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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

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 Vincent and the Grenadines , 31 March 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3e918c3c4.html [accessed 27 December 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 31, 2003

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. A prime minister, a cabinet, and a unicameral legislative assembly compose the Government. The Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, was the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In October 2000, Prime Minister Sir James F. Mitchell of the New Democratic Party (NDP) resigned, following divisive general strikes during the spring, and Arnhim Eustace, an NDP parliamentarian, replaced him. In March 2001 elections that were generally free and fair, the Unity Labor Party (ULP) won 12 of the 15 parliamentary seats, and ULP leader Ralph Gonsalves became the new Prime Minister. The NDP had held power for 17 years. The judiciary was generally independent.

The Royal St. Vincent Police, the only security force in the country, included a coast guard and a small Special Services Unit (SSU) with some paramilitary training, which often was accused of using excessive force. The force was controlled by and responsive to the Government, but police continued to commit some human rights abuses.

The market-based economy relied heavily on its supply of natural resources, including agricultural products such as bananas and arrowroot, as well as on the tourist industry. The country's population was approximately 113,000, and much of the labor force was engaged in agriculture. Bananas were the leading export and a major source of foreign exchange earnings. However, the banana industry was declining, and the growing tourism sector has become the leading earner of foreign exchange. Foreign remittances, an important source of income, declined. Unemployment was estimated to be between 25 and 40 percent, and real gross domestic product declined by 0.6 percent in 2001, compared with an increase of 2.1 percent in 2000.

The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, there were problems in a few areas. The SSU was accused of one killing. Other principal human rights problems included instances of excessive use of force by police, the Government's failure to punish adequately those responsible for such abuses, poor prison conditions, and an overburdened court system. Violence against women and abuse of children also were problems. St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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 political killings.

In September police shot and killed Othis Rhyne in his home on the island of Canouan in the course of executing a search warrant for illegal drugs. Newspaper reports focussed on a statement in the official press release from the police force indicating that Rhyne was shot not during but after a struggle with a police constable. The Police Department and a new Oversight Committee investigated the shooting. The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) determined that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges again the police.

In March the authorities charged Prison Superintendent Eric Rodriguez with murder for the November 2001 death of inmate Kingsley Henry during a disturbance in the prison courtyard. The Superintendent claimed to have fired warning shots in the air to quell the riot; Henry, who received a bullet wound, died in the hospital. The DPP said that forensic evidence proved that the bullet that killed Henry was fired from Rodriguez's gun, and that three inmates claimed to have seen the Superintendent intentionally shoot an unarmed Henry from close range after he left the main yard and the disturbance at the prison had been quelled. However, at the trial in July, the High Court held that the prosecution had failed to make a case, and Rodriguez was acquitted. The Prime Minister reinstated Rodriguez to his post as Prison Superintendent a few days later (see Section 1.c).

In the December 2000 police killing of Ezekiel "Zulu" Alexander during a chase, the President of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) asserted that it was unnecessary, irresponsible, and unlawful. An inquest determined that one of the two policemen was liable for unlawful killing. The policeman was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted in an October trial.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. However, regional human rights groups noted that a high percentage of convictions were based on confessions. One human rights group believed that some of these confessions resulted from unwarranted police practices, including the use of physical force during detention, illegal search and seizure, and failure to inform properly those arrested of their rights.

In 2001 there were at least two cases of persons shot and injured in their homes by police who pursued them to enforce outstanding warrants for unpaid court fines. After police wounded Denzil Grant on the island of Bequia, the police filed assault charges against him in Magistrate's Court claiming that he had attacked the police with a cutlass. The magistrate found Grant guilty of attacking the police but only reprimanded and discharged him. The finding of guilt, however, effectively nullified any claim he might have had against the police for wounding him.

The Government established an Oversight Committee to monitor police activity and hear public complaints about police misconduct; members included a former attorney general and a religious leader. The committee reported to the Minister of National Security and to the Minister of Legal Affairs and actively participated in investigations during the year. The SVGHRA participated in two training seminars for police officers covering human rights and domestic violence.

Prison conditions were poor. Prison buildings were antiquated and overcrowded, with one holding more than 300 inmates in a building designed for 75; these conditions resulted in serious health and safety problems. The main prison is a four-building compound located in Kingstown. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.

