2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Saint Lucia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||11 March 2010|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Saint Lucia, 11 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b9e52c5c.html [accessed 26 January 2015]|
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2010
Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 171,000. In generally free and fair elections in 2006, former prime minister Sir John Compton returned to power when his United Workers Party (UWP) defeated the previously ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), winning 11 seats in the 17-member House of Assembly. In 2007 Stephenson King was appointed prime minister following Compton's death. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were problems in a few areas, primarily abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, long delays in trials and sentencing, violence against women, and child abuse.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces killed two persons during the year. The Criminal Investigations Department had investigations under way at year's end.
On July 24, police shot and killed Anthony Fulgence in an attempt to stop a motorcycle he was riding as a passenger. The driver of the motorcycle claimed not to know that he was being followed by police and only stopped when he heard gunshots. Authorities placed the police officer on administrative duties, and he later retired from the force while the investigation was pending.
On November 30, an undercover police officer shot and killed Alfred James during an investigation of a robbery. Authorities placed the officer on administrative leave and opened an investigation.
The director of public prosecution continued reviewing the case of the December 2008 police killing of John Garvy Alcindor and the measures put in place to deal with "a few offending officers."
There was no information available about the outcome of the suit filed by the family in the August 2008 police killing of Timothy St Lucre of Bouton, or about pending investigations into police shootings in 2007, 2006, and 2005.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices; however, prisoners and suspects regularly complained of physical abuse by police and prison officers.
On May 14, Keiran Herman claimed that police tortured him at the La Toc station, just south of Castries. Herman alleged that police beat, kicked, and used a cable wire to assault him; an investigation was under way at year's end.
During the year citizens filed a number of complaints against the police, most of which were for abuse of authority.
There was no information available about results of any investigations into the November 2008 case in which police shot and injured Miguel Edwards, the 2007 incident in which members of the police Special Services Unit shot Andre Halls in the leg, and the 2006 police shooting of a 17-year-old boy.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met minimum international standards at the four-year-old Bordelais Correctional Facility, which had an intended capacity of 500 prisoners and held approximately 50 above that number. Some prisoners and family members complained about treatment of prisoners at the facility. The government added 40 additional guards to the facility to help curb the smuggling of drugs and cell phones into the facility.
The Boys Training Center, a facility for boys charged with criminal offenses or suffering from domestic or other social problems, operated separately from the prison and conditions were substandard. The boys in the program normally stay for two years and receive vocational training while enrolled. There were continuing complaints about the facility, and at year's end a site had been cleared for a new facility.
The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, but no such visits took place during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Royal Saint Lucia Police numbered 826 officers, which included a Special Services Unit with some paramilitary training and a coast guard unit. The police force reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, a portfolio held by the prime minister.
The police force's internal complaints unit, which consists of retired police officers, received and investigated complaints made by the public and sent its findings to the Police Complaints Commission, a civilian body. The commission reviewed the cases and made recommendations for internal disciplinary action, but human rights monitors considered the process ineffective, and the director of public prosecution stated that the commission had not made any recommendations for prosecution in several years.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
The constitution stipulates that persons must be apprehended openly with warrants issued by a judicial authority and requires a court hearing within 72 hours of detention. Detainees are allowed prompt access to counsel and family. There is a functioning bail system.
Prolonged pretrial detention continued to be a problem; approximately 150 of the prisoners at Bordelais Correctional Facility were on remand awaiting trial. Those charged with serious crimes spent an estimated six months to four years in pretrial detention.
In November Eugene St. Romain alleged that he had been detained at the Bordelais Correctional Facility since April 2004 on a charge of murder but was never tried. He hired an attorney to contest his detention on the grounds that he was not given access to a fair and speedy trial. The court heard the complaint and set a trial date in early 2010.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The court system includes magistrate's courts and the High Court, both of which have civil and criminal jurisdiction. The lower courts accept civil claims up to EC$5,000 (approximately $1,850) and criminal cases generally classified as "petty." The High Court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases may be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal and to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom as the final court of appeal. A family court handles child custody, maintenance, support, domestic violence, juvenile affairs, and related matters.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Trials can be by jury, are public, and, in cases involving capital punishment, legal counsel is provided for those who cannot afford a defense attorney. Defendants are entitled to select their own representation, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and have the right of appeal. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses and have access to government-held evidence. An attorney can be provided at public expense if needed in cases of serious criminal charges.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent, impartial judiciary in civil matters where one can bring lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
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 government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
On August 8, Novita Emmanuel, a reporter with Think Caribbean Television, filmed an individual committing a traffic violation. That person assaulted the reporter and took her camera; the incident occurred in front of a police constable who refused to intervene. The constable, employed by the National Insurance Corporation, had not been given the proper training on how to respond. The police commissioner promised to discipline the constable if he was found to have acted inappropriately.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. The Internet was largely available in homes, offices, and Internet cafes in urban areas; infrastructure limitations restricted Internet access in some villages. According to the International Telecommunication Union, there were 59 Internet users per 100 inhabitants in 2008.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
The government continued a suspension of all applications for official registration by faith-based organizations while it revised its policy on registration. This moratorium affected the Muslim community, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and approximately 10 other organizations. While awaiting registration, religious groups had the freedom to meet and worship according to their beliefs.
