Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2001
March 4, 2002

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy, a federation, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable self-government under a premier, as well as the right to secede from the Federation in accordance with certain enumerated procedures. The Government consists of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislative assembly. The Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In elections in March 2000, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party won all 8 St. Kitts seats of the 11 seats in the legislature, and Douglas remained Prime Minister. In elections in Nevis on September 7, Premier Vance Amory's Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) won four of the five seats in the Nevis Assembly. The judiciary is generally independent; however, intimidation of witnesses in high profile, drug-related cases has been a problem.

The security forces consist of a small police force, which includes a 50-person Special Services Unit that receives some light infantry training; a coast guard; and a small defense force. The forces are controlled by and responsive to the Government. There were occasional allegations of abuse by the police.

The country has a population of 42,500. The mixed economy is based on sugar cane, tourism, and light industry. Most commercial enterprises are privately owned, but a state corporation owns the sugar industry and 85 percent of arable land. In 1998 and 1999, hurricanes caused an estimated $450 million damage (affecting over 85 percent of the houses and buildings), greatly reduced sugar production, and caused significant losses in the tourism industry. Since then, two main hotels that had closed due to hurricane damage reopened; cruise ship berths in Bassetere have been repaired and tourist arrivals have increased. Real economic growth was expected to be approximately 4 percent for the year, compared with an estimated 7.5 percent in 2000. The Government waived the 8 percent hotel accommodation tax for 18 months, beginning in August. Sugar production increased by 30 percent, but export earnings remained constant due to exchange rate fluctuations; economic activity slowed significantly in the manufacturing and construction industries. The unemployment rate was estimated at 5 percent. Per capita gross domestic product was approximately $7,000 in 2000.

The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, there were problems in a few areas. Poor prison conditions, apparent intimidation of witnesses and jurors, government restrictions on opposition access to government-controlled media, and violence against women were the principal problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including

Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of arbitrary of unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading

Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits the use of torture or other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the authorities generally observe this prohibition in practice. However, there were occasional allegations of excessive use of force by the police, particularly during the annual Carnival celebration and at other special events.

The police force continues to conduct its own internal investigation when complaints are made against its members. There were 11 complaints filed during the year, 5 of which addressed police searches based on warrants (see Section 1.f.).

One complaint was dismissed when the complainant failed to appear; at year's end, there was no information available as to resolution of the other complaints.

Prison conditions are poor. Prisoners suffer from overcrowding and poor food. Resources remain limited, but shift adjustments and reorganization of guard posts reportedly resulted in a heightened sense of security at the prison during the year. The prison, built in 1840, was designed to accommodate 60 inmates but houses over 100 prisoners. A prison on Nevis houses 20 inmates. In St. Kitts pretrial detainees sometimes are held together with convicted prisoners; in Nevis they are held separately. Female inmates are segregated from male prisoners; however, there are no separate facilities for juveniles.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice. The law requires that persons detained be charged within 48 hours or be released. If charged, the police must bring a detainee before a court within 72 hours. Family members, attorneys, and clergy are permitted to visit detainees regularly.

Neither the Constitution nor the law prohibit forced exile, but the Government does not use it in practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, intimidation of witnesses and potential intimidation of jurors in high profile, drug-related cases has been a problem. The Government has not taken any concrete steps to protect witnesses, judges, and jurors, although it continued to explore the possibility of a program to do so through the Caribbean Community.

The court system includes a high court and four magistrate's courts at the local level, with the right of appeal to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Final appeal may be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. Free legal assistance is available for indigent defendants in capital cases only.

The Constitution provides that every person accused of a crime must receive a fair, speedy, and public trial, and these requirements generally are observed. At year's end, there were 53 persons in "remand" (detention pending trial or further court action). The length of remand varies according to offense and charges; persons may be held for days, weeks, or months.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and the Government generally respects these prohibitions in practice. The law requires judicially issued warrants to search private homes. The police received five complaints during the year regarding police searches. According to the Police Chief, disciplinary action was taken in some cases, letters of apology were written, and one complainant was compensated for damages done during a search.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the authorities generally respected these provisions in practice; however, there were allegations during the year that the ruling party limited opponents' access to the media.

There are no daily newspapers; each of the major political parties publishes a weekly or biweekly newspaper. A third weekly newspaper is nonpartisan. The publications are free to criticize the Government and do so regularly and vigorously. International news publications are readily available.

The Government owns the major radio and only television station on St. Kitts, and these media generally did not adequately publicize rallies and other events held by opposition parties. A Trinidadian company manages the station; however, the Government appoints three of its five board members. There is a privately owned FM station on St. Kitts, and a religious television station and a privately owned radio station on Nevis. An application to the Government by the Federation Media Group for a radio license has been pending for over a year.

