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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Saint Lucia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 25 February 2004
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Saint Lucia , 25 February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/403f57cdc.html [accessed 22 July 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
February 25, 2004

Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor General, who has some residual powers under the Constitution that can be used at the Governor's General's discretion. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet, which represent the majority party in the bicameral Parliament, exercised most of the power. In generally free and fair elections in 2001, Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony's Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) retained power, winning 14 seats in the 17-member House of Assembly. The judiciary is independent.

The Royal Saint Lucia Police is the only security force and includes a small unit called the Special Services Unit (which had some paramilitary training) and a coast guard unit. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. There were occasional allegations that members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

The country's market-based economy depended upon tourism and banana exports as the principal sources of foreign exchange. The population was approximately 160,000. Although economic growth declined in 2001 and 2002, it improved during the year. Revenue from tourism (the sector that held the most potential for economic growth) increased by 4.7 percent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2002. In 2002, the real economic growth rate was 0.1 percent and the rate of inflation was negative 0.2 percent; unemployment in 2001 was 18.9 percent.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. There were some allegations of physical abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police; long delays in trials and sentencing, domestic violence against women, and child abuse also were problems.

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 or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

The Government concluded its investigation into the 2000 killing by police of escaped prisoner Alfred Harding. A court acquitted the police officer due to lack of evidence.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Although no official complaints were filed, prisoners and suspects complained of physical abuse by police and prison officers.

Prison conditions generally met international standards at the new Bordelais prison, which has a capacity for 500 prisoners. In August, it housed 460 prisoners, and the Government had filled 125 of a total of about 150 staff positions. It has separate facilities for females, young offenders, and those awaiting trial. It also has space set aside for rehabilitation programs and a magistrate's courtroom, although training and rehabilitation programs have not yet started due to the staffing shortage.

In August, eight female prisoners were housed at Bordelais. A boys' training school housed juveniles between 12 and 18 years of age; it operated separately from the prison.

The Government permitted prison visits by human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and requires a court hearing 72 hours after detention, and the Government generally adhered to these provisions in practice.

In 2002, the police force, with assistance from a team of British experts, prepared a 5-year plan, which included community-based policing, crime prevention, increased professionalization, and attention to complaint investigation and internal review. During the year, the Police Commissioner launched the community policing initiative and increased the level of professional and customer service training. Police mobility was enhanced when the South Korean Government donated 15 new vehicles. As of August, the police force had 800 officers, with 50 more in training.

There was no constitutional requirement for a speedy trial, but every Wednesday the Government used the magistrate's court located in the new prison to reduce processing time for court hearings after detention. Those charged with serious crimes spent an estimated 6 months to 1 year on remand; however, those charged with petty offenses often received speedy trials, particularly if victims or witnesses were likely to leave the island.

The Government did not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.

There are two levels of courts, which are the Courts of Summary Jurisdiction (Magistrate's Courts) and the High Court. Both levels have civil and criminal authority. The lower courts accept civil claims up to about $1,850 (EC$5,000) 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. Cases also may be appealed to the Privy Council in London as the final court of appeal.

The Constitution requires public trials before an independent and impartial court and, in cases involving capital punishment, provision of legal counsel for those who cannot afford a defense attorney. In criminal cases not involving capital punishment, defendants must obtain their own legal counsel. Defendants are entitled to select their own legal counsel, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and have the right of appeal. The authorities observed both constitutional and statutory requirements for fair public trials.

The court system continued to face a serious backlog of cases. The Government has hired five new magistrates since 2001 for a total of nine. The average time for a trial was 3 to 6 months in the magistrate's courts and 6 to 12 months for criminal cases.

Unlike previous years, there were no reports of incidents of vigilante justice.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such actions, and government authorities generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

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.

There were five major privately owned newspapers, two privately owned radio stations, one partially government-funded radio station, one government-operated television station that began operating in October, and two private television stations. These media carried a spectrum of political opinion and often were critical of the Government. The radio stations' discussion and call-in programs allowed persons to express their views. The two private television stations also covered a wide range of views. In addition, there was subscription cable television service, which provided programming from a variety of sources, such as CNN and the BBC.

