Last Updated: Tuesday, 02 September 2014, 13:52 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Saint Kitts and Nevis

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 25 February 2004
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Saint Kitts and Nevis , 25 February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/403f57cd8.html [accessed 2 September 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
February 25, 2004

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy, a federation, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. 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. The Government consists of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a unicameral legislative assembly. The Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In elections in March 2000, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas' St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party won all 8 St. Kitts seats of the 11 seats in the legislature, and he remained Prime Minister. In elections in Nevis on September 7, 2001, Premier Vance Amory's Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) won four of the five seats in the Nevis Assembly. The judiciary is independent.

The security forces consist of a small police force, which include a 30-person Special Services Unit that received some light infantry training, a coast guard, and a small defense force. Military forces patrol jointly with the police. The forces were controlled by and responsive to the Government. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

The mixed economy was based on sugar cane, tourism, and light industry. The country's population was approximately 47,000. Most commercial enterprises were privately owned, but a state corporation owned the sugar industry and 85 percent of arable land. The economy had a mixed performance during 2002, as some sectors enjoyed positive growth while others experienced varying levels of decline. The construction sector recorded a 4.5 percent decline, manufacturing and hotels and restaurants also recorded significant declines of 4 and 10 percent respectively, and sugar production fell by 5.1 percent. The unemployment rate was estimated at 5 percent. Real economic growth was 0.75 percent in 2002.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Poor prison conditions, opposition complaints about access to government-controlled media, and violence against women were the principal problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including reedom from:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of arbitrary of unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits the use of torture or other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the authorities generally observed this prohibition in practice.

The police force continued to conduct its own internal investigation when complaints were made against its members. There were 5 complaints filed through August, most involving indecent language.

Prison conditions were overcrowded, and resources remained limited. The prison on Saint Kitts, built in 1840, was designed to accommodate 60 inmates but was renovated to increase capacity to 155. In September, it held 166 prisoners; some prisoners slept on mats on the floor. A low security prison on Nevis held 29 inmates. In both prisons, pretrial detainees were segregated from convicted prisoners. Female inmates were segregated from male prisoners, and juveniles were segregated from adult prisoners. Corporal punishment is legal; a court can order that an accused person receive lashes if found guilty. The prison provided voluntary work and education programs.

In October, prisoner Olieto Bartlette died from injuries sustained from an alleged beating while incarcerated. A police investigation found that Bartlette was bludgeoned by his cellmate, a violent criminal imprisoned for life, after an altercation.

The Government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers. In addition, the Ministry of National Security appointed "visiting justices," who were volunteers that oversaw the treatment of prisoners. The prison staff periodically received training in human rights.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally respected these provisions in practice. The law requires that persons detained be charged within 48 hours or be released. If charged, the police must bring a detainee before a court within 72 hours. Family members, attorneys, and clergy were permitted to visit detainees regularly.

The police force consists of 370 officers (72 officers in Nevis), with 27 auxiliary members. Senior officers investigate complaints made against members of the police force, and criminal offences are referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Before prospective officers are hired, the force conducts a background investigation in the candidate's home district, often interviewing the local parish priest and school principal. If the background check is satisfactory, the candidate must then pass an entrance exam and medical exam. Once hired, officers undertake 6 months of instruction at the local police training school. Starting in 2004, officers will receive human rights training based on resources provided by the International Red Cross.

The Constitution does not address forced exile, but the Government did not use it in practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution 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. Free legal assistance was available for indigent defendants in capital cases only.

The Constitution provides that every person accused of a crime must receive a fair, speedy, and public trial, and these requirements generally were observed. In September, there were 52 persons in "remand" (detention pending trial or further court action). The length of remand varied according to offense and charges; persons may be held for days, weeks, or months. There was no system of parole, due to resource constraints. Prisoners typically received reduced sentences of up to one-third for good behavior.

In October, the legislature began debate on draft legislation that would empower the courts to pass noncustodial sentencing such as discharges, suspended sentences, probation orders, and community service orders.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. The law requires judicially issued warrants to search private homes.

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 provisions in practice. The opposition People's Action Movement (PAM) party alleged that the ruling Labour Party blocked PAM's access to the Government controlled media. The PAM acknowledged, however, that it had access to independent media outlets.

