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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Dominica

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 - Dominica, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3d28.html [accessed 22 August 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.
 

 

Dominica is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Dominica Freedom Party, led by Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, has been in office since 1980, having won reelection in 1985 and 1990 in free and fair elections. The Constitution calls for elections at least every 5 years; the next one is due by August 1995.

The Dominica Police is the only security force. It is controlled by and responsive to the democratically elected government.

Dominica's primarily agrarian economy depends on earnings from banana exports to the United Kingdom. The banana industry throughout the Windward Islands suffered a severe downturn in 1993-94, and tropical storm Debbie destroyed 15 percent of the island's banana trees in September. The Government is attempting to develop its tourist industry, to diversify agricultural production, and to promote exports of raw fruits, vegetables, and coconut products both within and outside the region.

Human rights are generally well respected in Dominica. In one case in which a policeman shot a man, the authorities suspended him pending trial for manslaughter.

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 killings.

However, during campaigning for a new chief of the Carib indigenous territory in June, a policeman shot and killed a man. The policeman said he was protecting himself and others, but witnesses claimed the shooting was unprovoked and stemmed from a lingering feud. The authorities reduced the charges to manslaughter, suspended the policeman, and released him on bail pending trial in 1995.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances or politically motivated abductions.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and there were no reports of such practices. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions continue to be problems in Dominica's only prison facility. The presiding High Court justice toured the prison in October and condemned the sanitation and living conditions. An addition to the prison is under construction. The prison provides work therapy, sports programs, educational opportunities, and counseling for inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law requires that police charge persons with a crime within 24 hours after arrest or detention, or release them from custody. This is honored in practice, except in rare cases in which, for example, persons cannot afford legal counsel.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for public trial before an independent, impartial court. Criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, are allowed legal counsel, and have the right to appeal. Courts provide free legal counsel to indigents only in capital cases.

There are no political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary entry, search, and seizure. The law requires search warrants. While there were no official reports of arbitrary government intrusions into the private lives of individuals, human rights monitors allege that the authorities often searched young men with little or no probable cause in drug-related inspections.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the right of free expression, and the Government respects this in practice. The political opposition openly criticizes the Government. Dominica's main radio station is state owned but offers ample access for citizens to express their views. There is also an independent radio station owned by the Catholic Church which broadcasts, although it has not yet been granted an official operating license.

Dominicans also enjoy good access to independent news sources through cable television and radio reception from neighboring islands. The print media consist of two private newspapers and political party journals; all publish without censorship or government interference.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government respects the constitutionally mandated freedoms of association and assembly and does not hinder opposition groups from holding political meetings or public demonstrations. Such meetings and gatherings were held frequently throughout the year.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for and the Government respects in practice the right of all citizens to worship freely.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the authorities respect them in practice. The Government may revoke passports if subversion is suspected but has not done so in recent times.

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

Dominica, independent since 1978, has a historical tradition of democracy and home rule. The Prime Minister and an appointed Cabinet exercise executive power. The law provides for elections by secret ballot to be held at least every 5 years, at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Indigenous Carib Indians participate in national political life and enjoy the same civil rights accorded other Dominican nationals. Although there are no impediments in law or in fact to the participation of women in leadership roles in government or political parties, Dominica has only one female Member of Parliament. The dearth of women in politics reflects socioeconomic prejudices that have relegated women in the eastern Caribbean to traditional employment and family roles.

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

There are no government restrictions on the formation of local human rights organizations, although no such groups exist. Several advocacy groups, such as the Association of Disabled People and a women's and children's self-help organization, operate freely and without government interference. There were no requests for investigations of human rights abuses from international or regional human rights groups during 1994.

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

The Constitution includes provisions against racial and sexual discrimination, which the authorities respect in practice.

Women

Beyond the general protection of the Constitution, women do not benefit from any specific civil rights legislation. There is little open discrimination, yet sexual harassment and domestic violence cases are common, and there is no family court to deal specifically with domestic issues. Both the police and the courts prosecute cases of rape and sexual assault, but there is no specific recourse for women who are abused by their husbands. Women can bring charges against husbands for battery, but there are no specific spousal abuse laws. The Welfare Department often provides assistance to victims of abuse by finding them temporary shelter, providing counseling to both parties, or recommending police action. The Welfare Department reports all cases of abuse to the police. The courts may issue protective orders, but the police do not consistently enforce them.

Property ownership continues to be deeded to "heads of households", who are usually males. When the husband head of household dies without a will, the wife cannot inherit the property or sell it, although she can live in it and pass it to her children. In the civil service, the law establishes fixed pay rates for specific jobs, whatever the gender of the incumbent. There is no law requiring equal pay for equal work for private sector workers.

Children

Various laws enumerate children's rights in Dominica. Reported cases of child abuse increased from 127 in 1990 to 252 in 1993; the Government has not responded with any increase in the number of social workers assigned to handle such cases. Although the maximum sentence for sexual molestation (rape, incest) is life imprisonment, the normal sentence given is 15 years except in the case of murder. During 1992 the age of consent to sexual relations was raised from 14 to 16.

Indigenous People

There is a significant Carib Indian population in Dominica, estimated at 3,000 out of a total population of 72,000. Most live on a 3,700-acre reservation created in 1903. School, water, and health facilities available on the Carib reservation are similar to those available to other rural Dominicans.

People with Disabilities

Beyond the general protection of the Constitution, there is no specific legislation dealing with the disabled. There is no requirement mandating access for those with disabilities.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

All workers have the legal right to organize, to choose their representatives, and to strike, but unions represent less than 10 percent of the work force. All unions are independent of the Government. While there are no direct ties, members of certain political parties dominate some unions. There was a major strike by taxi and bus workers in April 1994. There is no restriction on forming labor federations, and unions are affiliated with various international labor bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions have legally defined rights to organize workers and to bargain with employers. Collective bargaining is widespread in the nonagricultural sectors of the economy, including the government service, and there is also recourse to mediation and arbitration by the Government. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and judicial and police authorities enforce union rights. In addition, employers must reinstate workers fired for union activities. It is legally compulsory for employers to recognize unions as bargaining agents once both parties have followed appropriate procedures. Department of Labour inspectors under the supervision of the Labour Commissioner enforce labor legislation, but the small Labour Inspection Office lacks qualified personnel to carry out its duties.

Labor regulations and practice governing Dominica's industrial areas and other export firms do not differ from those prevailing in the rest of the economy.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it does not exist.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum legal age for employment is 15 years. Employers generally observe this law without government enforcement.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets minimum wages for various categories of workers. These were last revised in November 1989. The minimum wage rate for most categories of workers is $0.56 (EC$1.50) per hour, but for domestic servants it is $0.37 (EC$1.00) per hour if meals are included, and $0.46 (EC$1.25) per hour if meals are not included. The minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a household. However, most workers (including domestics) earn more than the legislated minimum wage.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in 5 days. The law provides for a minimum of 2 weeks' paid vacation. The Employment Safety Act provides occupational health and safety regulation. Local nongovernmental organizations and one major union consider it to be consistent with international standards. The Advisory Committee on Safety and Health is an established body but has never met. The rarely used enforcement mechanism consists of inspections by the Department of Labour, which can and does prescribe specific compliance measures, impose fines, and prosecute offenders. Workers have to right to remove themselves from unsafe work environments without jeopardy to continued employment.

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