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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Barbados

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Barbados, 30 January 1998, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
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, January 30, 1998.


Barbados, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, is a constitutional democracy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. The Queen is head of state and is represented by an appointed Governor General. Prime Minister Owen Arthur is the head of government and governs with an appointed cabinet. The judiciary is independent.

The Royal Barbados Police Force is charged with maintaining public order. The small volunteer Barbados Defence Force (BDF), responsible for national security, can be employed to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific need. In response to increased crime in tourist areas, the BDF has assisted the police since 1993 by patrolling beaches. On the whole, the police respected constitutional and legal provisions protecting human rights, but there continued to be infrequent reports of abuses by police.

The economy is based on tourism, services, light manufacturing, and agriculture, which makes it vulnerable to external economic developments. Per capita gross domestic product exceeds $7,000. Barbados has experienced a continued strong recovery after a recession in the early 1990's. In 1997 the economy was expected to grow approximately 3.5 percent, based primarily on increases in tourism.

Citizens enjoy a wide range of rights and freedoms, and the Government respects constitutional provisions regarding human rights. Principal human rights problems continued to be societal violence against women and children and occasional instances of excessive use of force by police.


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 politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution specifically prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. However, the Caribbean Human Rights Network and the local press reported numerous allegations of coerced confessions. There continued

to be credible reports that law enforcement officials sometimes used force during detention to extract confessions from detainees. There also was an allegation that police abducted a homeless carwasher, took him to a field, and shot him in the back. The authorities suspended four officers in connection with this incident and brought charges against two of them. The criminal case was pending before the courts at year?s end.

Police procedures provide that the police may question suspects and other persons they hold only at a police station, except when expressly permitted by a senior divisional officer. An officer must visit detainees at least once every 3 hours to inquire about the detainees' condition. After 24 hours, the detaining authority must submit a written report to the deputy commissioner. The authorities must approve and record all movements of detainees between stations. The Caribbean Human Rights Network is satisfied that the authorities generally adhere to these basic principles, although officials occasionally used excessive force.

Barbados is in the forefront of an initiative to standardize police procedures throughout the English-speaking Caribbean region. The authorities issued firearms to special units and some foot patrols in high-crime areas in response to the 1993 shooting death of a policeman and a rise in gun- and drug-

related crime. Aside from this development, the police force is still mainly unarmed, in keeping with its British traditions.

The only prison is antiquated and overcrowded, with over 800 inmates in a structure built for 350 inmates. The Caribbean Human Rights Network has publicly urged the establishment of a detention and rehabilitation center for youths and first offenders. To reduce overcrowding, magistrates have begun to make use of alternatives to incarceration, such as community service work.

The Government allows private groups to visit prisons to ascertain conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and requires detainees to be brought before a court of law within 72 hours of arrest. The Government generally respects these provisions in practice. Criminal defendants have the right to counsel, and attorneys have ready access to their clients.

The authorities do not use exile as a punishment or means of political control.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is free of intervention by other branches of government.

The judiciary includes the Supreme Court, which consists of the high court and court of appeal. The Governor General, after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, appoints the Chief Justice. Other judges who make up the court are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. Judges serve until the age of 65.

The Constitution provides that persons charged with criminal offenses be given a fair public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court, and the Government respects this right in practice. The judicial system provides for the right of due process at each level. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. The Government provides free legal aid to the indigent with the exception of a 1,300 pounds sterling cap on expenses incurred for appeals by death row prisoners to the Privy Council in London. Two inmates have challenged this limit and are suing the Government on the grounds that it effectively deprives them of their right to due process.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary entry, search, or seizure, and the law requires warrants to be issued before privately owned property may be entered and searched.

