that the Security Forces and Services may only use force in the following cases:
(a) to repel an ongoing and unlawful assault on legally protected interests, in self-defence or the defence of others;
(b) To overcome resistance to the execution of a police officer in the exercise of his duties, after exhausted other means to achieve this.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Article 32(2) of the 2017 Internal Security Law provides that the use of firearms and explosives shall be governed by a specific diploma for employees and agents of the Security Forces.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Sao Tomé and Principe has not yet come before the Human Rights Committee.
The 2016 Universal Periodic Review of Sao Tomé and Principe under the UN Human Rights Council did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has not addressed the right of peaceful assembly in Sao Tomé and Principe. Sao Tomé and Principe has not yet submitted a national report on its implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights .
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Sao Tomé and Principe:
The constitution protects freedom of assembly, which the government generally observes in practice. However, organizers are obliged to give authorities two days’ notice before public gatherings. Following the October 2018 elections, the police banned demonstrations for 72 hours, drawing criticism from opposition parties and rights activists.