Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December 2014, 10:46 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Saint Kitts and Nevis

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 31 March 2003
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Saint Kitts and Nevis , 31 March 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3e918c3c0.html [accessed 18 December 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

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 unicameral 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, 2001, Premier Vance Amory's Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) won four of the five seats in the Nevis Assembly. The judiciary was generally independent; however, intimidation of witnesses in high profile, drug-related cases has been a problem.

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

The mixed economy was based on sugar cane, tourism, and light industry. The country's population was approximately 46,000. Most commercial enterprises were privately owned, but a state corporation owned the sugar industry and 85 percent of arable land. In 2001 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. Preliminary estimates for real economic growth suggested a 2 percent decline for the year.

The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, there were problems in some 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. Saint Kitts and Nevis was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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 observed 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 continued to conduct its own internal investigation when complaints were made against its members. There were 11 complaints filed in 2001, 5 of which addressed police searches based on warrants (see Section 1.f.); no more recent information was available.

Prison conditions were overcrowded, and resources remained limited. The prison on Saint Kitts, built in 1840, was designed to accommodate 60 inmates but was renovated to increase capacity and housed over 140 prisoners; some prisoners slept on mats on the floor. A prison on Nevis housed 30 inmates. In both prisons pretrial detainees were segregated from convicted prisoners. Female inmates were segregated from male prisoners, and juveniles were segregated from adult prisoners. Corporal punishment is legal; a court can order that an accused person receive lashes if found guilty.

The Government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers. In addition, the Ministry of National Security appointed "visiting justices," who were volunteers that oversaw the treatment of prisoners. The prison staff periodically received training in human rights.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally respected these provisions 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 were permitted to visit detainees regularly.

Neither the Constitution nor the law prohibit forced exile, but the Government did 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 was a problem. The Government did not take 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 was 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 were observed. At year's end, there were 49 persons in "remand" (detention pending trial or further court action). The length of remand varied according to offense and charges; persons may be held for days, weeks, or months. There is no system of parole, although there was public discussion about starting a parole system.

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 respected these prohibitions in practice. The law requires judicially issued warrants to search private homes. The police received complaints during the year regarding police improprieties in the process of investigating reported crimes, such as taking personal photographs of a victim and unnecessarily exposing a victim by bringing potential suspects to the victim's home for identification. The authorities took disciplinary action against one officer involved.

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.

These concerns were muted somewhat by the grant of broadcast licenses to several independent radio stations.

There were three independent weekly newspapers; in addition, each of the major political parties published a weekly or biweekly newspaper. The publications were free to criticize the Government and did so regularly and vigorously. International news publications were readily available.

The Government privatized the government-owned radio station, although the Government continued to appoint three of its five board members. Three other stations had been in operation since before the Labour Party came into office in 1995. In addition, three privately owned radio stations received licenses and began operating in 2001-02. A radio station in Nevis that operated on AM since 1989 received an FM license but was not yet operating on the new frequency at year's end.

The opposition People's Action Movement (PAM) party alleged that the Labour Party blocked PAM's access to the broadcast media through its control of the national television and radio broadcasting facilities. However, the PAM acknowledged that it had increased accessibility to the media since several additional radio stations were granted licenses.

The Government did not restrict access to the Internet.

The Government did 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 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.

For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

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

No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests existed. 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.

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 exercised this right in practice through periodic elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. A multiparty political system existed, in which political parties were free to conduct their activities; however, an opposition party 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 2001.

The Legislative Assembly has 11 elected seats: 8 for St. Kitts and 3 for Nevis. The Labour Party held all eight St. Kitts seats in the legislature; opposition parties held the other three seats. The PAM lost its one seat in the 2000 election. In addition to the 11 elected Members of Parliament, there were 3 appointed members called Senators. The Governor General appoints the three Senators, two on recommendation of the Prime Minister and one on the recommendation of the Leader of the Opposition. The island of Nevis has considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature. In the 2001 Nevis elections, 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. Following the referendum, the Government established a Constitutional Commission to review the arrangements between the two islands. In October when a Select Committee of the National Assembly reviewed the commission's report, the CCM again raised the issue of secession. The Government suggested that the issue be handled in the constitutional reform process and proposed granting greater autonomy to the Nevis island government and the Nevis Assembly.

Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of political opinion or affiliation, the former opposition party PAM alleged widespread employment discrimination by the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party against public sector employment of persons perceived to be PAM supporters. In the case of one person whom the PAM leadership claimed had not been paid, the Government asserted that this individual, while a Minister in the Government, received fees for legal services from two government institutions and that, therefore, it was entitled to offset her pension by the amount of fees received. The matter was before the courts at year's end.