The Government does not routinely interfere in the private lives of its citizens. Nonetheless, there continued to be credible reports that, in response to increased drug-related crime, the police resorted to searches of homes in certain neighborhoods, sometimes without warrants. The Government does not censor mail. However, the Government restricts the receipt of foreign publications deemed to be pornographic. Other foreign publications of a nonprurient nature are allowed without restriction.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the authorities respect these rights in practice. There are two independent daily newspapers, both of which present opposition political views. The Government regularly comes under attack in the newspapers and on daily call-in radio programs. There are five radio stations, two of which are owned by the Government. The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television service (the only television source, excluding direct satellite reception) is government owned. Although CBC is a state enterprise, it regularly reported views opposing government policies. Critics allege that the Government sometimes uses its influence to discourage media reporting on sensitive issues, but the press remained vigorously critical of the Government on a broad span of issues. The Government prohibits the production of pornographic materials.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government observes the constitutional provisions for peaceful assembly and private association in practice. Political parties, trade unions, and private organizations function and hold meetings and rallies without hindrance.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

Citizens and legal residents move freely within Barbados and leave and enter the country without restriction.

The Government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees, asylees, or first asylum. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status. However, government practice remains undefined.

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

Citizens have this right in law and exercise it in practice. Political parties freely compete in fair elections by secret ballot at least every 5 years. In the most recent election in September 1994, the Barbados Labour Party won a decisive victory, gaining a 19-to-8 majority over the Democratic Labour Party. The National Democratic Party won one seat, its first ever in Parliament. There are no impediments to participation in the political process, and all citizens over age 18 may vote. The Prime Minister exercises executive power along with the Cabinet of Ministers he appoints, balanced by the bicameral Parliament and the judicial system.

Women are well represented at all levels of government and politics. The Deputy Prime Minister is a woman (she also serves concurrently as Foreign Minister), and the Ministries of Health and Education are also headed by women.

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

Local groups involved with human rights operate freely and without government hindrance. The Caribbean Human Rights Network, a Caribbean-wide human rights organization which has its headquarters and a small staff in Barbados, investigates and reports on allegations of human rights violations throughout the region.

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

The Constitution provides for equal treatment under the law, regardless of race, religion, or sex. The Government respects these rights in practice.


Violence against women and children continued to be a significant social problem. Women's rights groups reported that the known incidence of sexual assaults, domestic violence, incest, and rape increased, despite the fact that there is still some reluctance on the part of victims to report such incidents. There are public and private counseling services for domestic violence, rape, suicide, and child abuse.

The 1992 Domestic Violence Law specifies the appropriate police response to domestic violence, intended to protect all members of the family, including men and children. It applies equally to marriages and to common law relationships. Criminal penalties for violent crimes are the same, regardless of the sex of the offender or the victim. The courts heard a number of cases of domestic violence against women involving assault or wounding. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issue. The courts can sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order. Human rights monitors continued to criticize the inconsistency in sentencing for rape, incest, and statutory rape, which is often left to the discretion of the judge. They noted that the lack of sentencing guidelines resulted in longer sentences for persons convicted of petty theft than for incest; and lesser sentences for incest than for rape or sexual assault of nonfamily members.

Women actively participate in all aspects of national life and are well-represented at all levels of both the public and private sectors. They form a large percentage of heads of household and are not discriminated against in public housing or other social welfare programs.


The Government is committed to children's human rights and welfare, although violence against children remains a serious problem. The Child Care Board is the key agency responsible for monitoring and responding to the critical welfare needs, interests, and rights of children.

People With Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against the physically disabled in employment, education, or the provision of other state services. The Labor Department, which is responsible for finding jobs for the disabled, unsuccessfully advocated the introduction of such legislation in the 1980's. Similarly, there is no legislation mandating provision of accessibility to public thoroughfares or public or private buildings. Interest groups have lobbied for this type of legislation from time to time, but without success.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers freely exercise their right to form and belong to trade unions and to strike. There are two major unions and several smaller ones, representing various sectors. The public service union, the National Union of Public Workers, is independent of any political party or the Government. The largest union, the Barbados Workers' Union (BWU), was historically closely associated with the Barbados Labour Party prior to 1954. After 1954, officers of the BWU became personally associated with the Democratic Labour Party. A new Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations was inaugurated in August 1995. Most unions belong to this organization.

