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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - St Lucia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - St Lucia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1c18.html [accessed 30 July 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, January 30, 1998.

SAINT LUCIA

St. Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Government comprises a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislative assembly. A Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In general elections in May, the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) defeated the incumbent United Workers Party (UWP), gaining 16 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly. Dr. Kenny Anthony of the SLP assumed the prime ministership from the UWP's Dr. Vaughan Lewis, who had taken over from long-serving UWP Prime Minister John Compton in March 1996. The judiciary is independent.

The Royal Saint Lucia Police is the only security force and includes a small unit called the Special Services Unit (which has some paramilitary training) and a coast guard unit. Although the police have traditionally demonstrated a high degree of respect for human rights, there were allegations of abuse by police and prison officials.

The economy is based on tourism and on the export of bananas, which represent the principal sources of foreign exchange earnings. Saint Lucia is diversifying its economy into other types of agriculture, light manufacturing, and construction. Unemployment, estimated at 20 percent, remains a source of potential instability.

The authorities generally respected human rights. Government criticism of the media and pressure on antigovernment radio stations under the UWP, occasional credible allegations of physical abuse of suspects or prisoners, very poor prison conditions, domestic violence against women, and child abuse represented the major problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

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 such abuse. However, many criminal convictions in recent years have been based on confessions, which may reflect an effort by police to force confessions rather than rely on criminal cases, which could be subject to long judicial delays and procedural obstacles. The Crusader newspaper reported one such incident in February, in which the police severely beat a suspect while questioning him regarding a passenger van's stolen windscreen. The article included the medical examiner's report, which revealed multiple marks of violence.

The island's only prison, built in the 1800's to house a maximum of 101 prisoners, was subject to severe overcrowding with over 400 inmates. Very poor prison conditions led to a prison riot in June; prisoners set fires that destroyed over half the antiquated prison. The inmates asserted that the fires were part of a protest for improvements in conditions at the prison. Following the fire, about 250 inmates were transferred to a factory shell outside the capital pending repairs to the existing prison. The Government appointed a new board whose function is to hear prisoners' complaints of abuse. The Government also is considering construction of a new facility. Prison guards are generally well-trained.

The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government adheres to the constitutional provisions prohibiting arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and requiring a court hearing within 72 hours after detention. However, the authorities have frequently held prisoners for years on remand after charging them (there is no constitutional requirement for a speedy trial).

There were no reports of forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is independent in practice.

There are two levels of courts: 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 $1,900 (EC$5,000) in value, and criminal cases generally classified as petty. The upper court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases can be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Cases 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 are entitled to select their own legal counsel, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, and have the right of appeal. The authorities observe 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 Constitution prohibits such practices. Government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanctions.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

St. Lucian governments have generally respected constitutional provisions for free speech and press. However, the UWP Government occasionally demonstrated hostility to elements of the print and electronic media, resulting in the closure of Radio St. Lucia and Radyo Koulibwi in 1996. According to the Observer newspaper, Radyo Koulibwi was seen as facilitating antigovernment sentiments through its talk-show format. This government action did not appear to affect the overall degree of press freedom.

Five privately owned newspapers, two privately owned radio stations, and one partially government-funded radio station operate in St. Lucia. They carry a wide spectrum of political opinion and are often critical of the Government. The radio stations have discussion and call-in programs that allow people to express their views. The two local television stations are also privately owned and cover a wide range of views. In addition, people can subscribe to cable television service, which provides programming from a variety of sources.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of association and assembly, and the Government generally respects 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 grant such permits; the rare refusal generally stems from the failure of organizers to request the permit in a timely manner, normally 48 hours before the event.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status; however, government practice remains undefined.

Section 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 vigorously in May when the SLP defeated the UWP, which had governed with only one interruption since 1964. The SLP won 16 of 17 seats, campaigning on a platform of job creation and economic diversification and appealing explicitly to women and younger voters. In response to concerns about the size of the SLP's parliamentary majority, Prime Minister Anthony publicly emphasized that the Government will make efforts to reach out to the opposition to ensure that the country's democratic traditions are not undermined by the small size of the parliamentary opposition. The 1996 merger of smaller parties--the Concerned Citizens' Movement, the St. Lucia Freedom Party, and the Citizens' Democratic Party--into the SLP left the country with only two major political parties.

