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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Barbados

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Barbados, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 26 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.

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; she is represented by an appointed Governor General. The Prime Minister is the Head of Government and governs with an appointed Cabinet. National elections, which were last held in January 1991, were contested by two major political parties, an offshoot of the government party, and several independent candidates. Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford, leader of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), was reelected at that time for a maximum 5-year term.

The Royal Barbados Police Force is charged with maintaining public order. The small volunteer Barbados Defense Force, responsible for national security, can be employed to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific need. The Defense Force assisted the police by patrolling certain tourist areas in response to a major increase of crime. On the whole, the police respected constitutional and legal guarantees of human rights, but there were incidents of police use of excessive force.

The country's economy is based on agriculture, tourism, light manufacturing, and services, which makes it vulnerable to external economic developments. Per capita gross domestic product exceeds $5,000 per year. An International Monetary Fund 18-month stabilization program ended in May. It included layoffs of public sector employees, an 8-percent public sector wage cut, divestment of various state-owned enterprises, tax increases, and other means of increasing revenue and easing serious balance of payments difficulties. The reductions in government social spending affected thousands of Barbadians, but political tension and social unrest decreased in 1993 from the levels witnessed in 1992.

Barbados has a long record of generally respecting human rights, and there was no significant change in that record during 1993. Nonetheless, reports of human rights abuse included excessive use of force by police and a significant level of societal violence against women and children.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political killings are nonexistent in Barbados.

The only allegations of extrajudicial killings involved the case of three young men – Ezra White, Ronald Codrington, and Devere Headley – who died as a a result of a June shootout with police. An official police investigation was conducted, and initial reports suggested that the police responded appropriately. The men were reported to be well-known criminals involved in a number of assaults with guns and they apparently initiated the exchange of fire which led to their deaths.

In the case of Ryan Jordan, a 17-year-old who died in police custody in April 1992, Amnesty International called on Barbadian officials to initiate an impartial investigation and prosecute those responsible. The coroner's inquest in the case has not been completed. Local human rights monitors believe that, although Jordan may have suffered injuries not caused by the police, the police may have beat him as well, contributing to his death.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance.

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 local press reported that a very high percentage of convictions are based on confessions in Barbados. There continued to be credible reports that brutality by law enforcement officials during detention is sometimes used to extract confessions.

After several publicized reports of police extracting forced confessions and beating suspects in 1992, the Commissioner of Police condemned "the use of unauthorized force" by police officers. He initiated new procedures which provide that suspects and other persons held by the police can be questioned only at a police station, except when expressly permitted by a senior divisional officer. An officer must visit a detainee at least once every 3 hours to inquire about the detainee's condition. After 24 hours, a written report must be submitted to the Deputy Commissioner. All movements of the detainee between stations must be approved and recorded.

Barbados is in the forefront of an initiative to standardize police procedures throughout the English-speaking Caribbean region. However, contrary to the unarmed tradition of the police force – in response to the shooting death of a policeman and the rise in gun- and drug-related crime special units and some foot patrols were issued firearms in 1993.

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. These provisions are generally respected in practice. New rules of guidance set out in mid-1992 by the Police Commissioner specify methods of detention, means of reporting such, and disclosure of the condition of the detainee to senior police officers. Criminal defendants have the right to counsel, and attorneys have ready access to their clients.

Exile is not used as a punishment or means of political control.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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. The judicial system provides for rights of due process at each level. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The Government provides free legal aid to the indigent. The judiciary acts independently and is free of intervention from other branches of government. Criticizing the Government is not a political offense, and there are no political prisoners.

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

The Government does not routinely interfere in the private lives of its citizens. 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. 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 in Barbados, sometimes without a warrant. The Government neither censors mail nor restricts the receipt of foreign correspondence or publications.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and these rights are respected in practice. There are five radio stations, two of which are owned by the Government. Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television service (the only television source, excluding direct satellite reception) is government-owned. Though CBC is a state enterprise, views opposing government policies are regularly reported. Opposition political figures occasionally claim their positions are given little attention. This allegation has been made over the years regardless of which party controls the Government. 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. Although critics allege that the Government sometimes uses its influence to discourage media from reporting on sensitive issues, the press remained vigorously critical of Government on a broad span of issues.

Barbados is the site of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies; academicians across the political spectrum express their views freely.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government observes the constitutional guarantees of peaceful assembly and private association. Permits required for public demonstrations continue to be routinely granted. Political parties, trade unions, and private organizations function and hold meetings and rallies without hindrance.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is full freedom of religion. While the Anglican and Methodist faiths have traditionally predominated, there are numerous other active religious denominations and organizations throughout the country, including Muslims and Rastafarians. Foreign missionaries of various faiths proselytize freely.

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.

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. There are no impediments to participation in the political process, and all Barbadians over age 18 may vote. The present Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government, in power since 1986, won the January 1991 parliamentary elections with a majority of 18 out of the 28 seats. (One DLP member resigned from the party in 1993 and remained in Parliament as an independent.) The main opposition party, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), won 10 seats. A Cabinet of ministers appointed by the Prime Minister exercises executive power, balanced by a bicameral Parliament and the judiciary system. Women are well represented at all but the uppermost levels of government and politics.

