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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - St Vincent and the Grenadines

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - St Vincent and the Grenadines, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1858.html [accessed 25 December 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.
ST VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

 

A member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister James F. Mitchell and his New Democratic Party (NDP) returned to power for an unprecedented third term in free and fair elections held in February 1994.

The Royal St. Vincent Police, the only security force in the country, includes a Coast Guard and a small Special Services Unit with some paramilitary training. The force is controlled by and responsive to the Government, but there continued to be occasional reports of the use of force and other extralegal means to elicit confessions from suspects.

St. Vincent has a market-based economy in which most of the work force is employed in agriculture. The leading export product is bananas, which also represents the major source of foreign exchange earnings. The banana industry throughout the Windward Islands continues to suffer from relatively low prices on the world banana market, and St. Vincent has not escaped the negative impact. Efforts toward nontraditional economic diversification met with some success in new agricultural products, luxury tourism expansion, and in some industrial sectors.

The country's human rights problems continued to include persistent allegations of police use of physical force to extract confessions, the Governments's failure to punish those involved in such abuse, inadequate and overcrowded prisons, and an overburdened court system.

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 prohibits torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. However, a very high percentage of convictions (estimated at 90 percent by the regional human rights group, Caribbean Rights) continue to be based on confessions. Many of these confessions resulted from unwarranted police practices, including the use of physical force during detention, illegal search and seizure, and not properly informing those arrested of their rights. There were no known instances of the Government trying, convicting, and punishing police officers involved in such abuses.

There is no independent review board to monitor police activity and to hear public complaints about police misconduct. Caribbean Rights has advocated such a board to protect the rights of citizens complaining of these activities.

Inadequate and overcrowded prisons remain a serious problem. These conditions are particularly harsh for juvenile offenders. There is a small facility for delinquent boys, but it is seriously inadequate and is generally used for those already convicted through the criminal system. Although separate legal statutes exist for youthful offenders, there are no separate magistrates or prosecutors to handle such cases.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides for persons detained for criminal offenses to receive a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an impartial court. Although there are only two official magistrates, the registrar of the High Court and the presiding judge of the family court now effectively serve as magistrates when called upon to do so. While this reduced the backlog, complaints remain regarding police practices in bringing cases to court. Some defense attorneys claim this has caused 6- to 12-month delays in preliminary inquiries for serious crimes.

There were no reports of instances of arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for public trials before an independent and impartial court. The court appoints attorneys for indigent defendants only when the defendant is charged with a capital offense. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and may appeal cases to a regional high court system and ultimately to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. There are no separate security or military court systems. There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary search and seizure or other government intrusions into the private life of individual citizens, and there were no reports of such abuses.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. There are two major newspapers and numerous smaller, partisan publications; all are privately owned, and most are openly critical of the Government's policies. There were no reports of government censorship or interference with the operation of the press.

The lone television station in St. Vincent is privately owned and operates without government interference. The Government controls programming for the government-owned radio station, which was ordered by the high court to omit certain words from a popular calypso song supporting capital punishment. The injunction was sought by the president of the St. Vincent and Grenadines Human Rights Group. There are no call-in talk shows; the Government canceled such a show in 1988, claiming it was politically slanted.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

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

No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. 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 through regularly scheduled free and fair elections. St. Vincent has a long history of multiparty parliamentary democracy. During the last elections in 1994, the two opposition parties united to challenge the ruling New Democratic Party. The effort was successful to the extent that the "Unity" coalition won 3 of 15 parliamentary seats--the NDP held all 15 prior to the election. The opposition continues to charge that the ruling party has not complied with what the opposition asserts is a constitutional obligation to answer questions it puts forth. In August a long-dormant party, the People's Party (PP), was reactivated in response to alleged financial misconduct by the Attorney General. The PP, however, holds no seats in Parliament.

Two of the 15 members of Parliament are women. The same two women hold ministerial portfolios in the current Government.

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

Opposition political groups and the Vincentian press often comment on human rights matters of local concern. The St. Vincent and Grenadines Human Rights Association, affiliated with the regional body Caribbean Rights, closely monitors government and police activities, especially with respect to treatment of prisoners, publicizing any cases of abuse. The Government is generally responsive to public and private inquiries about its human rights practices. In February human rights groups strongly criticized the Government over the executions of three prisoners on death row. The groups charged that the process was conducted in virtual secrecy and pushed for clemency procedures to be clearly established for the benefit of death row prisoners across 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, sex, or religion, and the Government adheres to this provision.

Women

A local human rights group reports that violence against women (particularly domestic violence) is a major problem. The Government has failed to take steps to determine the seriousness of the problem. To speed up the judicial handling of such cases, the Government established a family court under the Domestic Violence Act of 1995.

Depending on the magnitude of the offense and the age of the victim, the penalty for rape is generally 10 or more years in prison. In May the legislature amended the child support law to allow for payments ordered by the courts even though notice of an appeal has been filed. Previously, fathers who had been ordered to pay child support could appeal decisions and not pay while the appeal was being heard. This resulted in a huge backlog of appeal cases and effectively reduced the number of mothers and children receiving support payments.

The Ministry of Education, Youth, and Women's Affairs has a women's desk which assists the National Council of Women with seminars, training programs, and public relations. The minimum wage law specifies that women should receive equal pay for equal work.

Children

The Social Welfare Office is the government agency responsible for monitoring and protecting the welfare of children. The police are the enforcement arm--the Social Welfare Office refers all reports of child abuse to the police for action. A progress report on government implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was under preparation at year's end. Marion House, a social services agency established by the Catholic Church in 1989, provides counseling and therapy services. The legal age of consent in St. Vincent is 15.

People with Disabilities

There is no specific legislation covering those with disabilities. Most severely disabled people rarely leave their homes because of the poor road system and lack of affordable wheelchairs. The Government partially supports a school for the disabled which has two branches. A separate, small rehabilitation center treats about five persons daily.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

By law, citizens have the right to form unions, organize employees, and strike; these rights are generally respected in practice. A move toward unification reflects the need for unions to combine in order to survive. There were no major strikes. Unions have the right to affiliate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There are no legal obstacles to organizing unions; however, no law requires employers to recognize a particular union as an exclusive bargaining agent. Some companies offer packages of benefits with terms of employment better than, or comparable to, what a union can normally obtain through negotiations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. Generally effective mechanisms exist for resolving complaints. The authorities can order employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination for firing workers without cause (including for participation in union activities) to reinstate the workers.

There are no export processing zones.

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 law sets the minimum working age at 16, although a worker must be 18 to receive a national insurance card. The labor inspection office of the Ministry of Labour monitors and enforces this provision, and employers generally respect it in practice. There is no known child labor except for children working on family-owned banana plantations, particularly during harvest time.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets minimum wages, which were last promulgated in 1989. They vary by sector and type of work and are specified for several skilled categories, including attendants, packers, cleaners, porters, watchmen, and clerks. In agriculture the wage for workers provided shelter is $0.82 (EC$2.25) per hour; skilled industrial workers earn $7.36 (EC$20) per day, and unskilled workers earn $3.68 (EC$10) per day. In many sectors the minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for workers and their families, but most workers earn more than the minimum. There is no legislation concerning the length of the workweek; however, the general practice is to work 40 hours in 5 days. The law provides workers a minimum annual vacation of 2 weeks.

According to the Ministry of Labour, legislation concerning occupational safety and health is outdated. The most recent legislation, the Factories Act of 1955, has some regulations concerning only factories, but enforcement of these regulations is ineffective due to a lack of inspectors. Workers can remove themselves from dangerous workplace situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

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