U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Saint Lucia
|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 Lucia , 8 March 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/441821b011.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006
Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 163 thousand. In generally free and fair elections in 2001, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony's Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) retained power, winning 14 seats in the 17-member House of Assembly. 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:
- physical abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police
- long delays in trials and sentencing
- violence against women
- child abuse
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Although the government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, security forces killed four persons during the year.
In February police shot and killed Remy Jeremie after he reportedly shot at police officers who attempted to apprehend him and several accomplices engaged in an attempted robbery. Hudson James was shot and killed by police in April. In June police killed a mentally challenged person, Stephen Sylvester, who allegedly threatened to attack a police officer. Lewis Pelage was shot and killed by police in September. All four cases were under investigation at year's end.
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. However, prisoners and suspects regularly complained of physical abuse by police and prison officers. There were 146 complaints against the police, the majority of which were for the use of excessive force (see section 1.d.).
In April police arrested Natasha Joseph and charged her with killing her brother. Joseph told the press that, during several days in custody, police officers denied her right to counsel and allegedly used threats and intimidation in an attempt to obtain a confession. In July a plainclothes police officer reportedly shot Brian Felix during an argument and left him injured without arresting him or seeking medical attention. A bystander took Felix to a hospital, where police then detained him. In October a police officer allegedly beat Mathurine Williams for making a negative comment to him, requiring subsequent hospital treatment for a broken finger and other physical injuries.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met minimum international standards at the 2-year-old Bordelais Correctional Facility, which had a capacity of 500 prisoners and held approximately that number of prisoners. There were complaints regarding the treatment of prisoners at the facility.
In September the press reported that an attorney complained to the judge during a sentencing proceeding that guards had beaten clients of his who were prisoners at Bordelais prison. Also in September the press reported allegations that guards severely beat prisoner Wilson Exhale, who was left in his cell unconscious and denied medical treatment for several days. The attorney who heads the National Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights charged that 10 prison guards had beaten Exhale and called for the government to investigate a "culture of torture and inhumane treatment of inmates." The government denied that such a situation existed and stated that the incident involved only a single guard and Exhale, who had a history of violence and had once beaten a prison guard unconscious. The case was under investigation at year's end.
The Boy's Training Center, a juvenile detention center that operated separately from the prison, held 14 juveniles between 12 and 18 years of age. A fire broke out at the facility in November, killing 12-year-old Jamal Roberts. The incident was under investigation at year's end. Following the fire, the press reported on allegations of poor conditions and harsh treatment of the juveniles at the facility, including beatings by police officers.
The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, although no such visits were known to have taken place during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest or imprisonment, and the government generally adhered to these provisions in practice.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Royal Saint Lucia Police numbered 704 officers, which included a 35-officer 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. The police commissioner continued implementation of a community policing initiative to increase professionalism, prevent crime, and address customer service issues. The police force's internal complaints unit received and investigated complaints made by the public against police officers. The complaint unit's findings were sent to the Police Complaints Commission, a civilian body, which reviewed the cases and made recommendations for internal disciplinary action to the police commissioner.
During the year the police force's complaints unit received 146 complaints against police officers, 89 of which were investigated. Sufficient evidence was found to sustain 24 complaints, which were sent to the Police Complaints Commission with recommendations that disciplinary action be taken against the police officers cited.
Arrest and Detention
The law 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 are allowed prompt access to counsel and family. There is a functioning bail system.
There were no reports of political detainees.
Prolonged pretrial detention continued to be a problem; 33 percent of the nearly 500 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. In September the press reported that an attorney complained to a judge about four individuals charged in a murder case who had each been held on remand for three years and seven months.
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 continued to face a serious backlog of cases. The average time for a trial was 3 to 6 months in the magistrate's courts and 6 to 12 months for nonpetty criminal cases, although persons charged with serious crimes were held in detention for up to 4 years. To address this backlog, the courts began hearing serious criminal cases throughout the year, instead of three times per year.
The two-level court system includes the courts of summary jurisdiction (magistrate's courts) and the High Court, both of which have civil and criminal authority. The lower courts accept civil claims up to approximately $1,850 (EC$5 thousand) 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. Cases also may be appealed to the Privy Council in London as the final court of appeal. A family court handles child custody, maintenance, support, domestic violence, juvenile affairs, and related matters.
The law provides for 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. While there was no requirement for a speedy trial, the government used the magistrate's court located in the prison to reduce processing time for court hearings after detention. In criminal cases not involving capital punishment, defendants must obtain their own legal counsel. 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. Authorities observed both constitutional and statutory requirements for fair public trials.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law 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 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.
The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Local media outlets and the opposition party continued to voice concerns over the "spreading false news" clause, enacted in 2003 as part of the new Criminal Code.
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.