A 2001 report on prison conditions concluded that the main prison was "a university for crime" due to endemic violence, understaffing, underpaid guards, uncontrolled weapons and drugs, an increase in HIV/AIDS, and prevalence of unhygienic conditions such as missing toilets. The report stated that inmates received protection from internal violence through their membership in gangs. The report documented that after a prisoner was released, he was expected to throw alcohol, weapons, and drugs back over the prison wall for use by his gang. If a prisoner did not and, as frequently happened, returned to jail, he would be beaten severely. In addition, according to the report, a prisoner could expect to be stabbed sometime during his imprisonment. The report also noted that police and guards conducted sporadic, infrequent, and inefficient searches of the prison.

Toward the end of the year, the Government announced plans to build a new $4.8 million (EC$13 million) prison in Bellisle on the west coast. The new facility was designed to hold 400 male inmates, with separate areas for juveniles and first-time offenders.

In the January 2001 stabbing of then-Superintendent Leroy Latchman, followed days later by the killing of two inmates (one of whom allegedly had attacked Latchman), there was a preliminary inquiry, and the case was heard in the High Court in October. The court acquitted the accused inmates, ruling that the prosecution failed to make a case.

In July 2001, the Government hired a new Superintendent of Prisons, Eric Rodriguez, who reportedly ended the practice of inmates seeking protection from prison gangs. He also began in-house training of guards and arranged for guards to be trained in Barbados. There were 72 guards for 300 male inmates, and there were plans to increase the staff by 20 new guards. A rehabilitation program began, and inmates received contracts and jobs with local entrepreneurs. A school program began with courses in carpentry, tailoring, baking, and mechanical engineering.

In November 2001, inmate Kingsley Henry was shot and killed during a disturbance at the prison. The Prison Superintendent was charged with murder and taken into custody, but was later discharged when the High Court determined that the prosecution had not made a case (see Section 1.a.).

Inmates were allowed to speak freely with their lawyers, but a human rights lawyer asserted that there is an existing rule that a prison officer must stand not only within sight, but also within hearing of the inmate and his lawyer. Prison officials countered that an attorney may request that a guard not be within hearing range while discussing specifics of an inmate's case.

Female inmates were housed in a separate section in the Fort Charlotte prison. A family court handled criminal cases for minors up to age 16. Children may be charged and convicted as criminals from the age of 16. In such cases, children then may be jailed with older criminals. Conditions were inadequate for juvenile offenders, but there were plans to place first-time offenders in Fort Charlotte.

The Government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that persons detained for criminal offenses must receive a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an impartial court, and the Government generally respected these provisions in practice; however, complaints continued regarding police practices in bringing cases to court. Although there were only three official magistrates, the registrar of the High Court and the presiding judge of the family court effectively served as magistrates when called upon to do so. Some defense attorneys claimed that there were 6- to 12-month delays in preliminary inquiries for serious crimes.

The Constitution prohibits exile, and it was not used in practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.

The judiciary consists of lower courts and a High Court, with appeal to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal and final appeal to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. There were three official magistrates, including the Chief Magistrate, a senior magistrate, and one other magistrate. In addition, the Registrar of the High Court had the authority to sit as a magistrate if called upon. The Chief Magistrate was also president of the family court. At year's end, the Eastern Caribbean nations were still considering proposals to create a new Caribbean court of justice to hear final appeals.

The Constitution provides for public trials. The court appointed attorneys for indigent defendants only when the defendant was charged with a capital offense. Defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty and may appeal verdicts and penalties. The backlog of pending cases was reduced, even though the magistrate's court in Kingstown lacked a full complement of magistrates.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary search and seizure or other government intrusions into the private life of individual citizens, and there were no reports of such abuses during the year.

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 two major newspapers and numerous smaller, partisan publications; all were privately owned, and most were openly critical of the Government's policies. There were no reports of government censorship or interference with the operation of the press during the year. However, individual journalists believed that government advertising, a significant source of revenue, sometimes was withheld from newspapers that published articles unfavorable to the Government.

On September 16, editors from various Caribbean countries met in Barbados to lay the groundwork for an Eastern Caribbean Press Council. During the meeting, the journalists agreed to regulate themselves in accordance with a Code of Ethics, which was adopted in November. Two newspapers in St. Vincent agreed to participate.

The sole television station in St. Vincent was privately owned and operated without government interference. Satellite dishes were popular among those who could afford them. There was also a cable system with mainly North American programming that had over 300 subscribers. There were seven radio stations, one of which was government-owned.

In September Prime Minister Gonsalves, in his personal capacity, filed slander charges against Edward Lynch, a popular radio talk show host, and BDS Limited, the company that owned the radio station. Gonsalves alleged that Lynch, the host of a radio program sponsored by the opposition New Democratic Party, slandered Gonsalves by wrongly insinuating that he used public funds to pay for airline tickets to Rome for his daughter and mother. The matter was still before the court at year's end.

