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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Saint Kitts and Nevis

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 8 March 2006
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Saint Kitts and Nevis , 8 March 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/441821b02.html [accessed 1 October 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and federation, with a population of approximately 46,700. The constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable self-government under a premier, as well as the right to secede from the federation in accordance with certain enumerated procedures. In the 2004 national elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) won 7 seats in the 11-seat legislature, although international observers considered the electoral process flawed. The 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:

  • poor prison conditions
  • lack of opposition access to government-controlled media
  • corruption
  • violence against women

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, but police allegedly committed unwarranted killings.

In April police shot and killed Rechalieu Henry, who, according to press reports, was attempting to escape from custody. Authorities were awaiting an inquest hearing at year's end.

In August police shot and killed Garnet Tyson after police claimed he attacked them with a knife. The press reported that a witness to the shooting said that Tyson was not holding a knife, nor did he appear to be a threat to the police. An initial inquiry into the Tyson case was pending completion at year's end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading

Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, and resources remained limited. The prison on Saint Kitts had a capacity for 150 prisoners but held 180 prisoners at year's end, including 5 females; some prisoners slept on mats on the floor. A low-security prison on Nevis held 29 inmates. Corporal punishment is legal; a court can order that an accused person receive lashes if found guilty. The prison staff periodically received training in human rights.

The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, although no such visits were known to have occurred during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The security forces consist of a small (400-officer) police force, including a paramilitary Special Services Unit, a coast guard, and a small defense force. Military forces patrolled jointly with the police. The military and the police report to the Ministry for National Security, Justice, and Labor.

Senior officers investigated complaints against members of the police force, and criminal offenses are referred to the director of public prosecutions. The police force continued to conduct its own internal investigation when complaints were made against its members.

Arrest and Detention

Police may arrest a person based on the suspicion of criminal activity without a warrant. The law requires that persons detained be charged within 48 hours or be released. If charged, a detainee must be brought before a court within 72 hours. There is a functioning system of bail. Family members, attorneys, and clergy were permitted to visit detainees regularly.

There were no reports of political detainees.

There were 28 prisoners in pretrial detention and 29 awaiting a court hearing at year's end. Detainees may be held for a maximum of seven days awaiting a bail hearing. Those accused of serious offenses are remanded to custody to await trial, while those accused of minor infractions are released on their own recognizance.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.

The court system includes a high court and four magistrate's courts at the local level, with the right of appeal to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Final appeal may be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for a fair, speedy, and public trial, and these requirements generally were observed. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with counsel in a timely manner. There is a presumption of innocence, and defendants may question or confront witnesses. Free legal assistance was available for indigent defendants in capital cases only.

Political Prisoners

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom or access to the Internet.

While the independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, the opposition People's Action Movement (PAM) party continued to allege that the ruling SKNLP blocked PAM's access to the government-controlled media. The PAM acknowledged, however, that it had access to independent media outlets.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination, including anti-Semitism. There was no organized Jewish community.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice.

The law does not address forced exile, but the government did not use it.

Protection of Refugees

Although the country is a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees or asylum seekers. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution, but did not routinely grant refugee status or asylum.

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

The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. All citizens 18 years of age and older may register and vote by secret ballot.

Elections and Political Participation

In the October 2004 general elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's SKNLP was returned to office after winning 7 of 8 Saint Kitts-assigned seats in the 11-seat National Assembly. The PAM party won one seat after nearly five years without representation. Nevis Premier Vance Armory's Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) party won two of the three assembly seats assigned to Nevis. The Commonwealth observer team categorized the electoral rules as "followed but flawed," and there were reports of vote fraud, intimidation, and foreign influence. During and after the election, government information services touted the SKNLP and criticized the opposition.

Shortly before the election, the government deported Derek Ramsamooj, a Trinidadian who served as a political consultant to the opposition party. The government charged that Ramsamooj was a threat to the country's national security and suggested that he had been responsible for opposition efforts to intimidate voters and foment instability. In June Ramsamooj returned from Trinidad only to be removed from the country again.

The governor general appoints three senators, two on recommendation of the prime minister and one on the recommendation of the leader of the opposition. The island of Nevis exercises considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature.

A multiparty political system existed, in which political parties were free to conduct their activities; however, the PAM continued to allege that the ruling party restricted access to the media (see section 2.a.). The PAM also alleged widespread employment discrimination by the SKNLP against public sector employment of persons perceived to be PAM supporters.

There were 2 women in the parliament and no women in the cabinet; 3 of 4 magistrates were women, the court registrar was a woman, and 6 of 11 permanent secretaries were women. In addition in Nevis one cabinet member and the president of the House of Assembly were women.

Government Corruption and Transparency

There were a number of allegations of corruption in the government. The opposition PAM party continued to allege corrupt electoral practices. In Nevis the Reformation Party accused the ruling CCM of corruption in the sale of land at preferential prices, among other corrupt practices, and called for an official inquiry. Businesses also complained of high-level corruption in large foreign investment projects.

While no laws provide for public access to government information, the government maintained a Web site with limited information concerning government actions.

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

While there are no governmental restrictions on human rights groups, no local human rights groups operated in the country. There were no requests for investigations or visits by international human rights groups during the year.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, place of origin, birth out of wedlock, political opinion or affiliation, color, gender, or creed, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

Women

Violence against women was a problem. The law criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides penalties of up to $5 thousand (EC$13,500) and/or 6 months in prison. Although many women were reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts, the Department of Gender Affairs reported 30 cases of domestic violence in 2004, the most recent data available. The department offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic violence and gender violence for officials in the police and fire departments, nurses, school guidance counselors, and other government employees. In addition the department's permanent secretary participated in a weekly radio program to discuss gender issues, including domestic violence.