Two Rastafarians, convicted of murder and arson and sentenced to hang in 2003 for attacking parishioners at a Catholic Mass in 2000, remained on death row.
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 prohibits forced exile, and it was not used.
Protection of Refugees
No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests existed. 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, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
In 2001 in elections that generally were considered free and fair, Prime Minister Anthony's SLP defeated the United Workers Party, led by Morella Joseph. The SLP won 14 of 17 seats and 55 percent of the popular vote. The governor general appoints the 11-member Senate, which included 2 independents.
Eight women competed in the 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. One of the 14 members of the cabinet was a woman, as was the governor general.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The public perception of corruption in government was reportedly low, although there was a perception that obtaining public sector jobs was tied to political ties and cronyism.
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 website, 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. Although the government officially cooperated with such investigations, observers noted occasional reluctance by lower level officials to cooperate.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
While neither the constitution nor the law addresses discrimination specifically, 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 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. The Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs, and Gender Relations reported 34 cases of domestic violence in 2004; more recent figures were not available. Most of the cases were referred to a counselor, and the police facilitated the issuance of court protection orders in some. Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by 14 years' to life imprisonment. 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 police force conducted some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women. A special police unit handled domestic violence, and its officers, who include women, worked closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Office of Gender Relations.
The law allows a judge to issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the place where the victim is living. It also allows the judge to order that an abuser's name be removed from housing leases or rental agreements, revoking the right of the abuser to live in the same residence as the victim.
The Saint Lucia Crisis Center Committee, a nongovernmental organization located in Castries, in 2004 monitored nine cases of physical violence and also helped clients to deal with such problems as incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights. During the year the Women's Support Center, a government shelter for abused persons, received crisis calls and offered residential services to clients and their dependent children. The center also engaged in an active community outreach program that included visits to schools, health centers, and community centers.
Prostitution is illegal, but it was a growing problem. The police did not take serious action against certain nightclubs despite some reports of trafficking.
Sexual harassment is prohibited under the Criminal Code that came into effect in January; however, it remained a problem.
Women generally enjoy equal rights, including in economic, family, property, and judicial matters. Women's affairs were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs, and Gender Relations. 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 dropout 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. Boys and girls had equal access to medical care.
During the year the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs, and Gender Relations reported 75 cases of child sexual abuse, 95 cases of physical abuse, 29 cases of psychological abuse, and 107 cases of neglect and abandonment. The media criticized the ministry's Division of Human Services for failing to respond sufficiently to reports of sexual abuse of children, including alleged cases of incest. As there was no welfare system, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for financial contributions toward the welfare of children born of such abuse.
In May a judge sentenced Dunedin Alexander to 15 years' imprisonment for sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl and Garvin Palm to 10 years' imprisonment for attempted sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl. The press reported that during the proceedings, the judge remarked about the increasing number of criminal cases involving adults allegedly having sex with children, which he said constituted 14 of the 30 cases then before the court. Of 32 court cases heard on a single day, 13 were for sexually related offenses including rape, sexual assault on a minor, and incest. The press also reported an increase of cases of sexual assault on minors, with 65 cases in 2004 compared with 49 in 2003.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there were reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country. There are laws prohibiting slavery, forced labor, forced imprisonment, or kidnapping that could be used to prosecute alleged traffickers.
In June the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released an exploratory assessment that identified the country as one of several in the region in which trafficking occurred. The findings of the report suggested that persons, including children, were trafficked to and within the country to work in prostitution. The IOM report cited anecdotal evidence of women from other Caribbean countries who had been promised jobs as waitresses, only to find themselves coerced into working as prostitutes.
The government acknowledged that despite a lack of documented cases of trafficking, surveys and media reports indicated that it occurred. The country had a growing sex tourism industry with a number of strip clubs and brothels, many of which were staffed by women from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean islands.
In October the government's Office of Gender Relations held two workshops addressing the role of both the public and private sectors in curbing trafficking. The government also began training health care professionals and police officers how to identify situations in which trafficking may have occurred.
Persons with Disabilities
No specific legislation protects the rights of persons with disabilities or mandates provision of access to buildings or government services for them. The government is obliged to provide disabled access to all public buildings, and several 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 for the blind until the secondary level. There also was a school for persons with mental disabilities.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
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.
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 36 percent of the total work force was unionized.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they exercised this right in practice. The law regulates internal union governance and also provides that an employer must recognize a union if the union obtains the support of 50 percent plus one of the employees at a particular business.
Strikes in both the public and private sectors were legal, but there were many avenues such as collective bargaining agreements and government procedures that often precluded a strike. 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.
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 these zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred. While there is no specific prohibition of forced or compulsory labor by children, there were no reports of such practices.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for
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 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 child labor laws 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 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. The 1999 Minimum Wage Act established a commission responsible for setting a minimum wage level; it met during 2003, but it 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 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.