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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Antigua and Barbuda

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Antigua and Barbuda, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3f38.html [accessed 1 September 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.
 

 

Antigua and Barbuda, a small two-island state, is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. A Prime Minister, a Cabinet, and a bicameral Legislative Assembly comprise the Government. A Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular Head of State, with largely ceremonial duties. Power passed peacefully from Prime Minister V.

C. Bird, Sr. to his son, Lester B. Bird, in general elections held in March. The Antigua Labour Party retained power by capturing 10 of 17 parliamentary seats, down from the 15 it held under V.

C. Bird's administration. The Governor General appoints the 15 Senators, 11 with the advice of the Prime Minister and 4 with the advice of the opposition leader.

Security forces consist of a police force and the small Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force. The police are organized, trained, and supervised according to British law enforcement practices, and have a reputation for respecting individual rights in the performance of their duties.

Antigua and Barbuda has a mixed economy with a strong private sector. Tourism, the most important source of foreign exchange earnings, improved during the year, due mainly to improved economic conditions in the United States and Europe. The country is burdened by a large and growing external debt which remains a serious economic problem. The Government announced a series of severe tax and other austerity measures for 1995 aimed at addressing the debt, prompting mounting but peaceful social protest.

Although the Government generally respects the constitutional provisions for political and civil rights, it restricts freedom of speech and the press in practice. The Government placed some restrictions on the opposition's freedom of assembly and access to government-controlled broadcast media in the 1994 election campaign, during which there were scattered acts of violence. Societal discrimination and violence against women continued to be problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment of prisoners or detainees, and the authorities generally respected these prohibitions in practice. A 1990 law allows flogging as a penalty for rape. The courts may also impose flogging on convicted child molesters, although there were no such instances in 1994.

Conditions at the lone 18th-century-vintage prison are primitive, and a 1930 law still governs treatment of prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government respects these provisions in practice. Criminal defendants have the right of judicial determination of the legality of their detention. The police must bring detainees before a court within 48 hours of arrest or detention. Opposition leaders claim the Government has developed a pattern of arresting suspects on Fridays and holding them until Tuesdays. Most of these cases involve youths suspected of narcotics violations.

There were no reports of involuntary exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system is part of the Eastern Caribbean legal system and reflects historical ties to the United Kingdom. The Queen's Privy Council is the final court of appeal, which is invariably employed in the case of death sentences. There are no military or political courts. The Constitution provides that criminal defendants receive a fair, open, and public trial. In capital cases only, the Government provides legal assistance at public expense to persons without the means to retain a private attorney. There are no political prisoners.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and there were no reports of arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. The police must obtain a warrant from an officer of the court before searching private premises.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech, the press, and other forms of communications. The authorities generally respect these provisions in practice. However, the Government dominates the electronic media--the only daily source of news--and effectively denies equal access to opposition parties. The Government owns one of the two radio stations and the single television station. One of the Prime Minister's brothers owns the second radio station, and another brother is the principal owner of the sole cable television company. The government-controlled media reported regularly on the Government's and the ruling party's activities during the election campaign, but granted only very limited access to the opposition parties.

Political opposition parties and private sector organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce publish several weekly newspapers which offer a variety of opinions without government interference.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The police normally issued the required permits for public meetings. However, during the 1994 political campaign, opposition leaders claimed police routinely denied permits for rallies on political grounds. The police contend that delays and refusals in issuing permits were intended to avert violent confrontations. While the authorities placed some restrictions on demonstrations, the opposition was able to stage numerous public meetings, rallies, and other events with little interference.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and all groups are free to maintain links with coreligionists in other countries.

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

Neither law nor practice restricts the right of citizens to move about within the country, to travel abroad, or to emigrate.

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

Antigua and Barbuda has a multiparty political system accommodating a wide spectrum of political viewpoints. All citizens 18 years of age and older may register and vote by secret ballot. The Constitution requires general elections at least every 5 years. The law obligates the Government to hold voter registration during a fixed period each year, and parties conduct their own registration drives free of government interference. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) won the March 8 election for the fourth consecutive time, although party leadership passed from outgoing Prime Minister V.