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 these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Members of the Rastafarian community have complained that law enforcement officials unfairly targeted them. However, it was not clear whether such complaints reflect discrimination on the basis of religious belief by authorities or simply enforcement of laws against marijuana, which is used as part of Rastafarian religious practice.

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 law 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. A Red Cross representative served as the honorary liaison with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

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 through regularly scheduled free and fair elections. The country has a long history of multiparty parliamentary democracy. The Constitution provides for general elections at least every 5 years. During the 1998 election, the ruling New Democratic Party won 8 of 15 seats in Parliament, despite losing the popular vote by 55 to 45 percent to the opposition Unity Labour Party. Calling this outcome an "overt manifestation of rejection by the public" of Prime Minister Mitchell's Government, the ULP claimed election fraud and demanded new elections. The Prime Minister refused the ULP demand. Subsequent demonstrations led to internal pressures and to an agreement brokered by members of the Caribbean Community that elections would be held in 2001. In November 2000, leaders of the three political parties signed a "Code of Conduct" intended to govern the campaign period, including a pledge of equal time on local radio and other electronic media and an agreement not to incite or encourage violence. The parties generally adhered to the code during the campaign.

On March 28, 2001, elections were held in accordance with the agreement. There was no serious violence, and observers declared the voting to be generally free and fair. The opposition ULP won 12 out of the Parliament's 15 elected seats, and Dr. Ralph Gonsalves became Prime Minister, ending 17 years of NDP rule. Former Prime Minister Arnhim Eustace, who had taken over leadership of the NDP and become Prime Minister in 2000, was one of three NDP candidates to win a seat.

In addition to the 15 elected Members of Parliament, the Governor General appoints 6 more members, 4 on the nomination of the Prime Minister and 2 on the nomination of the Leader of the Opposition. These nominated members, who are called Senators, have the same privileges as the elected members except that they are not permitted to vote on a motion of no confidence brought against the Government.

There were no legal impediments to women's full participation in politics or government. In March 2001, voters elected two women to Parliament; they also served as cabinet ministers – the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of Social Services. There were two female Senators. The Deputy Governor General and the Attorney General were also female.

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

Opposition political groups and the press often commented on human rights matters of local concern. The SVGHRA monitored government and police activities, especially with respect to treatment of prisoners, publicizing any cases of abuse. The SVGHRA participated in training seminars. The Government generally was responsive to public and private inquiries about its human rights practices.

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

The Constitution provides for equal treatment under the law regardless of race or sex, and the Government generally adhered to this provision in practice.

Women

Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, remained a serious problem. The Domestic Violence/Matrimonial Proceedings Act and the more accessible Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act provide for protective orders, as well as occupation and tenancy orders; the former only is accessible through the High Court, but the latter can be obtained without the services of a lawyer in family court. As part of a human rights education program, the SVGHRA conducted numerous seminars and workshops throughout the country to familiarize citizens with their rights. Increasing numbers of women came forward with domestic violence complaints. Development banks provide funding through the Caribbean Association for Family Research and Action for a program of Domestic Violence Prevention, Training, and Intervention. Police received training on domestic abuse, emphasizing the need to file reports and, if there was sufficient evidence, to initiate court proceedings. To counter the social pressure on victims to drop charges, some courts imposed fines against people who brought charges but did not testify. Depending on the magnitude of the offense and the age of the victim, the punishment for rape generally was 10 or more years in prison. Sentences of 20 years have been handed down for sexual assault of very young minors.

A 1995 amendment to the Child Support Law allows for payments ordered by the courts, even when notice of an appeal has been filed. Previously, fathers who had been ordered to pay child support could appeal decisions and not pay while the appeal was being heard. This resulted in a huge backlog of appeal cases and effectively reduced the number of mothers and children receiving support payments. There was a family court in the capital city of Kingstown with one magistrate. According to the SVGHRA, because there were only a few bailiffs to service the country, summonses often were not served on time for cases scheduled to be heard in court.

The Office of Gender Affairs was under the Ministry of Education, Women's Affairs, and Culture. This office assisted the National Council of Women with seminars, training programs, and public relations. The minimum wage law specifies that women should receive equal pay for equal work.

Marion House, an independent social services agency, was established in 1989 to provide counseling and therapy services. Four trained counselors and one foreign volunteer who is a clinical psychologist staff it. In 2001 the organization moved to a new building paid for with funds provided by the European Union, and it earned income by renting out office space to a government agency.

