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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - St Vincent and the Grenadines

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 - St Vincent and the Grenadines, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5314.html [accessed 28 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.
 

A member of the Commonwealth of Nations, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy. After defeating the incumbent St. Vincent Labour Party in 1984 elections, Prime Minister James F. Mitchell and his New Democratic Party won all 15 parliamentary seats in general elections held in May 1989. Although some concern was voiced about the resulting absence of any parliamentary opposition, the elections were judged to be free and fair. New elections are to be held by August 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 civilian government and generally maintains standards of professionalism that place a high value on respect for human rights.

St. Vincent has a young population, a high rate of illiteracy, and serious unemployment, possibly as high as 40 percent. The major export product is bananas, which also represents the major source of foreign exchange earnings. St. Vincent's efforts toward nontraditional economic diversification have met with some success in new agricultural products, tourism expansion, and in industrial sectors.

The country's human rights problems continued to include police use of physical abuse to extract confessions and a backlog of cases in the 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 political killings and no reports of fatal shootings by the police in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance.

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, and there were no reports of such practices in 1993. However, a very high percentage of convictions (estimated at 95 percent by the regional human rights group, Caribbean Rights) is based on confessions. This has led to credible charges that physical abuse by law enforcement officials during incarceration is sometimes used to extract confessions.

One case of police misconduct occurred in August 1992 when a female police constable was found guilty of assaulting four ward assistants in a hospital in Kingstown. The women were subjected to vaginal searches in response to a report of missing money by another hospital employee, then taken to a police station but never arrested or charged. This incident sparked a public outrage, and the constable was ordered to pay the complainants, which she did.

Prison facilities are inadequate. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions remain serious problems.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

According to the Constitution, persons detained for criminal offenses are entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an impartial court. The Government has made progress in addressing the problem of slow administration of justice resulting from a backlog of cases. In 1993 the Government increased from two to four the number of magistrates in an attempt to reduce the backlog. The backlog at year's end was 21 cases; of over 300 people in jail, fewer than 20 were awaiting trial.

Instances of arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile were not reported.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for public trials before an independent and impartial court. Criminal defendants are entitled to select their own legal counsel. Indigent defendants are provided with court-appointed attorneys 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 are no 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. In 1993 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. In general, the Government does not censor or otherwise interfere with the operation of the press. In 1990, however, the Government withdrew its own advertisements and official notices from the country's leading newspaper to protest the paper's critical treatment of government officials. In 1988 the government- owned radio station canceled a program that the Government considered provocative; the station, with the Government's approval, agreed late in 1989 to reinstate the program, but this has not been done to date. The Government supervises the content of the station's programming, a fact that is often noted by opposition political parties. While the opposition and human rights monitors also complain that they are denied equal access to radio airtime, St. Vincent's television station is privately owned, and its policies regarding coverage of opposition views and political matters in general are considered to be even-handed.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

These freedoms are provided for in the Constitution and respected in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

All religions are free to practice and proselytize.

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

These rights are provided for by law and honored in practice.

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

Notwithstanding the New Democratic Party's clean sweep of all 15 parliamentary seats in the May 1989 elections, St. Vincent has a genuine multiparty political system, with three major parties. St. Vincent's parliamentary system is based on the Westminister model. However, the incumbent Governor General, supported by the Government, refused to appoint the two opposition members to the Senate as called for by the Constitution. He contended that because there is currently no parliamentary opposition and therefore no leader of the opposition, consultations concerning these appointments could not take place. Elections must be held at least every 5 years, by secret ballot, with universal suffrage. Opposition allegations of irregularities in some recent elections have not been substantiated.

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 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. In 1990 it published a booklet on the administration of justice which focused on the delays in the court system and offered a number of recommendations. The Government's response was to appoint an additional (part-time) judge.

The Government is generally responsive to public and private inquiries about its human rights practices.

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

In 1989 the Government took a significant step forward in terms of wage scales for women by adopting a new minimum wage law calling for equal pay for equal work. The law went into effect during 1990. Violence against women occurs in St. Vincent, but the Government has failed to take steps to determine the seriousness of the problem. Penalties for violent crimes against women are identical to those involving acts of assault perpetrated against men. 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. Although some victims of domestic violence such as wife beating are reluctant to press charges, women are increasingly willing to report such incidents to the police and the National Council of Women. 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.

Children

During 1993 the Government ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the Parliament has not yet passed laws to bring local statutes into compliance with the Convention. The Social Welfare Office is the government agency responsible for monitoring and protecting the welfare of children. The police are the enforcement arm – all reports of child abuse made to the Social Welfare Office are referred to the police for action. Marion House, a social services agency established by the Catholic Church in 1989, provides counseling and therapy services. Its director says that, while the reported level of cases has increased, it is difficult to determine whether this reflects more incidents or increased awareness leading to more reporting. She contends that the problem of child abuse is still underreported. The legal age of consent in St. Vincent is 15.

People with Disabilities

Fiscal considerations limit support for persons with disabilities. There is no specific legislation covering those with disabilities. Most severely handicapped people rarely leave their house 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, Vincentians have the right to form unions, organize employees, and strike; these rights are generally respected in practice. However, there is no legislation for compulsory recognition of trade unions. Unions are independent of the Government and of political parties. Somewhat more than 10 percent of the labor force is unionized, and no new unions were formed in 1993. There were no major strikes in 1993. Unions are free to form federations and to affiliate with international labor bodies, and they do so.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

There are no legal obstacles to organizing unions; however, employers are not legally bound 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. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination can be prosecuted for firing workers without cause (including for participation in union activities), and workers must be reinstated.

There are no export processing zones in St. Vincent.

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. This provision, monitored and enforced by the labor inspection office of the Ministry of Labour, is generally respected 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

Minimum wages are set by law and 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, clerks, etc. 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. Workers are guaranteed 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.

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