U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Saint Lucia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||31 March 2003|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Saint Lucia , 31 March 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3e918c470.html [accessed 26 November 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003
Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The head of state was Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor General, who has some residual powers under the Constitution that can be used at the Governor's General's discretion. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet, which usually represent the majority party in the bicameral Parliament, exercised most of the power. In generally free and fair elections on December 3, 2001, Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony's Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) retained power, winning 14 seats in the 17-member House of Assembly. The judiciary was generally independent.
The Royal Saint Lucia Police was the only security force and included a small unit called the Special Services Unit (which had some paramilitary training) and a coast guard unit. They were controlled by and responsive to the Government. There were occasional allegations of abuse by the police.
The country's market-based economy depended upon tourism and banana exports as the principal sources of foreign exchange. The population was approximately 158,000. Although tropical storm Lili destroyed more than 65 percent of the banana crop in September, construction work, agricultural output, and income from tourism were expected to increase during the year. In 2001 the real economic growth rate was a negative 5.3 percent, unemployment was 18.9 percent, and the rate of inflation was 1.9 percent.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; the authorities continued to investigate a killing committed by police in 2000. There were some allegations of physical abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police; poor prison conditions, long delays in trials and sentencing, incidents of mob attacks on suspected criminals, domestic violence against women, and child abuse also were problems. Saint Lucia was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports of arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.
At year's end, the Government had not concluded its investigation into the 2000 killing by police of escaped prisoner Alfred Harding. A jury returned a verdict of accidental death in the case involving the 2000 police shooting of Paul Hamilton.
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 torture or other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment during the year. Although no official complaints were filed, prisoners and suspects complained of physical abuse by police and prison officers.
During the year, the police force, with assistance from a team of British experts, prepared a 5-year plan, which includes community-based policing, crime prevention, increased professionalization, and attention to complaint investigation and internal review. In 2001 the Canadian Government provided an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to act as Deputy Commissioner of Police in order to strengthen personnel procedures; his contract concluded in April. The police force added 50 new officers to bring its strength to over 700, and an additional 30 new officers were in training at year's end.
Prison conditions at the main prison in Castries continued to be poor, and overcrowding remained a severe problem. Lax security controls in an urban setting enabled weapons to be easily smuggled into the prison by relatives or be thrown over the prison walls. The focus of the correction program was containment; there were no training or rehabilitation programs, although there were a few craft programs.
Although there were different wings for prisoners requiring different levels of security, prisoners who were charged with crimes but not yet convicted were incarcerated with the convicts. In July the Government transferred 11 prisoners to a prison on Grenada for more than 2 months in order to defuse a tense situation at the prison that developed when rival drug gangs carried their conflicts inside the prison. While the prisoners were on Grenada, the Government undertook some repairs to the main prison in order to strengthen the facility.
In December there were 455 inmates in the main prison facility, which was built to house 80 inmates. Fifty young offenders (ages 18 to 20) were kept apart from older inmates. Sanitation was a particular problem, with open pit latrines for prisoners. Construction of a new prison facility near Dennery was just completed at year's end. It has separate facilities for females, young offenders, and those awaiting trial. It also has space set aside for rehabilitation programs, as well as a magistrate's courtroom. The Government hired and trained 78 new correctional officers to provide additional staff for the new prison; their training included segments on human rights.
In December there were 10 female prisoners in a separate prison facility for women, but they will be moved to the new prison in January 2003. Conditions in the women's facility were somewhat better than those at the men's prison. A boys' training school housed juveniles between 12 and 18 years of age; it will operate separately from the new prison.
The Government permitted prison visits by human rights observers. In addition, nine private sector volunteers appointed as "visiting justices" by the Ministry of Home Affairs visited prisoners periodically.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and requires a court hearing 72 hours after detention, and the Government generally adhered to these provisions in practice. However, in the past, authorities had held prisoners for years on remand after charging them. There was no constitutional requirement for a speedy trial, but the Government planned to use the magistrate's court in the new prison to reduce processing time for court hearings after detention. Those charged with serious crimes spent an estimated 6 months to 1 year on remand; however, those charged with petty offenses often received speedy trials, particularly if victims or witnesses might leave the island.
The Government did not use forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.