The opposition People's Action Movement (PAM) party has alleged that the Labour Party has maintained absolute control of the national television and radio broadcasting facilities, blocking PAM's access and ability to debate government policies or air opposing concerns. The Government denied these allegations, stating that these media accepted opposition advertising and carried news stories about the opposition party. PAM's leaders alleged that the party's inability to use or purchase media air time reflected a weakening of democratic processes. PAM's leaders wrote to the Prime Minister calling for public debate during the year and alleged that the Prime Minister had ignored their letters.

The Government does not restrict access to the Internet.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly and for the right of association, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice.

Political parties organized demonstrations, rallies, and public meetings during the 2000 election campaign without government interference. During the year, there were at least two peaceful public candlelight vigils; one protested a killing by three young men, and another protested violence against women following the shooting deaths of an 18-year-old mother and her baby.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice.

No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. The issue of provision of first asylum did not arise during the year. There were no reports of forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government by peaceful means, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. A vigorous multiparty political system exists, in which political parties are free to conduct their activities; however, an opposition party has alleged that the ruling party restricted access to the media (see Section 2.a.). All citizens 18 years of age and older may register and vote by secret ballot. Despite some irregularities, orderly general elections were held in 2000, and Nevis elections were conducted peacefully in September.

The Legislative Assembly has 11 elected seats: 8 for St. Kitts and 3 for Nevis. The Labour Party holds all eight St. Kitts seats in the legislature; opposition parties hold the other three seats. The PAM lost its one seat in the 2000 election. The island of Nevis has considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature. In Nevis elections held on September 7, Premier Amory's CCM won four of the five seats in the Nevis Assembly.

In accordance with its rights under the Constitution, in 1996 the Nevis Assembly initiated steps towards secession from the Federation, the most recent being a referendum in 1998 that failed to secure the required two-thirds majority for secession. However, the matter of secession remained open, and in 2000 the opposition leader publicly stated his desire to have "two separate governments." Following the Nevis elections in September, secession is likely to remain an issue for the foreseeable future.

Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of political opinion or affiliation, the former opposition party PAM alleges widespread employment discrimination by the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party against public sector employment of persons perceived to be PAM supporters. PAM alleged that the ruling party dismissed or demoted many PAM supporters from their jobs in order to replace them with its own supporters. The Government denied these allegations, stating that, unlike the previous administration, the Government made it a policy not to discharge supporters of the opposition party. The Government acknowledged that it had withheld pension benefits from opposition members of Parliament voted out of office but asserted that it had paid pension benefits to those entitled to them. PAM leadership reported that one person had not been paid; the Government asserted that it needed information about her remuneration from her law firm before it could calculate her pension benefits. The matter was before the court at year's end.

There are no impediments in law or in practice to the participation of women in leadership roles in government and politics; however, the percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond to their percentage of the population. There are 2 women in the National Assembly, 1 woman in the Cabinet, all 3 magistrates are women, the court registrar is female, and 5 of 18 permanent secretaries are female.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

While there are no governmental restrictions, no local human rights groups formed during the year. There were no requests for investigations or visits by international human rights groups during the year.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, place of origin, birth out of wedlock, political opinion or affiliation, color, sex, or creed, and the Government generally respects these provisions in practice.

Women

According to a government official, violence against women is a problem. There is no legislation addressing domestic violence, but cases may be prosecuted under assault or battery provisions of the Offenses Against the Person Act. In 2000 a Domestic Violence Act was drafted; it would criminalize domestic violence and provide penalties for abusers. The draft bill was debated during the year and used as a training tool, but had not been passed into law by year's end. Although many women are reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts, there were publicly reported cases of both domestic violence and rape, and a few convictions. During the year, local newspapers highlighted several cases of excessive violence against women, and one case of murder of an 18-year-old mother and her baby was covered heavily (see Section 2.b.). The Department of Gender Affairs, under the Ministry of Social Development, Community, and Gender Affairs, is active in the areas of domestic violence, spousal abuse, and abandonment. It conducted 18 2-day training sessions from February to April for police and school guidance counselors on problems of domestic violence, sexual crimes, and child abuse. A total of 540 persons received such training, including 450 police officers.

The role of women in society is not restricted by law but is circumscribed by culture and tradition. There is no overt societal discrimination against women in employment, although sectoral analyses suggest that women do not yet occupy as many senior positions as men do. The Department of Gender Affairs also conducts programs addressing poverty and health, and promoting institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women and leadership positions for women. It operated three programs for rural women, providing them market skills and training as entrepreneurs. The Department provides clients assistance with problems such as lack of housing, unemployment, child care, technical training, and personal development. During the year, the Department began to focus its programs on fathers, with community-based programs held twice a year during a 13-week period. Five communities participated, involving a total of 100 men.

Prostitution is illegal and is not considered to be a problem.