C. Bird to his son, Lester B. Bird. The ALP won 10 of 17 seats, less than its previous 15 to 2 majority.

Except for a period of opposition from 1971 to 1976, the ALP has held power continuously from 1951. The opposition has charged that the ALP's longstanding monopoly on patronage and its influence over access to economic opportunities make it extremely difficult for opposition parties to attract membership and financial support. In 1992 public concern over corruption in government spawned the merger of three opposition political parties into the United Progressive Party (UPP). The UPP succeeded in increasing its representation to seven seats from five during the election.

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 have formed to date. There were no requests for human rights investigations or inquiries during the year.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, creed, language, or social status, and the Government generally observed its provisions.

Women

While the role of women in society is not legally restricted, tradition tends to limit women to home and family, particularly in rural areas, and to restrict their career options. To change these traditional roles, the Government began programs to provide enhanced educational opportunities for both sexes, as well as family planning services. The Directorate of Women's Affairs (previously the Women's Desk) worked energetically, with some success, to help women advance in government and the professions, but progress was slower in the private sector.

Violence against women is a recognized social problem. It is treated as a matter of public conscience, and there are nongovernmental social welfare groups focused on the problem. Knowledgeable sources believe that over 2,000 incidents of physical and mental violence occurred. Women in many cases are reluctant to testify against their abusers. Police generally refrain from intervening in cases of domestic violence, and some women have credibly charged that the courts are lenient in such cases.

Children

Child abuse remains a hidden problem. While the Government repeatedly expressed its commitment to children's rights, no significant efforts were made to protect those rights in practice, and abuse tends to go unpunished.

People with Disabilities

There are no specific laws mandating accessibility for the disabled, but there are constitutional provisions that prohibit discrimination against the physically disabled in employment and education. There is no evidence of widespread discrimination against physically disabled individuals, although the Government does not visibly enforce the constitutional antidiscrimination provisions.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to associate freely and to form labor unions, and the authorities generally respect these rights in practice. Although fewer than 50 percent of workers belong to unions, the important hotel industry is heavily unionized. Antigua and Barbuda has two major trade unions: the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (ATLU) and the Antigua Workers' Union (AWU). The ATLU is associated with the ruling ALP, while the larger and more active AWU is rather loosely allied with the opposition.

The Labor Code recognizes the right to strike, but the Court of Industrial Relations may limit this right in a given dispute. Once either party to a dispute requests the court to mediate, there can be no strike. Because of the delays associated with this process, unions often resolve labor disputes before a strike is called. There was a 7-hour strike by the association of gasoline retailers, which ended when the Government agreed to rescind a proposed 15-percent excise tax increase on gasoline.

Unions are free to affiliate with international labor organizations and do so in practice.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor organizations are free to organize and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and there were no reports that it occurred. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are not required to rehire employees fired for union activities, but must pay full severance pay and full wages lost by the employee from the time of firing until the determination of employer fault. There are no areas of the country where union organization or collective bargaining is discouraged or impeded.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution forbids slavery and forced labor, and they do not exist in practice.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law stipulates a minimum working age of 13, which is respected in practice. The Ministry of Labour, which is required by law to conduct periodic inspections of workplaces, has responsibility for enforcement. There have been no reports of minimum age employment violations. The political strength of the two major unions and the powerful influence of the Government on the private sector combine to make the Ministry of Labour very effective in enforcement in this area.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law established minimum wages for various work categories in 1981. The lowest minimum wage, for domestic workers, is $0.46 (EC$1.25) per hour; the highest minimum wage, for skilled labor, is $1.30 (EC$3.50) per hour. Most minimum wages would not provide a decent standard of living for workers and their families, but in practice the great majority of workers earn substantially more than the minimum wage.

The law permits a maximum 48-hour, 6-day workweek, but in practice the standard workweek is 40 hours in 5 days. The law provides workers a minimum of 3 weeks of annual leave and up to 13 weeks of maternity leave.

There are no occupational health and safety laws or regulations; thus there is no provision for a worker to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.

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