In November, the Parliament passed a controversial Criminal Code that included a section on "spreading false news." It states that any person who publishes a statement that he or she knows is false or that causes or is likely to cause injury to a public interest could be imprisoned for up to 2 years. At year's end, no journalists had been convicted under this law, but local media outlets and the opposition party voiced their disagreement with the clause. The Association of Caribbean Media Workers also criticized the law.

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 freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.

The law requires permits for public meetings and demonstrations if they are to be held in public places, such as on streets or sidewalks or in parks. The police routinely granted such permits; the rare refusal generally stemmed from the failure of organizers to request the permit in a timely manner, normally 72 hours before the event.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

On May 2, a court found the two Rastafarians who attacked parishioners at a Catholic Mass in December 2000 guilty of murder and arson and sentenced them to hang.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 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. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement, but did not routinely grant refugee status or asylum.

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 held on the basis of universal suffrage. Citizens last exercised that right in generally free and fair elections on December 3, 2001, when Prime Minister Anthony's SLP defeated the United Workers Party (UWP), led by Morella Joseph. The SLP won 14 of 17 seats and the UWP won 3. The other opposition parties – the National Alliance, led by former SLP Foreign Minister George Odlum; the STAFF (Sou Tout Apwe Fete Fini) Party; and the St. Lucia Freedom Party – did not win any seats. The SLP capitalized on the failure of the opposition forces to unite in a national coalition due to a leadership struggle between Odlum and Sir John Compton, founder of the UWP and a former Prime Minister. Only 52 percent of those eligible voted, and the SLP won 55 percent of the popular vote.

Under the Constitution, general elections must be held at least every 5 years by secret ballot, but may be held earlier at the discretion of the government in power. The Governor General appoints the 11-member Senate, which includes 2 independents. Popularly elected local governments in the 10 administrative divisions (towns and villages) perform such tasks as regulation of sanitation and markets and maintenance of cemeteries and secondary roads.

There were no legal impediments to participation by women and minorities in government and politics, and 8 women competed in the 2001 elections in a field of 45 candidates for 17 positions. Voters elected two women to the House of Assembly, and there were four appointed female Senators. Two of the 13 members of the Cabinet were women, as was the Governor General.

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

The Government generally did not restrict international or nongovernmental investigations of alleged violations of human rights. Although the Government officially cooperated with such investigations, observers noted occasional reluctance by lower officials to cooperate.

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

Neither the Constitution nor the law address discrimination specifically; however, government policy was nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement.

Women

Violence against women was recognized as a serious problem. The Government prosecuted crimes of violence against women only when the victim pressed charges. Most charges involving domestic violence must be brought under the ordinary Civil Code, but rape and other crimes were subject to the Criminal Code. A family court heard cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children. The police force conducted some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women. In 2002, the police established a special unit to deal with domestic violence; the sole female sergeant in this section worked closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Gender Affairs. As of September, she reported 31 cases of domestic violence for the year. The victims were 29 women and 2 men. Most of the cases were referred to a counselor, and the police facilitated the acquisition of court protection orders for some. Police and courts enforced laws to protect women against abuse, although police were hesitant to intervene in domestic disputes, and many victims were reluctant to report cases of domestic violence and rape or to press charges.

The Domestic Violence Act allows a judge to issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the place where the victim is. It also allows the judge to order that an abuser's name be removed from housing leases or rental agreements, with the effect that the abuser no longer would have the right to live in the same residence as the victim.

The Saint Lucia Crisis Center for Women, a nongovernmental organization located in Castries, monitored cases of physical and emotional abuse and helped clients to deal with such problems as incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights. As of August, the Crisis Center reported 35 cases of domestic violence, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse. During the year, the Women's Support Center, a government shelter for abused persons, received 105 crisis calls and offered residential services to 24 clients and 27 children. The center also engaged in an active community outreach program that included visits to schools, health centers, and community centers.