There are two levels of courts, which are the 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 $1,850 (EC$5,000) and criminal cases generally classified as "petty." The High Court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases can be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Cases also 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 were entitled to select their own legal counsel, were presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and had the right of appeal. The authorities observed both constitutional and statutory requirements for fair public trials.
The court system continued to face a serious backlog of cases. In November 2001, the Government appointed two new magistrates. The average time for a trial took 3 to 6 months in the magistrate's courts and 6 to 12 months for criminal cases. In an effort to speed up the court process, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court held training in October for court personnel in the areas of caseflow management and records management.
Citizens took justice into their own hands by attacking individuals suspected of committing crimes. In September residents in Soucis attacked a man suspected of robbing an elderly shopkeeper. In October the press reported that villagers in Anse La Raye chased a man suspected of involvement in the death of 70-year-old John Cadasse; he ran away, but the police arrested him and held him at year's end pending an investigation.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits such actions, and government authorities generally respected these prohibitions in practice. Violations were subject to effective legal sanctions.
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.
There were four major privately owned newspapers, two privately owned radio stations, one partially government-funded radio station, one government-operated television station that began operating in October, and two private television stations. These media carried a spectrum of political opinion and often were critical of the Government. The radio stations' discussion and call-in programs allowed persons to express their views. The two private television stations also covered a wide range of views. In addition, there was subscription cable television service, which provided programming from a variety of sources, such as CNN and the BBC.
The Government did not restrict access to the Internet.
The Government did not restrict academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected 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 granted such permits; the rare refusal generally stemmed from the failure of organizers to request the permit in a timely manner, normally 72 hours before the event.
In September the police denied a request by the United Workers Party (UWP) for a permit to march in front of the Parliament building, on the basis that the Public Order Act prohibits marches in such locations between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The UWP was protesting the retention of Walter Francois, an elected Member of Parliament who allegedly misrepresented his academic credentials. Despite the lack of a permit to hold an organized protest, a number of persons picketed in front of the Parliament.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.
At year's end, there was still no resolution in the case of the two men accused of attacking a Sunday Mass in a Roman Catholic Church in December 2000, which was scheduled for a court hearing in February 2003. The men, believed to be Rastafarian, were charged with murder and arson for their alleged role in the attack in which a nun and a worshipper were killed and a priest was doused with gasoline and set on fire. Thirteen persons were hospitalized for treatment of knife wounds and burns, including the priest, who died in April 2001 as a result of blood clots, which may have been an existing condition prior to the attack.
For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.
No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests existed. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise during the year. There were no reports of the forced expulsion of any persons having a claim to refugee status; however, government practice remained undefined.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens have the right to change their government, and exercised that right in generally free and fair elections on December 3, 2001, when Prime Minister Anthony's SLP defeated the UWP, led by Morella Joseph. The SLP won 14 of 17 seats and the UWP won 3. The other opposition parties – the National Alliance, led by former SLP Foreign Minister George Odlum; the STAFF (Sou Tout Apwe Fete Fini) Party; and the St. Lucia Freedom Party – did not win any seats. The SLP capitalized on the failure of the opposition forces to unite in a national coalition due to a leadership struggle between Odlum and Sir John Compton, founder of the UWP and a former Prime Minister. Only 52 percent of those eligible voted, and the SLP won 55 percent of the popular vote.
Under the Constitution, general elections must be held at least every 5 years by secret ballot, but may be held earlier at the discretion of the government in power. The Governor General appoints the 11-member Senate, which includes 2 independents.
Popularly elected local governments in the 10 administrative divisions (towns and villages) perform such tasks as regulation of sanitation and markets and maintenance of cemeteries and secondary roads.
There were no legal impediments to participation by women and minorities in government and politics, and 8 women competed in the 2001 elections in a field of 45 candidates for 17 positions. Voters elected two women to the House of Assembly, and there were four appointed female Senators. Two of the 13 members of the Cabinet were women, as was the Governor General.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government generally did not restrict international or nongovernmental investigations of alleged violations of human rights. Although the Government officially cooperated with such investigations, observers noted occasional reluctance by lower officials to cooperate.
5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status
Neither the Constitution nor the law address discrimination specifically; however, government policy was nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement.
