2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Saint Lucia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||25 February 2009|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Saint Lucia, 25 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49a8f15b81.html [accessed 23 August 2014]|
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009
Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 171,000. In generally free and fair elections in 2006, former prime minister Sir John Compton returned to power when his United Workers Party (UWP) defeated the previously ruling Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP), winning 11 seats in the 17-member House of Assembly. In September 2007 Stephenson King was appointed prime minister following Compton's death. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were problems in a few areas, primarily abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, long delays in trials and sentencing, violence against women, and child abuse.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces killed six persons during the year. The Criminal Investigations Department had investigations under way in all six cases at year's end.
On August 13, police shot and killed Timothy St Lucre of Bouton in what the family described as a case of mistaken identity. The family sued the police for "wrongful death," and the case was not settled by year's end.
At 4:00 a.m. on December 25, police shot and killed John Garvy Alcindor during an altercation when the police searched his bag after he was spotted setting off fire crackers. The police commissioner, the deputy prosecutor, and the minister of national security held a public meeting the day after the incident, pledged to investigate the case thoroughly, and stated that measures would be put in place to deal with "a few offending officers."
At year's end the director of public prosecutions (DPP) was considering the results of a police investigation into the September 2007 police shooting of Fitzroy Stanislaus, who bled to death shortly after.
Likewise the DPP still had pending the case of the 2006 police killing of 20-year-old Troy Jn Jacques. The 2006 manslaughter case against an officer who fired on a commuter bus, killing 70-year-old Maurison Flavius, was still pending in the courts.
On March 5, the DPP ruled that the 2006 police killing of escaped convict Perry Jules in a gun battle was justified.
There was no information available about the results of DPP consideration of the four police killings that occurred in 2005.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices; however, prisoners and suspects regularly complained of physical abuse by police and prison officers.
In November police shot and injured Miguel Edwards, a 23-year-old unarmed man. Edwards claimed the plain clothes policemen never identified themselves. The police asserted that they shot him because he was a known criminal whom they suspected of engaging in robbery. Edwards denied the assertion; authorities never filed charges against him.
During the year citizens filed over 20 complaints against the police, most of which were for abuse of authority. Authorities only considered one of the complaints serious enough to warrant disciplining an officer. In that case, police suspended one officer for serious misconduct for throwing chemicals on a man arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct.
Investigation continued into the August 2007 incident in which members of the police Special Services Unit shot Andre Halls in the leg.
The case of an officer charged with harm and assault in the 2006 police shooting of a 17-year-old boy was still pending in the courts at year's end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met minimum international standards at the four-year-old Bordelais Correctional Facility, which had a capacity of 500 prisoners and held approximately that number. Some prisoners and family members complained about treatment of prisoners at the facility.
The Boys Training Center, a facility for boys charged with criminal offenses or suffering from domestic or other social problems, operated separately from the prison but conditions were substandard. The boys in the program normally stay for two years and receive vocational training while enrolled. Human rights monitors complained that the staff as well as older enrollees abused younger children at the center. The government conducted an official inquiry into these allegations, the results of which were under review at year's end, including a recommendation to build a separate facility to shelter boys who were victims of domestic violence.
The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, but no such visits took place during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
In November authorities in the capital city of Castries conducted a roundup of presumed vagrants, arresting 63 homeless persons. Police, assisted by officers from the Special Services Unit, took those arrested to a facility behind city hall where they were forced to take showers and shave and were given clothing and food. Some civic activists condemned the raids, asserting that they were conducted in a humiliating manner, and noting that no attempt was made to provide alternative shelter for the homeless.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Royal Saint Lucia Police numbered 826 officers, which included a Special Services Unit with some paramilitary training and a coast guard unit. The police force reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, a portfolio held by the prime minister.
Although there was little definitive evidence, it was widely believed that corruption was pervasive in the police force.
In 2006 the government contracted 10 senior police officers, one of whom served as acting police commissioner, from the United Kingdom to enhance intelligence capacity, develop capacity, and improve management processes. However, the role of the British officers became controversial because of negative public perceptions, and none of them remained in the country at the end of the year.
The police force's internal complaints unit, which consists of retired police officers, received and investigated complaints made by the public and sent its findings to the Police Complaints Commission, a civilian body. The commission reviewed the cases and made recommendations for internal disciplinary action, but human rights monitors considered the process ineffective, and the DPP's office stated that the commission had not made any recommendations for prosecution in several years.
Arrest and Detention
The constitution stipulates that persons must be apprehended openly with warrants issued by a judicial authority and requires a court hearing within 72 hours of detention. Detainees were allowed prompt access to counsel and family. There is a functioning bail system.