Rastafarians continued to complain that the use of marijuana, an aspect of their religious ritual, was prohibited.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Rastafarians complained of occasional societal discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools. There was no organized Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
The constitution prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The country is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 protocol, and no formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests existed. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
Although no known cases occurred, the government was prepared to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
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 peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
In 2006 Sir John Compton's UWP defeated Kenny Anthony's SLP by winning 11 of 17 parliamentary seats. According to electoral observer missions from both the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community, the elections were generally considered free and fair. Following Compton's death in September 2007, the governor general, in accordance with the constitution, appointed Stephenson King, the person who commanded the majority in the House of Assembly, as prime minister.
Political parties could operate without restrictions.
There was one woman elected to the 17-seat House of Assembly, and the appointed speaker of the house was a woman. There were three women in the 11-member appointed Senate; one served as president of the Senate, and one served as the sole female member of the 14-person cabinet. The governor general was a woman.
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Corruption continued to be viewed as serious and was widely discussed by the media, the business community, and opposition politicians. Observers expressed concern that the country was moving backwards in terms of transparency and accountability. There was also concern that some foreign assistance programs go through the specific offices of parliamentarians, providing the opportunity for graft.
Numerous accounts of government corruption occurred during the year. In August a judge found Health Minister Keith Mondesir guilty of falsely receiving duty free status for furniture designed for his personal residence and fined him EC$14,000 ($5,200). The attorney general and other cabinet members were also under scrutiny for approving this duty free waiver for their colleague.
In 2008 authorities questioned Housing Minister Richard Frederick twice concerning alleged involvement in customs duty evasion that occurred before Frederick was in office. In June authorities transferred the comptroller of customs to a different ministry, and the new comptroller released evidence that compromised the validity of documentation in the case, thus nullifying it. The confiscation tape locking the cars was also removed, allowing Frederick use of the vehicles.
High-level government officials, including elected officials, are subject to annual disclosure of their financial assets to the Integrity Commission, a constitutionally established commission. The parliamentary commissioner, auditor general, and the Public Services Commission are responsible for combating corruption. Parliament can also appoint a special committee to investigate specific allegations of corruption.
The law provides for public access to information, and parliamentary debates are open to the public. The Government Information Service disseminated public information on a daily basis, operated an extensive Web site, and published a number of official periodicals.
Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A few domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution prohibits discrimination, but there was no specific legislation addressing discrimination in employment or against persons with disabilities. However, government policy was nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement.
The law effectively criminalizes rape, but not spousal rape. Police and courts enforced laws to protect women against rape, which is punishable by 14 years' to life imprisonment. The police were not reluctant to arrest or prosecute offenders, although many victims were reluctant to report cases of rape or to press charges. No data were available about the number of rapes reported, charges brought, or convictions obtained. The Director of Public Prosecution reported that sexual assault cases were a growing problem, but that most cases were not prosecuted due to the reluctance of victims to press charges.
Domestic violence was the most significant human rights problem in the country. While police were willing to arrest offenders, the government prosecuted crimes of violence against women only when the victim pressed charges. Often victims were reluctant to press charges due to their reliance on financial assistance of the abuser. Shelters, hotlines, and improved police training were all used to deal with the problem, but the lack of financial security for the victim was the key impediment. Shelters were operated in private homes, in order to preserve the privacy of the victims, but the location of a shelter was hard to keep secret. The family courts heard cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children.
The Ministry of Health Wellness, Family Affairs, National Mobilization, Human Services, and Gender Relations assisted victims. Most of the cases were referred to a counselor, and the police facilitated the issuance of court protection orders in some cases. Police caught and charged perpetrators in a number of domestic violence cases.
The police Vulnerable Persons Unit, designed to handle cases involving violence against women and children, increased police responsiveness to these cases. As a result the police reported an increase in the reporting of sexual crimes against women and children during the first half of the year. This unit worked closely with the Family Court and the ministry's Gender Relations and Human Services Divisions.