The law prohibits rape but does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape range from 2 years' imprisonment for incest between minors to life imprisonment for statutory rape or incest with someone under 16. Indecent assault and incest with a person 16 or older carry a penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.

Prostitution is illegal and was not considered to be a problem.

The law does not specifically address sexual harassment, and it remained a problem.

The role of women in society is not restricted by law but was circumscribed by culture and tradition. There was no overt societal discrimination against women in employment, although analyses suggested that women did not occupy as many senior positions as men did. The Department of Gender Affairs conducted programs addressing poverty and health and promoting institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women and leadership positions for women. It operated three programs for rural women, providing them with market skills and training as entrepreneurs. The department provided clients assistance with problems such as lack of housing, unemployment, child care, technical training, and personal development. It also ran the Viola Project, a program to encourage young mothers to complete their education, which had 17 participants during the year. The department produced three handbooks on sexual harassment, equal opportunity and employment, and equal pay for work of equal value. The department continued its programs focusing on men as perpetrators of crimes of violence against women.

Children

The government was committed to children's rights and welfare. Education is compulsory, free, and universal, up to the age of 16. More than 98 percent of children completed secondary school.

Free medical care was provided for children, and boys and girls had equal access.

The law sets the age of consent at 16. Authorities brought charges in 22 cases involving alleged sexual activity with minors (statutory rape) and 5 cases of incest (which includes sexual activity with any member of the household) in 2004, the most recent data available.

Trafficking in Persons

While no laws address trafficking in persons specifically, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.

The country continued an economic citizenship program, whereby foreign investors were permitted to purchase passports through loosely monitored procedures requiring an investment of at least $250 thousand (EC$675 thousand) in real estate and an additional registration fee of $35 thousand (EC$94,500) for the head of household (amounts varied for other family members). This process reportedly facilitated the illegal immigration of persons from China and other countries to North America, where, in some instances, criminal organizations that provided the funds to such persons forced them to work under conditions similar to bonded labor until the debt was repaid. The government denied any knowledge of illegal immigration facilitated through this program and asserted that applicants were screened adequately.

Persons with Disabilities

While the law prohibits discrimination, it does not specifically cite discrimination against persons with disabilities. There was no reported discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services. The law does not mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers exercised their legal right to form and join trade unions. Employers were not bound legally to recognize a union, but in practice employers did so if a majority of workers polled wished to organize. Approximately 10 percent of the workforce was unionized. The law permits the police, civil service, and other organizations to organize associations that serve as unions. The major labor union, the Saint Kitts Trades and Labour Union (SKTLU), was associated closely with the SKNLP and was active in all sectors of the economy. The opposition PAM party alleged that the ruling party used its influence to stifle other unions that would threaten the SKTLU in the workplace.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such action to rehire employees fired for union activities. However, the employer must pay lost wages and severance pay to employees who had worked at least one year, based upon their length of service.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor unions have the legal right to organize and to negotiate for better wages and benefits for union members, and the government protected these rights in practice. A union that obtains membership of more than 50 percent of employees at a company can apply to be recognized by the employer for collective bargaining. There are no export processing zones.

The right to strike, while not specified by law, is well established and respected in practice. Restrictions on strikes by workers who provide essential services, such as the police and civil servants, were enforced by established practice and custom, but not by law.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.

Prisoners were required to work if their sentence was more than 30 days and stipulated "hard labor." They received a small stipend for this work, paid upon discharge.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for

Employment

The law prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor of children, and the Department of Labor effectively enforced this law in practice. There were no reported complaints of child labor during the year. The minimum legal working age is 16 years. The Department of Labor relied heavily on school truancy officers and the Community Affairs Division to monitor compliance, which they generally did effectively.

Juveniles worked in agriculture, domestic service, and illicit activities. In rural areas where families engaged in livestock farming and vegetable production, children often were required to assist as part of family efforts at subsistence. Girls often engaged in domestic service. Such labor included family-oriented work where children were made to look after younger siblings or ailing parents and grandparents at the expense of their schooling. Children often worked in other households as domestic servants or babysitters. Society does not consider domestic work exploitative child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wage rates for various categories of workers, such as domestic servants, retail employees, casino workers, and skilled workers, were last updated in 1994, and manufacturing sector wages were revised in 1996. The minimum wage for full-time domestic workers was $56 (EC$150) per week and $74 (EC$200) per week for skilled workers. However, average wages were considerably higher in these and all other categories, and there was no need to enforce the outdated legal minimum wages, which would not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Many workers supplemented wages by keeping small animals such as goats and chickens, or other activities. The Labor Commission undertook regular wage inspections and special investigations when it received complaints; it required employers found in violation to pay back wages.

The law provides for a 40- to 44-hour workweek, but the common practice was 40 hours in 5 days. Although not required by law, workers receive at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law provides for premium pay for work above the standard workweek. There was no legal prohibition of excessive or compulsory overtime, although local custom dictated that a worker could not be forced to work overtime.

While there were no specific health and safety regulations, the law provides general health and safety guidance to Department of Labor inspectors. The Labor Commission settles disputes over safety conditions. Workers have the right to report unsafe work environments without jeopardy to continued employment; inspectors then investigate such claims, and workers may leave such locations without jeopardy to their continued employment.

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