Prolonged pretrial detention continued to be a problem; 150 of the prisoners at Bordelais Correctional Facility were on remand awaiting trial. Those charged with serious crimes spent an estimated six months to four years in pretrial detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The court system includes magistrate's courts and the High Court, both of which have civil and criminal jurisdiction. The lower courts accept civil claims up to EC$5,000 (approximately $1,850) and criminal cases generally classified as "petty." The High Court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases may be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal and to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom as the final court of appeal. A family court handles child custody, maintenance, support, domestic violence, juvenile affairs, and related matters.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Trials can be by jury, are public, and, in cases involving capital punishment, legal counsel is provided for those who cannot afford a defense attorney. Defendants are entitled to select their own representation, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and have the right of appeal. Defendants have the right to confront or question witnesses.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent, impartial judiciary in civil matters where one can bring lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
In November 2007 Parliament repealed a section of the criminal code commonly referred to as the "spreading false news" clause. According to the previous prime minister, Kenny Anthony, even those who supported the law accepted that it was difficult to obtain a prosecution under it.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. The Internet was largely available in homes, offices, and Internet cafes in urban areas; infrastructure limitations restricted Internet access in some villages.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
The government continued a suspension of all applications for official registration by faith-based organizations while it revised its policy on registration. This moratorium affected the Muslim community, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and approximately 10 other organizations. While awaiting registration, religious groups had the freedom to meet and worship according to their beliefs.
Rastafarians continued to complain that the use of marijuana, an aspect of their religious ritual, was prohibited.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Rastafarians complained of societal discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools. There was no organized Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts. Some evangelicals allegedly criticized Catholics and mainline Protestants for adherence to "slave religions" and for not accepting a literal interpretation of the Bible.
The Muslim community, although small, was growing rapidly. Leaders reported that for the most part Muslims did not receive discriminatory treatment, but they also claimed that some recent converts to Islam hid their new religion from non-Muslim friends and family to avoid criticism and discrimination.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
The constitution prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The country is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 protocol, and no formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests existed. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
Although no known cases occurred, the government was prepared to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
In 2006 Sir John Compton's UWP defeated Kenny Anthony's SLP by winning 11 of 17 parliamentary seats. According to electoral observer missions from both the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community, the elections were generally considered free and fair. Following Compton's death in September 2007, the governor general, in accordance with the constitution, appointed as prime minister Stephenson King, the person who commanded the majority in the House of Assembly.
Political parties could operate without restrictions.
There was one woman elected to the 17-seat House of Assembly, and the appointed speaker of the house was a woman. There were three women in the 11-member appointed Senate; one served as president of the Senate, and one served as the sole female member of the 14-person cabinet. The governor general was a woman.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Recently, however, corruption became a serious issue, widely discussed by the media, the business community, and opposition politicians. Observers expressed concern that the country was moving backwards in terms of transparency and accountability.
Although there were no reports of government corruption during the year, authorities questioned Housing Minister Richard Frederick twice concerning alleged involvement in customs duty evasion that occurred before Frederick was in office. In November Frederick sued the government; a court dismissed his lawsuit, but he appealed. At year's end, the controller of customs pursued the case but had filed no charges against Frederick.
In May a cabinet reshuffle brought several controversial ministers into the cabinet, and there were widespread reports that the new government ministers had engaged in corruption. There was also widespread concern that some members of the government associated with known narcotics traffickers.
High-level government officials, including elected officials, are subject to annual disclosure of their financial assets to the Integrity Commission, a constitutionally established commission. The parliamentary commissioner, auditor general, and the Public Services Commission are government agencies established to help combat corruption. Parliament can also appoint a special committee to investigate specific allegations of corruption.
The law provides for public access to information, and parliamentary debates are open to the public. The Government Information Service disseminated public information on a daily basis, operated an extensive Web site, and published a number of official periodicals.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A few domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.
In February the Saint Lucia Non-State Actor's Panel was formed to bring together nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society groups to pressure the government on a wide range of issues, including economic concerns and human rights problems, particularly domestic violence.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution prohibits discrimination, but there was no specific legislation addressing discrimination in employment or against persons with disabilities. However, government policy was nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement.
Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by 14 years' to life imprisonment. Police and courts enforced laws to protect women against rape, although many victims were reluctant to report cases of rape or to press charges. During the first six months of the year, police reported 39 cases of rape and 60 cases of statutory rape (victims under age 16). During the year the DPP's office received 15 sexual assault cases from police investigators, several of which went to trial, with two guilty verdicts. The DPP reported that sexual assault cases were a growing problem, but that most cases were not prosecuted due to the reluctance of victims to press charges.