The Gender Relations Division also ran the Women's Support Center, which provided shelter, counseling, residential services, a 24-hour hotline, and assistance in finding employment. Various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Saint Lucia Crisis Center and the National Organization of Women (NOW), also provided counseling, referral, education, and empowerment services. The crisis center assisted in cases of physical violence, incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights.
The Family Court can issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the residence of a specified person. Occupation and tenancy orders provide certain residential rights to victims of domestic violence, such as rental payments and other protective orders. The Family Court employed full-time social workers who assisted victims of domestic violence.
Prostitution is illegal, but laws against it were rarely enforced. Some underground strip clubs were fronts for prostitution and reportedly were owned and/or protected by corrupt police officers. There were no arrests for prostitution during the year.
The criminal code prohibits sexual harassment, but it remained a problem as government enforcement was not an effective deterrent. The Gender Relations Division continued an awareness program through which it provided training opportunities in workplaces and assisted establishments in creating policies and procedures on how to handle sexual harassment. As a result, most cases of sexual harassment were handled in the workplace rather than being prosecuted under the criminal code.
There were no restrictions on reproductive rights, and women and couples were free to choose the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care was widely available. Access to contraception was widely available. Testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases was nondiscriminatory and also widely available.
Women generally enjoyed equal rights, including in economic, family, property, and judicial matters. However, the fire chief refused to allow a female firefighter, who completed a two-year training program and was ready to take the final exam, to take the test because she was pregnant. The Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) took on the issue, arguing that the authorities can and should make reasonable accommodations to allow such persons to take the test, which was offered only once a year. Women's affairs were under the jurisdiction of the Gender Relations Division, whose parent ministry was responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including ensuring equal treatment in employment.
Children receive citizenship by birth to a Saint Lucia parent. Birth certificates were provided to the parents within a reasonable administrative delay.
Child abuse remained a problem. The Division of Human Services and Family Affairs handled a number of cases of sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, and psychological abuse, but no figures were available to compare with cases reported in 2008.
The few social welfare programs in the country were overwhelmed. As a result, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for financial contributions toward the welfare of victims of such abuse. Nonetheless, courts heard some child sexual abuse cases and convicted and sentenced offenders.
The human services division provided a number of services to victims of child abuse, including counseling, facilitating medical intervention, finding foster care, providing family support services, and supporting the child while working with the police and attending court. The division was also involved with public outreach in schools, church organizations, and community groups.
CAFRA operated a hotline for families suffering from different forms of abuse; however, there was no government shelter for abused children, resulting in the return of many children to the homes in which they were abused. Through the hotline, CAFRA learned of various cases of sexual abuse that were never reported to the police. The government did not provide funding for foster care, and few families were willing to take in foster children.
There was no evidence of children engaged in prostitution for survival.
Laws on rape include statutory rape; the age of consent is 16. There was no information available about whether the law prohibits child pornography.
The Catholic Church operated the Holy Family Home for abused and abandoned children, with space for up to 40 children who were referred to the center by the police or social workers.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, but there were no confirmed reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.
There were anecdotal reports that women from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and some Eastern European countries entered the country irregularly where they worked at strip clubs and brothels. There were reports that police owned and/or protected many of these clubs. There were no cases of children being trafficked.
Although there are laws prohibiting slavery, forced labor, forced imprisonment, and kidnapping that could be used to prosecute alleged traffickers, there were no reports of such prosecutions during the year. The government established a National Coalition against Trafficking in Persons consisting of the Gender Relations Division, the Human Services Division, the police, and the Immigration Service. Lack of funding hampered the coalition's efforts to detect and investigate cases of trafficking and to protect victims.
Persons with Disabilities
No specific legislation protects the rights of persons with disabilities or mandates provision of government services for them. The government is obliged to provide disabled access to all public buildings, but only a few government buildings had ramps to provide access. There was no rehabilitation facility for persons with physical disabilities, although the Health Ministry operated a community-based rehabilitation program in residents' homes. There were schools for the deaf and the blind up to the secondary level. There were isolated cases of persons with disabilities holding jobs, including one blind bank teller, but a recent blind graduate from the local community college was not able to secure employment. There also was a school for persons with mental disabilities; however, children with disabilities faced barriers in education, and there were few opportunities for such persons when they became adults.