The law accords full protection to trade unionists' personal and property rights. Another law prohibits strikes against public utilities. All private and public sector employees are permitted to strike, but essential workers may strike only under certain circumstances and after following prescribed procedures. There were no major strikes or long-term work stoppages during the year.

Trade unions are free to form federations and are affiliated with a variety of regional and international labor organizations. The Caribbean Congress of Labor has its headquarters in Barbados.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, and authorities respected it in practice. Despite recent modest increases in union membership, job losses in traditional sectors of the economy have reduced overall union membership to approximately 30 percent of the working population. Normally, wages and working conditions are negotiated through the collective bargaining process, but a tripartite prices and incomes policy accord signed in the summer of 1993 established a 2-year wage freeze. The revised (second) protocol contained provisions for negotiated increases in basic wages and increases based on productivity. The new accord covered 1995-97.

Employers have no legal obligation to recognize unions under the Trade Union Act of 1964, but most do so when a significant percentage of their employees signify a desire to be represented by a registered union. While there is no specific law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, the courts provide a method of redress for employees alleging unfair dismissal. The courts commonly award monetary compensation but rarely order reemployment.

There are no manufacturing or special areas where collective bargaining rights are legally or administratively impaired. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced, compulsory, or bonded labor, including that by children, and there were no reports of its use.

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

The legal minimum working age of 16 is broadly observed. Compulsory primary and secondary education policies, which require school attendance until age 16, reinforce minimum age requirements. The law prohibits forced or bonded labor by children, and the authorities effectively enforce it (see Section 6.c.). The Labor Department has a small cadre of labor inspectors who conduct spot investigations of enterprises and check records to verify compliance with the law. These inspectors may take legal action against an employer who is found to have underage workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets and the authorities establish minimum wages for specified categories of workers. Only two categories of workers have a formally regulated minimum wage--household domestics and shop assistants (entry level commercial workers). Household domestics receive a minimum wage of about $0.75 (bds $1.50) per hour, although in actual labor market conditions, the prevailing wage is almost double that amount. There are two age-related minimum wage categories for shop assistants. The adult minimum wage for shop assistants was raised by 13 percent in June, to $2.13 (bds $4.25) per hour; the juvenile minimum wage for shop assistants is $1.62 (bds $3.25) per hour.

The minimum wage for shop assistants is marginally sufficient to meet minimum living standards; most employees earn more. In 1992 an International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts (COE) cited Barbados for not adhering to the ILO convention on equal remuneration in its wage differentials in the sugar industry. The COE admonished the Government to ensure application of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value to male and female workers in the sugar industry or to provide further information on job descriptions which might justify such wage distinction. This case was not resolved by year's end.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in 5 days, and the law requires overtime payment for hours worked in excess. Barbados accepts ILO conventions, standards, and other sectoral conventions regarding maximum hours of work. However, there is no general legislation that covers all occupations. Employers must provide workers a minimum of 3 weeks' annual leave. Unemployment benefits and national insurance (social security) cover all workers. A comprehensive, government-sponsored health program offers subsidized treatment and medication.

The Factories Act of 1983 sets out the officially recognized occupational safety and health standards. The Labor Department enforces health and safety standards and follows up to ensure that problems cited are corrected by management. The Factories Act also requires that in certain sectors firms employing more than 50 workers set up a safety committee. This committee can challenge the decisions of management concerning the occupational safety and health environment. Trade unions have called on the Government to increase the number of factory inspectors in order to enforce existing and proposed safety and health legislation more effectively, and to follow up to ensure that problems cited are corrected by management. Government-operated corporations in particular were accused of doing a "poor job" in health and safety. The Government has promised to undertake inspections of government-operated corporations and manufacturing plants as a priority. Workers have a limited right to remove themselves from dangerous or hazardous job situations without jeopardizing their continued employment.

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