The PAM claimed that electoral reform is needed to correct inequities and to prevent irregularities in voting, asserting that in the last election, the Government unduly influenced voters by providing airfare and hotel accommodations to overseas citizens willing to return to vote. The PAM also claimed that 17-year-olds voted even though the law requires a minimum age of 18, and that some people voted more than once by voting in different jurisdictions. Citing these irregularities, the PAM proposed that photographic voter identification cards be issued, and the existing register of voters nullified. The PAM also recommended changes to the electoral commission to correct what it perceived as a bias toward the party in power. The PAM criticized the Government's failure to appoint any PAM representatives to the Select Committee of the National Assembly on Constitutional Reform, which will take up matters of electoral reform.

There were no impediments in law or in practice to the participation of women in leadership roles in government and politics. There were 2 women in the National Assembly, 1 woman in the Cabinet, 3 of 4 magistrates were women, the court registrar was female, and 5 of 11 permanent secretaries were female. In addition, in Nevis, one Cabinet member and the president of the House of Assembly were female.

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.

5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, 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 respected these provisions in practice.

Women

According to a government official, violence against women was a problem. A 2000 Domestic Violence Act criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties for abusers. Although many women were 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. The Department of Gender Affairs, under the Ministry of Social Development, Community, and Gender Affairs, was active in the areas of domestic violence, spousal abuse, and abandonment. It offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic violence and gender violence for officials of the police and fire departments, nurses, school guidance counselors, and other government employees. There was no separate domestic violence unit in the police force.

The role of women in society is not restricted by law but was circumscribed by culture and tradition. There was no overt societal discrimination against women in employment, although analyses suggested that women did not occupy as many senior positions as men did. The Department of Gender Affairs conducted 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 provided clients assistance with problems such as lack of housing, unemployment, child care, technical training, and personal development. It also ran a "Return Teen Mothers to School Program" to encourage young mothers to complete their education. The Department produced three handbooks on sexual harassment, equal opportunity and employment, and equal pay for work of equal value. The Department continued its programs focusing on men as perpetrators of crimes of violence against women.

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

There were no laws covering sexual harassment, which the Department of Gender Affairs considered 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 was free and universal. Over 98 percent of children completed school. Under the law, the age of consent is 16. During the year, the authorities brought charges in three cases involving alleged sexual activity with minors.

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.

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 (SKTLU) was associated closely with the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party and was active in all sectors of the economy. The opposition PAM party alleged that the ruling party used its influence to try to stifle other unions that would threaten the SKTLU in the workplace. In 2000 two taxi drivers' associations were formed, and the existing teachers' union became more active.

In December PAM and the teachers' union alleged that the Labour Party abused parliamentary privilege by making defamatory statements which, had they been made outside Parliament, could have been subject to legal charges. PAM stated that disparaging comments about the president of the teachers' unions were intended to stifle that union's growing (400-member) strength.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such action to rehire employees fired for union activities. However, the employer must pay lost wages and severance pay to employees who had worked at least 1 year, based upon length of their service. There was no legislation governing the organization and representation of workers, and employers were not bound legally to recognize a union, but in practice employers did so if a majority of workers polled wished to organize.

Unions were free to form federations or confederations and to affiliate with international organizations. The islands' unions maintained 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. 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 went 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.

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, were enforced by established practice and custom, but not by law. There were no major strikes during the year.

There were no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

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

Prisoners can be required to work if their sentence was more than 30 days and stipulated "hard labor;" they received a small stipend for this work paid upon discharge.

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. At year's end, both laws were amended to set the minimum legal working age at 16 years. The Labor Ministry relied heavily on school truancy officers and the community affairs division to monitor compliance, which they generally did effectively.

Agriculture, domestic service, and illicit activities were areas in which juveniles found work. In rural families engaged in livestock farming and vegetable production, children often were required to assist as part of family efforts at subsistence. Girls often engaged in domestic service. Such labor included family-oriented work where children were made to look after younger siblings or ailing parents and grandparents at the expense of their schooling. Children often worked 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.

At year's end, child labor laws were being reviewed under a program of labor legislation review and update that began in 1999 with the 1986 Protection of Employment Act.

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 varied from $67.42 (EC$180) per week for full-time domestic workers to $166.10 (EC$443.50) per week for skilled workers. These provided a barely adequate living for a wage earner and family; many workers supplemented wages by keeping small animals such as goats and chickens. The Labor Commission undertook regular wage inspections and special investigations when it received complaints; it required employers found in violation to pay back wages. Workers who were laid off for more than 12 weeks received 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 was 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 were 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 had 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 were no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons.

An "economic citizenship" program allowed foreign investors to purchase passports through loosely monitored procedures involving an investment of at least $250,000 (EC$675,000) in real estate, plus a registration fee of $35,000 (EC$94,500) for the head of household (amounts vary for other family members). This program reportedly 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. The Government denied any knowledge of illegal immigration facilitated through this program and asserted that applicants were adequately screened.

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