In October a new foreign-built mental health facility was completed and furnished but not equipped, which is the responsibility of the government. The existing state-operated mental health facility was a century-old building that will be decommissioned once the new facility is in operation. There were no other mental health facilities on the island, and mentally ill persons were not generally provided much care. The government's four mental health social workers had an average of over 100 cases each.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law criminalizes homosexual relations, and there was widespread social discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the deeply conservative society. There were few openly LGBT persons in the country.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There was widespread stigma and discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS, although the government implemented several programs to address this issue, including a five-year program to combat HIV/AIDS. The UN Population Fund also provided support for youth-oriented HIV/AIDS prevention programs.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law specifies the right of workers to form or belong to trade unions under the broader rubric of the right of association. Approximately 25 percent of the total workforce were unionized, including most public sector employees. There were four major unions, the largest being the National Workers Union (NWU), with over 3,000 members in private sector firms; the civil service association, a quasi-union as civil service workers were not legally allowed to join a union, with 1,008 members; the teachers union; and the prison service and police welfare associations that were also quasi-unions. All the unions belong to the Saint Lucia Trade Union Federation (SLTUF). The NWU recently organized workers for the first time in the financial services industry and formed a financial services council to look at ways to harmonize benefits and wages in the growing financial services sector.
Unions have a right to strike, and workers exercised that right. However, the law prohibits members of the police and fire departments from striking on the grounds that these professions were "essential services." Workers in other essential services – water and sewer authority workers, electric utility workers, nurses, and doctors – must give 30 days' notice before striking. Once workers have given notice, the matter is usually referred to ad hoc tribunal set up under the Essential Service Act. The government selects tribunal members, following rules to ensure tripartite representation. The ad hoc labor tribunals try to resolve the dispute through mandatory arbitration.
In April the civil service association and the SLTUF went on strike against the government for failing to honor an agreement to provide civil service workers with a 7.5 percent pay raise in May, as the second component of an overall 14.5 percent raise. The SLTUF agreed to accept the 3.5 percent that government had unilaterally given in May but insisted that the government pay an additional 0.625 percent retroactively and pay the balance of the 7.5 percent in April 2010 retroactive to April 2009.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and the government generally protected this right. Collective bargaining is protected by law and was freely practiced.
The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination, and workers fired for union activity did not have the right to reinstatement. In practice many companies were openly antiunion.
The NWU filed a complaint with the labor commissioner that Diamond International Corporation engaged in antiunion discrimination through selective dismissal of pro-union activists. The chief counsel of the company, according to the union, was politically connected and able to influence the labor commissioner not to take action on the complaint. The NWU considered the matter to be a continuing labor dispute but recognized that the complaint will not be acted upon.
The NWU general secretary also noted that there were a number of other instances of antiunion activity on the part of corporations, particularly among the foreign-owned hotel chains, but that the NWU was not taking issue with them due to the slowing of the economy.
Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones, and there were no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones. The NWU was the only union representing workers in the export processing zones, representing workers in eight companies operating there.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law provides for a minimum legal working age of 16 years. The minimum legal working age for industrial work is 18 years. Child labor existed to some degree in the rural areas, primarily where school-age children helped harvest bananas from family trees. Children also typically worked in urban food stalls or sold confectionery on sidewalks on nonschool days and during festivals. The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Labor Relations, Public Service, and Cooperatives was responsible for enforcing statutes regulating child labor. Employer penalties for violating the child labor laws were EC$9.60 ($3.55) for a first offense and EC$24 ($8.88) for a second offense. There were no formal reports of violations of child labor laws.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wage regulations in effect since 1985 set wages for a limited number of occupations. The minimum monthly wage for office clerks was EC$300 ($111), for shop assistants EC$200 ($74), and for messengers EC$160 ($59). The government recognized that the minimum wage law was outdated and sought to meet with tripartite social partners to discuss it, but the matter was not resolved by year's end. The minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but most categories of workers received much higher wages based on prevailing market conditions. However, a number of smaller establishments paid less than the minimum wage, and Haitians and others often received less than minimum wage.
The labor commissioner is charged with monitoring violations of labor law, including the minimum wage. There were three compliance officers to cover the entire country and to monitor compliance with occupational and safety standards, and pension standards as well as minimum wage violations. In practice there were few reported violations as those who received less than the minimum wage were often in the country illegally and afraid of reprisals including possible deportation. Labor unions did not routinely report such violations.
The legislated workweek is 41 hours, although the common practice was to work 40 hours in five days. Special legislation covers work hours for shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and persons in industrial establishments.
Occupational health and safety regulations were relatively well developed. Although there had been only one qualified inspector for the entire country, the ministry hired several new occupational and safety inspectors and was reviewing proposed updates to the occupational and safety act. The ministry enforced the act through threat of closure of the business if it discovered violations and the violator did not correct them. However, actual closures rarely occurred because of lack of staff and resources. Workers had the legal right to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.