Women's affairs were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Gender Affairs. The Ministry was responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including ensuring equal treatment in employment.

Children

The Government gave high priority to improving educational opportunities and health care for children. Education was compulsory from age 5 through 15; registration fees were required. Approximately one-third of primary school children continued on to secondary schools, and the dropout rate from primary to secondary school was higher for boys than for girls. Government clinics provided prenatal care, immunization, child health care, and health education services.

The Saint Lucia Crisis Center reported that the incidence of child abuse remained relatively high; it received 13 new cases involving child abuse as of August. The St. Lucia Save the Children Fund (LUSAVE) reported receiving an average of three calls per day from abused children and documented numerous incidences of children as young as 10 giving birth as a result of sexual abuse. LUSAVE also claimed to have evidence of child pornography, including the rape of minors recorded on video for sale. As there was no welfare system in place, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for financial contributions toward the welfare of any babies born of such abuse.

Persons with Disabilities

No specific legislation protects the rights of persons with disabilities or mandates provision of access to buildings or government services for them. Several government buildings added 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 for the blind up to the secondary level. There also was a school for persons with mental disabilities. Several blind persons worked at banks.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution specifies the right of workers to form or belong to trade unions under the broader rubric of the right of association. Most public sector employees and about 36 percent of the total work force was unionized. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination by employers, and there were effective mechanisms for resolving complaints. The law also requires that employers reinstate workers fired for union activities.

Unions were independent of government control and were free to choose their own representatives. Union elections were often vigorously contested. There were no restrictions on the formation of national labor federations. Several of the major unions belonged to an umbrella grouping called the Industrial Solidarity Pact that dealt with certain political matters.

Unions were free to affiliate with international organizations, and some did so.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they fully exercised this right in practice. The Registration of Trade Unions and Employer Organizations Act regulates internal union governance. It also provides that an employer must recognize a union if the union obtains the support of 50 percent plus one of the employees at a particular business. Since the act entered into effect in January 2000, it resulted in increased organizational activity by unions. There were three major unions – the National Workers Union; the Civil Service Association; and the Seamen, Waterfront, and General Workers Union – plus specialized unions for nurses and teachers.

Strikes in both the public and private sectors were legal, but there were many avenues through collective bargaining agreements and government procedures that often precluded a strike. The law prohibits members of the police and fire departments from striking. Other "essential services" workers – water and sewer authority workers, electric utility workers, nurses, and doctors – must give 30 days' notice before striking.

Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones (EPZs), and there were no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones. Although many firms resisted union efforts to organize in the EPZs, the new registration law appeared to have a positive influence on organizing efforts.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The Government prohibits forced or bonded labor, and it was not known to occur. While there is no specific prohibition of forced or bonded labor by children, there were no reports of such practices.

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

Minors were protected legally from economic exploitation by several legislative acts, including the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act, which provides for a minimum legal working age of 14 years. The Government was in the process of updating the Labor Code to set the minimum legal working age at 16 years. At year's end, a draft was submitted to the legislature and a vote was pending. The minimum legal working age for industrial work is 18 years. Child labor existed to some degree in the rural areas, primarily where larger, stronger, school-age children helped harvest bananas from family trees. Children also typically worked in urban food stalls or sold confectionery on sidewalks. However, these activities occurred 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 1938 child labor laws, which were being updated, were $3.55 (EC$9.60) for a first offense and $8.88 (EC$24) 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 $111 (EC$300), for shop assistants $74 (EC$200), and for messengers $59 (EC$160). The minimum wage was not sufficient to 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. The 1999 Minimum Wage Act established a commission responsible for setting a minimum wage level; it met during the year but had not finished its work by year's end.

There is no legislated workweek, although the common practice was to work 40 hours in 5 days. Special legislation covers hours that shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and persons in industrial establishments may work.

Occupational health and safety regulations were relatively well developed; however, there was only one qualified inspector for the entire country, although the other nine inspectors included some review of health and safety conditions in their general inspections. 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 were free to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.

f. Trafficking in Persons

No laws specifically address trafficking in persons. There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

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