One daily independent newspaper published Monday through Friday. There were four independent weekly newspapers; in addition, each of the major political parties published a weekly or biweekly newspaper. The publications were free to criticize the Government and did so regularly and vigorously. International news publications were readily available.

The Government privatized the government-owned radio station, although the Government continued to appoint three of its five board members. Several privately owned radio stations also operated.

In December, the Government abruptly withdrew permission to sponsor and broadcast local Carnival events from an independent radio station after reporters from the station investigated politically sensitive incidents related to Carnival management. A government-affiliated broadcaster was given exclusive rights.

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 right of peaceful assembly and for the right of association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.

In September, PAM leaders received a court summons for having a public gathering without a permit. PAM officials alleged they had requested a permit and the Government knew about the gathering, but deliberately refused to issue a permit.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 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 exists. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement, but did not routinely grant refugee status or asylum.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government by peaceful means, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. A multiparty political system existed, in which political parties were free to conduct their activities; however, an opposition party alleged that the ruling party restricted access to the media (see Section 2.a.). All citizens 18 years of age and older may register and vote by secret ballot. Despite some irregularities, orderly general elections were held in 2000, and Nevis elections were conducted peacefully in September 2001.

The Legislative Assembly has 11 elected seats: 8 for St. Kitts and 3 for Nevis. The Labour Party held all eight St. Kitts seats in the legislature; opposition parties held the other three seats. The PAM lost its one seat in the 2000 election. In addition to the 11 elected Members of Parliament, there were 3 appointed Senators. The Governor General appoints the three Senators, two on recommendation of the Prime Minister and one on the recommendation of the Leader of the Opposition. The island of Nevis has considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature. In the 2001 Nevis elections, Premier Amory's CCM won four of the five seats in the Nevis Island Assembly.

In accordance with its rights under the Constitution, in 1996 the Nevis Assembly initiated steps towards secession from the Federation, the most recent being a referendum in 1998 that failed to secure the required two-thirds majority for secession. During the year, the Nevis Assembly again proposed secession and initiated formal constitutional procedures to hold a referendum on the issue. While opposing secession, the Government acknowledged the constitutional rights of Nevisians to determine their future independence.

Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of political opinion or affiliation, the former opposition party PAM alleged widespread employment discrimination by the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party against public sector employment of persons perceived to be PAM supporters. In the case of one person whom the PAM leadership claimed had not been paid, the Government asserted that this individual, while a minister in the Government, received fees for legal services from two government institutions and that, therefore, it was entitled to offset her pension by the amount of fees received. The matter was before the courts at year's end.

The PAM claimed that electoral reform is needed to correct inequities and to prevent irregularities in voting, asserting that in the last election, the Government unduly influenced voters by providing airfare and hotel accommodations to overseas citizens willing to return to vote. The PAM also claimed that 17-year-olds voted, even though the law requires a minimum age of 18, and that some people voted more than once by voting in different jurisdictions. Citing these irregularities, the PAM proposed that photographic voter identification cards be issued, and the existing register of voters be nullified. The PAM also recommended changes to the electoral commission to correct what it perceived as a bias toward the party in power. The PAM criticized the Government's failure to appoint any PAM representatives to the Select Committee of the National Assembly on Constitutional Reform, which will take up matters of electoral reform.

There were no impediments in law or in practice to the participation of women in leadership roles in government and politics. There were 2 women in the 11-seat National Assembly, 1 woman in the Cabinet, 3 of 4 magistrates were female, the court registrar was female, and 6 of 11 permanent secretaries were female. In addition, in Nevis, one cabinet member and the president of the House of Assembly were female. The Government participated in an Organization of American States program to encourage the participation of women in leadership roles, with a focus on politics. The program aims to have one-third of high government positions filled by women.

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

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

5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, place of origin, birth out of wedlock, political opinion or affiliation, color, sex, or creed, and the Government generally respected these provisions in practice.

Women

According to a government official, violence against women was a problem. The Domestic Violence Act criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides penalties for abusers. Although many women were reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts, there were publicly reported cases of both domestic violence and rape, and a few convictions. The Department of Gender Affairs, under the Ministry of Social Development, Community, and Gender Affairs, was active in the areas of domestic violence, spousal abuse, and abandonment. It offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic violence and gender violence for officials of the police and fire departments, nurses, school guidance counselors, and other government employees. In addition, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Gender Affairs participated in a weekly radio program to discuss gender issues, including domestic violence. The Department reported 12 cases of domestic violence through September. There was no separate domestic violence unit in the police force.