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

Local groups involved with human rights matters operate freely and without government hindrance. Caribbean Rights, a Caribbean-wide human rights organization, has its headquarters and a small staff in Barbados, and it 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.


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

However, women's rights groups continued to single out violence against women and children as a significant social problem in Barbados. They reported that the incidence of sexual assaults, domestic violence, incest, and rape among family members 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, and applies to common law relationships as well as married people. Criminal penalties for violent crimes are the same, regardless of the sex of the offender or the victim. In cases of domestic violence, courts typically issue restraining orders if requested by the victim, the breach of which is punishable by a jail sentence. The courts heard a number of cases of domestic violence against women involving assault or wounding. Human rights monitors criticized the inconsistency in sentencing for rape, incest, and statutory rape, which is often left to the discretion of the judge. The lack of sentencing guidelines resulted in longer sentences being handed down for persons accused of petty theft than for incest; and lesser sentences for incest than for rape or sexual assault of nonfamily members.


The Government is committed to children's human rights and welfare. The Child Care Board is the key agency responsible for monitoring and responding to the critical welfare needs, interests, and rights of children. Recent incidents of statutory rape and child abuse have received greater press attention and more serious government denunciations than were typical in the 1980's. As noted above, local women's groups say that violence against children remains a serious problem.

People with Disabilities

There is neither local legislation nor regulations within the Labor Code which prohibit discrimination against the physically disabled in employment, education, or the provision of other state services. The Handicapped Section of the Labour Department, which is concerned with finding jobs for the disabled, unsuccessfully advocated the introduction of such legislation in the 1980's. Similarly, there is no legislation mandating provision of handicapped access to public thoroughfares or public or private buildings. However, there are interest groups that have lobbied for this type of legislation from time to time, but so far without success.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have the right to form and belong to trade unions and to strike, and they freely exercise these rights. There are two major unions and several smaller ones, representing various sectors of labor. The civil service union, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), is completely independent of any political party or the Government. The largest union, the Barbados Workers' Union (BWU), was historically closely associated with the governing Democratic Labour Party. However, in February Leroy Trotman, BWU General Secretary and president of the Caribbean Congress of Labor, resigned from the DLP while remaining in Parliament as an independent representative. Trotman resigned because of a perceived conflict between his role as union leader and his role as parliamentarian. The latter required him to support the Government's economic stabilization and austerity measures which were viewed as setting back union achievements and harming workers. Nevertheless, Trotman's deputy in the BWU remained a government backbencher in Parliament.

Trade unionists' personal and property rights are given full protection under law. Strikes are prohibited only in the water and electric utilities and among the security forces; all other private and public sector employees are permitted to strike.

There was less industrial action in 1993 than 1992, despite severe cutbacks in personnel in the private sector. In the public sector, wage cuts, layoffs, and efforts to privatize state-run enterprises continued. In the summer, public, private, and union sector leaders signed a tripartite wage policy accord that called for a 2-year wage freeze. Any increases in wages will be tied to productivity increases by particular workers or by particular enterprises. Some critics argued that the wage policy undermined the right of unions to bargain collectively because it forestalled any new companywide or industrywide negotiations for wage and benefit increases.

Trade unions are free to form federations and are in fact affiliated with a variety of regional and international labor organizations. The main regional labor organization, the Caribbean Congress of Labor, has its headquarters in Bridgetown and conducts many of its seminars and other programs in Barbados.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and to bargain collectively is provided by law and respected in practice. In 1992 over 25 percent of the working population was organized, but a major loss of jobs in the economy has resulted in a reduction in union membership. The BWU reported that it alone lost about 2,000 members in 1993 in the transport, private, and public sectors as a result of economic conditions. Normally, wages and working conditions are negotiated through the collective bargaining process, but this was influenced by the tripartite wage accord described above.

Employers have no legal obligation to recognize unions under the Trade Union Act of 1964, but most do so when a majority 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. Barbados has no specially designated export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by the Constitution and does not exist.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum working age of 16 is generally observed. Minimum age limitations are reinforced by compulsory primary and secondary education policies, which require school attendance until age 16. Occasionally, especially among migrant worker families, children assist in agricultural production during peak season. The Labour 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 are authorized to take legal action against an employer who is found to have underage workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages for specified categories of workers are administratively established and enforced by law. 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 $32.50 (bds $65.00) per week. There are two age-related minimum wage categories for shop assistants. The adult minimum wage for shop assistants is $1.87 (bds $3.75) per hour; the juvenile minimum wage for shop assistants is $1.62 (bds $3.25) per hour. Agricultural workers (i.e., sugar plantation workers) receive a minimum wage as a matter of practice, but such compensation is not found in legislation.

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 the 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 at year's end.

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

Under the Factories Act of 1983, which sets out the officially recognized occupational safety and health standards, the Department of Labour enforces health and safety standards and follows up to ensure that problems cited are corrected by management. Workers have a limited right to remove themselves from dangerous or hazardous job situations without jeopardizing their continued employment. The Factories Act 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. Recently, however, trade unions 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 promised to undertake inspections of government-run corporations and manufacturing plants as a priority.

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