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Freedom in the World 2010 - Barbados

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 3 May 2010
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 - Barbados, 3 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0ceb0623.html [accessed 30 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Bridgetown
Population: 281,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free

Overview

In 2009, the new Barbadian government led by Prime Minister David Thompson of the Democratic Labour Party grappled with the impact of the economic recession.


Barbados gained its independence from Britain in 1966 but remained a member of the Commonwealth. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) under Prime Minister Owen Arthur governed from 1994 to 2008, when the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) won a clear majority of 20 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The BLP was left with the remaining 10 seats. Despite this stunning upset, the new government led by David Thompson of the DLP did not break markedly from the policies pursued by the Arthur government.

In 2009, Barbados was an active member of the Caribbean Community and enjoyed warm relations with most of its neighbors. However, heavy migration flows from Guyana to Barbados continued to cause tension between the countries, and Barbados remained outside the Venezuelan-backed regional energy pact known as PetroCaribe due to concerns about accumulating additional debt. The pact offered Caribbean countries a guarantee of Venezuelan oil shipments on favorable financial terms. The International Monetary Fund forecast that Barbados would face a major economic recession by the end of 2009, forcing the government to cut expenditures, stabilize prices, and shore up the country's foreign reserves.

Barbados has been more successful than other Caribbean countries in combating violent crime, which remained at low levels. The country experienced only 19 murders in 2009, the lowest recorded number in a decade. Joint patrols of the Royal Barbados Police Force and the Barbados Defence Force have managed to contain the problem, which was often linked to narcotics trafficking. The attorney general called for focusing more attention on curtailing the drug trade, which remained a significant problem in 2009.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Barbados is an electoral democracy. Members of the 30-member House of Assembly, the lower house of the bicameral Parliament, are directly elected for five-year terms. The governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state, appoints the 21 members of the Senate: 12 on the advice of the prime minister, 2 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining 7 at his own discretion. The prime minister is the leader of the political party with a majority in the House.

Political parties are free to organize. Historically, power has alternated between two centrist parties – the DLP and the BLP. In addition to the parties holding parliamentary seats, other political organizations include the small, left-wing Worker's Party of Barbados and the People's Empowerment Party (PEP), an opposition force favoring trade union rights and greater state intervention in the economy.

Barbados was ranked 20 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of expression is respected. Public opinion expressed through the news media, which are free of censorship and government control, has a powerful influence on policy. Newspapers, including the two major dailies, are privately owned. Four private and two government radio stations operate. The single television station, operated by the government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, presents a wide range of political viewpoints. There is unrestricted access to the internet.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is widely respected for mainstream religious groups, although members of Barbados's small Rastafarian community have protested prison regulations that require inmates to have their long dreadlocks cut off while in detention. Academic freedom is fully respected.

Barbados's legal framework provides important guarantees for freedom of assembly, which are upheld in practice. The right to form civic organizations and labor unions is respected. Two major labor unions, as well as various smaller ones, are active.

The judicial system is independent, and the Supreme Court includes a high court and a court of appeals. Lower-court officials are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. Barbados has ratified the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its highest appellate court. There are occasional reports and complaints of the use of excessive force by the Royal Barbados Police Force to extract confessions, along with reports that police do not always seek warrants before searching homes.

The prison system has taken steps to relieve overcrowding. A new prison facility with the capacity to house 1,250 inmates was completed in 2007 after a fire destroyed the island's largest penitentiary in 2005. Barbados is considering judicial reform that would reduce overcrowding by keeping courts open longer to hear more cases per year, but no reforms have been implemented and overcrowding remains a problem. Although the authorities have made significant efforts to discharge prison personnel alleged to have beaten inmates, their prosecution has not made substantial progress.

The country's crime rate, fueled by an increase in drug abuse and narcotics trafficking, has given rise to human rights concerns. In May 2009, the government examined reforming the constitution to abolish mandatory death sentences for murder convicts. The death penalty remains a mandatory punishment for certain capital crimes, although in practice it has not been implemented since 1984.

Women comprise roughly half of the country's workforce, however, violence against women and children continue to be serious social concerns.


*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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