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 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 15 participants. 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.

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

Sexual harassment was a problem. A law covering sexual harassment was proposed in the legislature, and it was awaiting its second reading at year's end, while government, private sector, and labor advocates discussed its provisions and possible impact.

Children

The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare and has incorporated most of the provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic legislation. The law mandates compulsory education up to the age of 16; it was free and universal. Over 98 percent of children completed school. Under the law, the age of consent is 16. As of September, the authorities had brought charges in 10 cases involving alleged sexual activity with minors and 2 cases of incest.

Persons with Disabilities

Although there is no legislation to protect persons with disabilities or to mandate accessibility for them, the Constitution and the Government prohibit discrimination in employment, education, and other state services. During the year, the Government committed to include blind and visually impaired persons in the National Development Plan, which emphasized opportunities in education and employment.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of all workers to form and belong to trade unions. The law permits the police, civil service, and other organizations to organize associations that serve as unions. The major labor union, the St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union (SKTLU), was associated closely with the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party and was active in all sectors of the economy. The opposition PAM party alleged that the ruling party used its influence to try to stifle other unions that would threaten the SKTLU in the workplace.

The law prohibits anti-union discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such action to rehire employees fired for union activities. The employer, however, must pay lost wages and severance pay to employees who had worked at least 1 year, based upon length of their service. There was no legislation governing the organization and representation of workers, and employers were not bound legally to recognize a union, but in practice employers did so if a majority of workers polled wished to organize.

Unions were free to form federations or confederations and to affiliate with international organizations. The islands' unions maintained a variety of international ties.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor unions are free to organize and to negotiate for better wages and benefits for union members. If a union obtains membership of over 50 percent of employees at a company, the union can apply to be recognized by the employer for collective bargaining. The employer may request a poll from the Ministry of Labor but must accept the final results. Collective bargaining takes place on a workplace-by-workplace basis, not industry-wide. The Labor Commissioner and Labor Officers mediate disputes between labor and management on an ad hoc basis. However, in practice few disputes actually went to the Commissioner for resolution. If neither the Commissioner nor the Ministry of Labor is able to resolve the dispute, the law allows for a case to be brought before a civil court.

The right to strike, while not specified by law, is well established and respected in practice. Restrictions on striking by workers who provide essential services, such as the police and civil servants, were enforced by established practice and custom, but not by law. There were no major strikes during the year.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The Constitution prohibits slavery and forced labor, and they did not occur in practice. While neither the Constitution nor the law specifically address bonded labor, it was not a problem in practice.

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. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Child labor is addressed in the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act, as well as in the 1966 Employment of Children Ordinance. The ordinance outlaws slavery, servitude, and forced labor. The minimum legal working age is 16 years. The Labor Ministry relied heavily on school truancy officers and the Community Affairs Division to monitor compliance, which they generally did effectively.

Agriculture, domestic service, and illicit activities were areas in which juveniles found work. In rural 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. There were no reported cases of child labor during the year, and no cases of child labor have ever been brought to the attention of the Department of Labor, which is empowered to investigate and address complaints of child labor. Kittitian society does not consider domestic work as exploitative child labor.

At year's end, child labor laws were being reviewed under a program of labor legislation review and update that began in 1999 under the 1986 Protection of Employment Act. Child labor laws were to be incorporated into a nationwide Labor Code.

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 average wage varied from $67 (EC$180) per week for full-time domestic workers to $166 (EC$443.50) per week for skilled workers. These provided a barely adequate living for a wage earner 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. Workers who were laid off for more than 12 weeks received a lump sum payment from the Government based on previous earnings and length of service.

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 that workers receive a minimum annual vacation of 14 working days. While there were no specific health and safety regulations, the Factories Law provides general health and safety guidance to Labor Ministry inspectors. The Labor Commission settles disputes over safety conditions. Workers had 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.

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.

An "economic citizenship" program allowed foreign investors to purchase passports through loosely monitored procedures involving an investment of at least $250,000 (EC$675,000) in real estate, plus a registration fee of $35,000 (EC$94,500) for the head of household (amounts varied for other family members). This program 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 their debt was repaid. The Government denied any knowledge of illegal immigration facilitated through this program and asserted that applicants were adequately screened.

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