There are no laws covering sexual harassment, which the Department of Gender Affairs considers to be a growing problem.

Children

The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare and has incorporated most of the provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic legislation. The law mandates compulsory education up to the age of 16; it is free and universal. Over 98 percent of children complete school.

Persons with Disabilities

Although there is no legislation to protect persons with disabilities or to mandate accessibility for them, the Constitution and the Government prohibit discrimination in employment, education, and other state services.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of all workers to form and belong to trade unions. The law permits the police, civil service, and other organizations to organize associations that serve as unions. The major labor union, the St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated closely with the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party and is active in all sectors of the economy. In 2000 a teachers' union, a union representing dockworkers in the capital city, and two taxi drivers' associations were formed. However, during the year, the dockworkers union ceased to function due to lack of membership support and the lack of an active collective bargaining agreement.

The right to strike, while not specified by law, is well established and respected in practice. Restrictions on striking by workers who provide essential services, such as the police and civil servants, are enforced by established practice and custom, but not by law. There were no major strikes during the year.

Unions are free to form federations or confederations and to affiliate with international organizations. The islands' unions maintain a variety of international ties.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor unions are free to organize and to negotiate for better wages and benefits for union members. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such action to rehire employees who were fired for union activities. However, the employer must pay lost wages and severance pay. There is no legislation governing the organization and representation of workers, and employers are not bound legally to recognize a union, but in practice employers do so if a majority of workers polled wish to organize. Collective bargaining takes place on a workplace-by-workplace basis, not industrywide. The Labor Commissioner and Labor Officers mediate disputes between labor and management on an ad hoc basis. However, in practice few disputes actually go to the Commissioner for resolution. If neither the Commissioner nor the Ministry of Labor is able to resolve the dispute, the law allows for a case to be brought before a civil court.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits slavery and forced labor, and they do not occur in practice. While neither the Constitution nor the law specifically address bonded labor, it has not been a problem in practice.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Child labor is addressed in the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act, as well as the 1966 Employment of Children Ordinance. The Ordinance outlaws slavery, servitude, and forced labor, and prescribes the minimum legal working age as 12 years. Compulsory education mandated until the age of 16 effectively rules out steady employment before that age. The Labor Ministry relies heavily on school truancy officers and the community affairs division to monitor compliance, which they do generally effectively.

Agriculture, domestic service, and illicit activities are areas in which juveniles can find work. In rural families engaged in livestock farming and vegetable production, children often are required to assist as part of family efforts at subsistence. Girls often engage in domestic service. Such labor includes family-oriented work where children are made to look after younger siblings or ailing parents and grandparents at the expense of their schooling. Children often are engaged in other households as domestic servants or babysitters. There were no reported cases of child labor during the year, and no cases of child labor have ever been brought to the attention of the Department of Labor, which is empowered to investigate and address complaints of child labor.

On December 10, 2000, the Government ratified the International Labor Organization's Convention 182 on elimination of the worst forms of child labor. Child labor laws are to be reviewed under a program of labor legislation review and update that began in 1999 with the 1986 Protection of Employment Act.

Although the law does not specifically address bonded labor by children, it has not been a problem in practice (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wage rates for various categories of workers, such as domestic servants, retail employees, casino workers, and skilled workers, were last updated in 1994, and manufacturing sector wages were revised in 1996. The average wage varies from $67.42 (EC$180) per week for full-time domestic workers to $166.10 (EC$443.50) per week for skilled workers. These provide a barely adequate living for a wage earner and family; many workers supplement wages by keeping small animals such as goats and chickens. The Labor Commission undertakes regular wage inspections and special investigations when it receives complaints; it requires employers found in violation to pay back wages. Workers who are laid off for more than 12 weeks receive a lump sum payment from the Government based on previous earnings and length of service.

The law provides for a 40- to 44-hour workweek, but the common practice is 40 hours in 5 days. Although not required by law, workers receive at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law provides that workers receive a minimum annual vacation of 14 working days. While there are no specific health and safety regulations, the Factories Law provides general health and safety guidance to Labor Ministry inspectors. The Labor Commission settles disputes over safety conditions. Workers have the right to report unsafe work environments without jeopardy to continued employment; inspectors then investigate such claims, and workers may leave such locations without jeopardy to their continued employment.

f. Trafficking in Persons

There are no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons.

An "economic citizenship" program allows foreign investors to purchase passports through loosely monitored procedures involving cash inflows ranging from $200,000 (EC$534,000) to $250,000 (EC$670,000), plus a registration fee of $35,000 (EC$93,500) for the head of household (amounts vary for other family members). This program reportedly has facilitated the illegal immigration of persons from China and other countries to North America where, in some instances, criminal organizations that provided the funds to such persons forced them to work under conditions similar to bonded labor until their debt was repaid.

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