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. Two members of the Senate are independent, appointed by the Governor General. The Governor General, George Mallet, who had been affiliated with the UWP, stepped down following the elections, and the Prime Minister has indicated his successor should be nonpolitical.

There are no impediments to participation by women and minorities in government. Two of the 13 members of the new Cabinet are women. However, women and minorities are not represented in numbers proportional to their share of the population.

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

While there are no local human rights groups, there are no governmental restrictions that would prevent their formation.

Following the prison riot in June (see Section 1.c.), the Government invited Caribbean human rights monitors, including Penal Reform International, to investigate prison conditions. A report on the results of that investigation is expected in early 1998.

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

Government policy is nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement. There are no legal restrictions on the role of women or minorities.

Women

There is increased awareness of the seriousness of violence against women. The Government does not prosecute crimes of violence against women unless the victim herself presses charges. If the victim chooses for any reason not to press charges, the Government cannot bring a case. Charges must be brought under the ordinary Civil Code. The police force conducts some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women. Police and courts enforce laws to protect women against abuse, although police are hesitant to intervene in domestic disputes, and many victims are reluctant to report cases of domestic violence and rape or to press charges.

The 1994 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 would no longer have the right to live in the same residence as the victim.

The Saint Lucia Crisis Center monitors cases of abuse (physical and emotional) and helps its clients deal with such problems as incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights. The group has publicized the plight of battered women and has protested the rare deaths of women who were victims of domestic violence. The Crisis Center is also working to establish a shelter for battered women and homeless girls. Some secondary schools address the problem of sexual harassment and battering in their curriculum topics.

The Minister for Women's Affairs is responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including equal treatment in employment.

Children

Since independence, successive governments have given high priority to improving educational opportunities and health care for the nation's children. Education is free and compulsory from age 5 through 15. Government clinics provide prenatal care, immunization, child health care, and health education services throughout the island.

A broad legal framework exists for the protection of children through the Criminal Code, the Children and Young Persons Act, the Family Court Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Attachment of Earnings Act. Although the Government adopted a national plan of action in November 1991 for the survival, protection, and development of children, the Government has not fulfilled this program by implementing effective programs. The St. Lucia Crisis Center reports that the incidence of child abuse remains high.

People With Disabilities

There is no specific legislation protecting the rights of the disabled, nor mandating provision of access to buildings or government services for them. There is no rehabilitation facility for the physically disabled, although the Health Ministry operates a community-based rehabilitation program in residents' homes. There are schools for the deaf and for the blind up to the secondary level.

Section 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 are unionized; about 20 percent of the total work force is unionized. Unions are independent of government, and are free to choose their own representatives in often vigorously contested elections. There are no restrictions on the formation of national labor federations. In 1994 several of the major unions formed an umbrella grouping called the Industrial Solidarity Pact. Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations, and some have done so.

Strikes in both the public and private sectors are legal, but there are many avenues through collective bargaining agreements and government procedures which 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.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they fully exercise this right. Union representatives have reported attempts by government and other employers to undermine this process.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and there are effective mechanisms for resolving complaints. It also requires that employers reinstate workers fired for union activities.

Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones (EPZ's), and there are no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones. In practice, however, many firms resist union efforts to organize in the EPZ's, even to the point of closing operations.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it is 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

The Government does not specifically prohibit forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.). The Children and Young Persons Act stipulates a minimum legal working age of 14 years. Ministry of Labor officials are responsible for enforcing the law. There were no reports of violations of child labor laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Wages Regulations (Clerks) Orders, in effect since 1985, set out minimum wage rates only for clerks. These office workers receive a legislated minimum wage of about $300 (EC$800) per month. The minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker supporting a four-person family, but some categories of workers receive more than the legal minimum for clerks, which is used only as a guide for setting pay for other professions.

There is no legislated workweek, although the common practice is to work 40 hours in 5 days. Special legislation covers hours which shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and young people in industrial establishments may work.

Occupational health and safety regulations are relatively well developed. The Labor Ministry periodically inspects health and safety conditions at places of employment under the Employees' Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1985. The Ministry enforces the act through threat of closure of the business if it discovers violations and the violator does not correct them. Workers are free to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.

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