Violence against women was recognized as a serious problem. The Government did not prosecute crimes of violence against women unless the victim pressed charges. Most charges involving domestic violence must be brought under the ordinary Civil Code, but rape and other crimes were subject to the Criminal Code. A family court heard cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children. The police force conducted some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women. Late in the year, the police established a special unit to deal with domestic violence; the sole female sergeant in this section worked closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Gender Affairs. Police and courts enforced laws to protect women against abuse, although police were hesitant to intervene in domestic disputes, and many victims were reluctant to report cases of domestic violence and rape or to press charges.
The 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 no longer would have the right to live in the same residence as the victim.
The Saint Lucia Crisis Center for Women, a nongovernmental organization located in Castries, monitored cases of physical and emotional abuse and helped clients to deal with such problems as incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights. The Crisis Center reported 213 new cases during the year, brought by 52 men and 161 women, and 768 repeat cases. There were 56 new cases of spousal abuse and 6 sexual abuse cases, including 4 alleged rapes and 2 cases of incest. A recent project on Women, Gender, and Poverty in the Windward Islands sponsored by the Crisis Center focused on the problems faced by women farmers who were displaced by the downturns in the banana industry. Since its opening in September 2001, the Women's Support Center, a government shelter for abused persons, assisted approximately 40 women with more than 100 children.
Women's affairs were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Gender Affairs. The 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 gave high priority to improving educational opportunities and health care for children. Education was compulsory from age 5 through 15; registration fees were required. Approximately one-third of primary school children continued on to secondary schools, and the drop out rate from primary to secondary school was higher for boys than for girls. Government clinics provided prenatal care, immunization, child health care, and health education services.
The Saint Lucia Crisis Center reported that the incidence of child abuse remained high; it received 24 new cases involving child abuse during the year. As there was no welfare system in place, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for financial contributions toward the welfare of any babies born of such abuse. In September the press reported that a 10-year-old gave birth and that an 11-year-old was pregnant.
Persons with Disabilities
No specific legislation protects the rights of persons with disabilities, nor mandates provision of access to buildings or government services for them. Several government buildings added 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 for the blind up to the secondary level. There also was a school for persons with mental disabilities. Several blind persons worked at banks.
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 and about 20 percent of the total work force was unionized. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and there were effective mechanisms for resolving complaints. It also requires that employers reinstate workers fired for union activities.
Unions were independent of government and were free to choose their own representatives in often vigorously contested elections. There were no restrictions on the formation of national labor federations. Several of the major unions belonged to an umbrella grouping called the Industrial Solidarity Pact that dealt with certain political matters.
Unions were free to affiliate with international organizations, and some did so.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they fully exercised this right in practice. The Registration of Trade Unions and Employer Organizations Act provides for compulsory recognition of unions and regulates internal union governance. Since it entered into effect in January 2000, it resulted in increased organizational activity by unions. There were three major unions – the National Workers Union, the Civil Service Association, and the Seamen, Waterfront, and General Workers Union – plus specialized unions for nurses and teachers.
Strikes in both the public and private sectors were legal, but there were many avenues through collective bargaining agreements and government procedures that may preclude a strike. The law prohibits members of 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.
Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones (EPZs), and there were no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones. Although many firms resisted union efforts to organize in the EPZs, the new registration law appeared to have a positive influence on organizing efforts.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The Government prohibits forced or bonded labor, and it was not known to occur. While there is no specific prohibition of forced or bonded labor by children, there were no reports of such practices.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
Minors were protected legally from economic exploitation by several legislative acts, including the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act, which provides for a minimum legal working age of 14 years. The Government was in the process of updating the Labor Code to set the minimum legal working age at 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 larger, stronger, school-age children helped harvest bananas from family trees. Children also typically worked in urban food stalls or sold confectionery on sidewalks. However, these activities occurred 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 1938 child labor laws, which were being updated, were $3.55 (EC$9.60) for a first offense and $8.88 (EC$24) 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 $111 (EC$300), for shop assistants $74 (EC$200), and for messengers $59 (EC$160). The minimum wage was not sufficient to 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. The 1999 Minimum Wage Act established a commission responsible for setting a minimum wage level; it met during the year but had not finished its work by year's end.
There is no legislated workweek, although the common practice was to work 40 hours in 5 days. Special legislation covers hours that shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and persons in industrial establishments may work.
Occupational health and safety regulations were relatively well developed; however, there was only one qualified inspector for the entire country, although the other nine inspectors included some review of health and safety conditions in their general inspections. 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 were free to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.
f. Trafficking in Persons
There were no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons. There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.