Violence against women was recognized as a serious problem. The government prosecuted crimes of violence against women only when the victim pressed charges. The family court heard cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children, and the Castries office filed over 100 cases by year's end (there was an additional family court in Vieux Fort).
The Ministry of Health Wellness, Family Affairs, National Mobilization, Human Services, and Gender Relations assisted victims. Most of the cases were referred to a counselor, and the police facilitated the issuance of court protection orders in some cases. Police caught and charged perpetrators in a number of domestic violence cases.
The police Vulnerable Persons Unit, designed to handle cases involving violence against women and children, increased police responsiveness to these cases. As a result the police reported a 24 percent increase in the reporting of sexual crimes against women and children during the first half of the year. This unit worked closely with the Family Court and the ministry's Gender Relations and Human Services Divisions.
The Gender Relations Division also ran the Women's Support Center, which provided shelter, counseling, residential services, a 24-hour hot line, and assistance in finding employment. The center assisted over 100 women and children and took over 100 calls during the year. Various NGOs, such as the Saint Lucia Crisis Center and the National Organization of Women (NOW), also provided counseling, referral, educational, and empowerment services. The crisis center assisted in cases of physical violence, incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights.
The Family Court can issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the residence of a specified person. Occupation and tenancy orders provide certain residential rights to victims of domestic violence, such as rental payments and other protective orders. The Family Court employed full-time social workers who assisted victims of domestic violence.
On November 22, the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) and NOW organized a "just say no to violence" campaign, featuring speakers, presentations, and 30 silhouettes of women who recently lost their lives due to domestic violence. The rally was attended by representatives from women's organizations in Martinique, Guadalupe, and Dominica as well as Saint Lucia.
Prostitution is illegal, but it was a growing problem. Some underground strip clubs were fronts for prostitution and reportedly were owned by corrupt police officers. There were no arrests for prostitution during the year.
The criminal code prohibits sexual harassment, but it remained a problem. The Gender Relations Division continued an awareness program through which it provided training opportunities in workplaces and assisted establishments in creating policies and procedures on how to handle sexual harassment. As a result, most cases of sexual harassment were handled in the workplace rather than being prosecuted under the criminal code.
Women generally enjoyed equal rights, including in economic, family, property, and judicial matters. However, the fire chief refused to allow a female fire fighter, who completed a two-year training program and was ready to take the final exam, to take the test because she was pregnant. CAFRA took on the issue, arguing that the authorities can and should make reasonable accommodations to allow such persons to take the test, which was offered only once a year. Women's affairs were under the jurisdiction of the Gender Relations Division, whose parent ministry was responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including ensuring equal treatment in employment.
The government was generally committed to children's rights and welfare, as indicated by its provisions for education and health care. However, there was insufficient assistance for abused or neglected children.
Child abuse remained a problem. The Division of Human Services and Family Affairs expected an increase in child abuse cases for the year compared with 2007, when there were reports of 106 cases of sexual abuse, 79 cases of physical abuse, 40 cases of abandonment, and 30 cases of psychological abuse.
Child sex abuse cases were very common, including one in which an 80-year-old man was caught in the act of raping a five-year-old girl. At year's end, police had yet to arrest the perpetrator, whom neighbors said was a well-known child abuser with many victims in the neighborhood.
There were few social welfare programs in the country, and the existing ones were overwhelmed. As a result, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for financial contributions toward the welfare of victims of such abuse. Nonetheless, courts heard some child sexual abuse cases and convicted and sentenced offenders.
Investigation continued in a 2006 case of a 14-year-old girl repeatedly and severely abused by her police officer father and stepmother. The girl remained in her aunt's custody while authorities investigated her father and stepmother.
The human services division provided a number of services to victims of child abuse, including counseling, facilitating medical intervention, finding foster care, providing family support services, and supporting the child while working with the police and attending court. The division was also involved with public outreach in schools, church organizations, and community groups.
CAFRA operated a hot line for families suffering from different forms of abuse; however, there was no shelter for abused children, resulting in the return of many children to the homes in which they were abused. Through the hot line, CAFRA learned of various cases of sexual abuse that were never reported to the police. The government did not provide funding for foster care and few families were willing to take in foster children.
Although there was little evidence of formalized child prostitution, transactional sex with minors was a common occurrence.
The Catholic Church operated the Holy Family Home for abused and abandoned children, with space for up to 40 children who were referred to the center by the police or social workers.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, and there were reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country.
There were reports that some women from Saint Lucia were trafficked to Saint Marten and Barbados, and that women from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and some Eastern European countries were trafficked to Saint Lucia, where they worked at strip clubs and brothels. There were reports that police owned many of these clubs, particularly in Rodney Bay, and that women who fled the brothels were sometimes returned to them by police.
