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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - St Lucia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - St Lucia, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa2312.html [accessed 12 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.
SAINT LUCIA

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

St. Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Government comprises a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislative assembly. A Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In an intraparty transfer of power in March, John Compton of the United Workers Party (UWP) stepped down as Prime Minister and party leader in favor of Dr. Vaughan Lewis. (Compton had served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1979, and from 1982 until his resignation.) The UWP holds 12 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly.

The Royal Saint Lucia Police is the only security force and includes a small unit called the Special Services Unit (which has some paramilitary training) and a coast guard unit. Although the police have traditionally demonstrated a high degree of respect for human rights, there were allegations of abuse by police and prison officials.

The economy is based on tourism and on the export of bananas, which represent the principal sources of foreign exchange earnings. Saint Lucia is diversifying its economy into other types of agriculture, light manufacturing, and construction. Unemployment, estimated at 20 percent, remains a source of potential instability.

The authorities generally respected human rights. Government criticism of the media, occasional credible allegations of physical abuse of suspects or prisoners, poor prison conditions, domestic violence against women, child abuse, and a lack of effective government children's rights programs 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 politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution specifically prohibits torture, and there were no reports of such abuse. However, many criminal convictions in recent years have been based on confessions, which may reflect an effort by police to force confessions rather than use investigative approaches.

Poor prison conditions stem from a lack of resources. The island's only prison, built in the 1800's to house a maximum of 101 prisoners, has over 400 prisoners, resulting in severe overcrowding. Prison guards are generally well-trained.

The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government adheres to the constitutional provisions prohibiting arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and requiring a court hearing within 72 hours after detention. However, the authorities have frequently held prisoners for years "on remand" after charging them (there is no constitutional requirement for a speedy trial).

There were no reports of forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is independent in practice.

There are two levels of courts: 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 $1,900 (EC$5,000) in value, and criminal cases generally classified as "petty." The upper court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases can be appealed to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Court of Appeal. From there, cases 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 observe both constitutional and statutory requirements for fair public trials.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices. Government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanctions.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Government generally respects constitutional provisions for free speech and press, it occasionally has demonstrated open hostility toward both the print media and radio. However, the Government's attitude toward the press does not appear to affect press freedoms in Saint Lucia.

Five privately owned newspapers, two privately owned radio stations, and one partially government-funded radio station operate in St. Lucia. They carry a wide spectrum of political opinion and are often critical of the Government. The radio stations have discussion and call-in programs that allow people to express their views. The two local television stations are also privately owned and cover a wide range of views. In addition, people can subscribe to cable television service, which provides programming from a variety of sources.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association and assembly, and the Government generally respects 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 grant such permits; the rare refusal generally stems from the failure of organizers to request the permit in a timely manner, normally 48 hours before the event. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse strikers during an October strike by banana farmers, resulting in several serious injuries.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. 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 the right to change their government. Saint Lucia's parliamentary system provides for genuine choices among parties, policies, and officials. The 1996 merger of the smaller parties – the Concerned Citizens' Movement, St. Lucia Freedom Party, and Citizens' Democratic Party – with the opposition St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) leaves St. Lucia with two major parties: The SLP and the ruling United Workers Party (UWP). Under the Constitution, general elections must be held by April 1997, but could be called at any time before then by the Government. Elections are held at least every 5 years by secret ballot. The SLP plays a significant role in the country's political life and holds 5 of the 17 seats in the Legislative House of Assembly. Two members of the Senate are independent, appointed by the Governor General.

There are no legal impediments to participation by women and minorities in government. Both the Attorney General and the Deputy Leader of the Senate are women. However, women and minorities are not represented in numbers proportional to their percentage of the population.

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

While there are no local human rights groups, there are no governmental restrictions that would prevent their formation.

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

Government policy is nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement. There are no legal restrictions on the role of women or minorities.

Women

There is increased awareness of the seriousness of violence against women. The Government does not prosecute crimes of violence against women unless the victim herself presses charges. If the victim chooses for any reason not to press charges, the Government cannot bring a case. Charges must be brought under the ordinary civil code. The police force conducts some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women. Police and courts enforce laws to protect women against abuse, although police are hesitant to intervene in domestic disputes, and many victims are reluctant to report cases of domestic violence and rape or to press charges.

The 1994 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 would no longer have the right to live in the same residence as the victim.

The Saint Lucia Crisis Center monitors cases of abuse (physical and emotional) and helps its clients deal with such problems as incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights. The group has publicized the plight of battered women and has protested the rare deaths of women who were victims of domestic violence. The Crisis Center is also working to establish a shelter for battered women and homeless girls. Some secondary schools address the problem of sexual harassment and battering in their curriculum topics.

The Minister for Women's Affairs is responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including equal treatment in employment.

Children

Despite the 1992 Children's Rights Act, which details a strong commitment to children's rights, the Government has not fulfilled that commitment with effective programs. Domestic violence and incest continued to be among the problems most affecting the welfare of children in Saint Lucia. The St. Lucia Crisis Center reported that incidents of child abuse increased substantially compared to 1995.

People with Disabilities

There is no specific legislation protecting the rights of the disabled, nor mandating provision of access to buildings or government services for them. There is no rehabilitation facility for the physically disabled, although the Health Ministry operates a community-based rehabilitation program in residents' homes. There are schools for the deaf and for the blind up to the secondary level.

Section 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 are unionized; about 20 percent of the total work force is unionized. Unions are independent of government, and are free to choose their own representatives in often vigorously contested elections. However, there have been recent, unsubstantiated reports of government obstruction of attempts to have union views publicized. There are no restrictions on the formation of national labor federations. In 1994 several of the major unions formed an umbrella grouping called the "Industrial Solidarity Pact." Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations, and some have done so.

Strikes in both the public and private sectors are legal, but there are many avenues through collective bargaining agreement and government procedures which may preclude a strike. The law prohibits 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. Banana farmers conducted a 12-day strike in October to protest a government charge for cartons.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they fully exercise this right. Union representatives have reported attempts by Government and other employers to undermine this process.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and there are effective mechanisms for resolving complaints. It also requires that employers reinstate workers fired for union activities.

Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones (EPZ's), and there are no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones. In practice, however, many firms resist union efforts to organize in the EPZ's, even to the point of closing operations.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is illegal and does not exist.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Women's and Young Persons Act stipulates a minimum legal working age of 14 years. Ministry of Labour officials are responsible for enforcing the law. There were no reports of violations of child labor laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Wages Regulations (Clerks) Orders, in effect since 1985, set out minimum wage rates only for clerks. These office workers receive a legislated minimum wage of about $300 (EC$800) per month. The minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker supporting a four-person family, but some categories of workers receive more than the legal minimum for clerks, which is used only as a guide for setting pay for other professions.

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

Occupational health and safety regulations are relatively well developed. The Labor Ministry periodically inspects health and safety conditions at places of employment under the Employees' Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1985. The Ministry enforces the act through threat of closure of the business if it discovers violations and the violator does not correct them. Workers are free to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.

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