Although there are laws prohibiting slavery, forced labor, forced imprisonment, and kidnapping that could be used to prosecute alleged traffickers, there were no reports of such prosecutions during the year. The government established a National Coalition against Trafficking in Persons consisting of the Gender Relations Division, the Human Services Division, the police, and the Immigration Service. Lack of funding hampered the coalition's efforts to detect and investigate cases of trafficking and to protect victims.
In December the International Office for Migration held a three-day seminar on Capacity Building to Manage Migration in the Caribbean, which focused on trafficking in persons.
Persons with Disabilities
No specific legislation protects the rights of persons with disabilities or mandates provision of government services for them. The government is obliged to provide disabled access to all public buildings, but only a few government buildings had ramps to provide access. There was no rehabilitation facility for persons with physical disabilities, although the health ministry operated a community-based rehabilitation program in residents' homes. There were schools for the deaf and the blind up to the secondary level. There were a few isolated cases of persons with disabilities holding jobs, including one blind bank teller, but a recent blind graduate from the local community college was not able to secure employment. There also was a school for persons with mental disabilities; however, children with disabilities faced barriers in education and there were few opportunities for such persons when they became adults.
The existing state-operated mental health facility is a century old building that will be decommissioned once a new state-of-the-art mental health facility is completed. There are no other mental health facilities on the island, and mentally ill persons were not generally provided much care. There were only four mental health social workers who had an average of over 100 cases each.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There was widespread social discrimination against homosexuals in the deeply conservative, highly religious society. There were few openly gay people in the country. There were at least two cases of violence against homosexuals, including one young man who was killed when he was hung from a tree because he was openly gay.
There was widespread stigma and discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS, although the government implemented several programs to address this issue, including a five-year program to combat HIV/AIDS. The UN Population Fund also provided support for youth-oriented HIV/AIDS prevention programs. An HIV-positive woman who worked for the government quit in protest over demeaning conditions in the workplace after her supervisor mandated that she use the restroom at specific times only, after which staff would clean the restroom.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law 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 and approximately 25 percent of the total work force were unionized.
Unions have a right to strike, and workers exercised that right. However, the law prohibits members of the police and fire departments from striking on the grounds that these professions were "essential services." Workers in other essential services – water and sewer authority workers, electric utility workers, nurses, and doctors – must give 30 days' notice before striking.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference, and the government generally protected this right. Collective bargaining is protected by law and was freely practiced.
The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination, and workers fired for union activity did not have the right to reinstatement. In practice many companies were openly antiunion, and one company threatened to close if a union won recognition. When the union representatives tried to organize the employees, the company closed for two weeks and when it reopened, all the workers who had sought to join the union renounced those views and demanded their union dues back, which the union refused.
The labor law is applicable in the export processing zones, and there were no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones; however, there were no unions registered in them.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law provides for a minimum legal working age of 16 years. The minimum legal working age for industrial work is 18 years. Child labor existed to some degree in the rural areas, primarily where school-age children helped harvest bananas from family trees. Children also typically worked in urban food stalls or sold confectionery on sidewalks on nonschool days and during festivals. The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Labor Relations, Public Service, and Cooperatives was responsible for enforcing statutes regulating child labor. Employer penalties for violating the child labor laws were EC$9.60 ($3.55) for a first offense and EC$24 ($8.88) for a second offense. There were no formal reports of violations of child labor laws.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wage regulations in effect since 1985 set wages for a limited number of occupations. The minimum monthly wage for office clerks was EC$300 ($111), for shop assistants EC$200 ($74), and for messengers EC$160 ($59). The government recognized that the minimum wage law was outdated and sought to meet with tripartite social partners to discuss it, but the matter was not resolved by year's end. The minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but most categories of workers received much higher wages based on prevailing market conditions. However, a number of smaller establishments paid less than the minimum wage, and Haitians and others often received less than minimum wage.
The labor commissioner is charged with monitoring violations of labor law, including the minimum wage. There were three compliance officers to cover the entire country and to monitor compliance with occupational and safety standards, and pension standards as well as minimum wage violations. In practice there were few reported violations as those who received less than the minimum wage were often in the country illegally and afraid of reprisals including possible deportation. Labor unions did not routinely report such violations.
The legislated workweek is 41 hours, although the common practice was to work 40 hours in five days. Special legislation covers work hours for shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and persons in industrial establishments.
While occupational health and safety regulations were relatively well developed, there was only one qualified inspector for the entire country. The ministry enforced the act through threat of closure of the business if it discovered violations and the violator did not correct them. However, actual closures rarely occurred because of lack of staff and resources. Workers had the legal right to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.