Children

Education is not compulsory, but the Government investigated cases in which children were withdrawn from school before the age of 16. The Government cited lack of funding for new schools as an obstacle to making education compulsory. As a supplement to secondary school, the Government sponsored the Youth Empowerment Program, which was an apprenticeship program for young adults interested in learning a trade. Approximately 440 youths were enrolled in this program, earning a stipend of about $148 (EC$400) a month. The teachers' union estimated that between 8 and 10 percent of secondary school-age children did not attend school during the year. Despite the Government's efforts to support health and welfare standards, the infant mortality rate still was very high at 21 deaths per 1,000 live births, in part due to the large number of children born to teenage mothers.

The Domestic Violence Summary Proceedings Act provides a limited legal framework for the protection of children. Nevertheless, reports of child abuse remained high and were on the increase. The Family Services Department, Ministry of Social Development, was the government agency responsible for monitoring and protecting the welfare of children. The police were the enforcement arm; the Family Services Department referred all reports of child abuse to the police for action.

Persons with Disabilities

There was no specific legislation addressing persons with disabilities, and the circumstances for such persons were generally difficult. Most persons with severe disabilities rarely left their homes because of the poor road system and lack of affordable wheelchairs. The Government partially supported a school for persons with disabilities, which had two branches. A separate, small rehabilitation center treated about five persons daily.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Citizens had the right to form unions and organize employees under the constitutional provisions for freedom of association; however, there was no law that requires employers to recognize unions. Less than 10 percent of the work force was unionized. The Trade Unions Act covers registration of unions; a draft Labor Relations Act under debate included a proposal for employer recognition of trade unions. The constitutional prohibition against discrimination could be applied to antiunion discrimination; however, in practice few such complaints were lodged because employers cited other reasons for dismissal.

The Protection of Employment Act provides for compensation and worker rights, but these were restricted to protection from summary dismissal without compensation and reinstatement or severance pay if unfairly dismissed. The law provides a severance package of 2 weeks' pay for each year of service, with a maximum of 52 weeks. The Government's proposed Employment Relations Act would repeal the Protection of Employment Act and provide for enhanced worker rights.

Unions had the right to affiliate with international bodies, and they did so in practice.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There were no legal obstacles to organizing unions; however, no law requires employers to recognize a particular union as an exclusive bargaining agent. The Trade Dispute, Arbitration, and Inquiry Act provides that if both parties to a dispute consent to arbitration, the Minister of Labor can appoint an arbitration committee from the private sector to hear the matter.

There was no general prohibition against strikes; however, the Essential Services Act prohibits persons providing such services (defined as electricity, water, hospital, and police) from striking. In January workers at the St. Vincent Marketing Corporation went on strike for 2 days to protest the layoff of 28 employees. The Ministers of Labor and Agriculture interceded, and the employer agreed to take back the workers, some of whom chose voluntary severance instead of returning to work.

There were no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children, and it was not known to occur.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum working age at 16 years of age, and workers may receive a national insurance card at that age. The Ministry of Labor monitored and enforced this provision, and employers generally respected it in practice. The Labor Inspectorate at the Department of Labor received, investigated, and addressed child labor complaints. Labor officers in this unit conducted general inspections of work places annually. The age of leaving school at the primary level was 15 years; when these pupils left school, they usually were absorbed into the labor market disguised as apprentices. There was no known child labor except for children working on family-owned banana plantations, particularly during harvest time, or in family-owned cottage industries. The Government has partnered with the nongovernmental sector, including UNICEF, in an antipoverty strategy aimed at improving economic opportunities for youth.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets minimum wages, which were last promulgated in 1989. They varied by sector and type of work and were specified for several skilled categories, including attendants, packers, cleaners, porters, watchmen, and clerks. In agriculture the wage for workers provided shelter was $6.74 (EC$18) per day; industrial workers earned $7.49 (EC$20) per day. In many sectors, the minimum wage was not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but most workers earned more than the minimum. By law, the Wages Council should meet every 2 years to review the minimum wage, but it had not met since 1989. A new Wages Council was appointed in March 2001 following the elections; it met and submitted minimum wage recommendations to the Government, which held a town meeting in October to solicit public comment prior to consideration of a new minimum wage, scheduled to be submitted to Parliament in 2003.

The law prescribes workweek length according to category; for example, industrial employees work 40 hours a week, store clerks work 44 hours a week, and agricultural workers either 30 or 40 hours per week. The law provides workers a minimum annual vacation of 2 weeks after 1 year's service.

According to the Ministry of Labor, legislation concerning occupational safety and health is outdated. The most recent legislation, the Factories Act of 1955, has some regulations concerning factories, but enforcement of these regulations was ineffective. At year's end, the Government was reviewing this act and other laws and proposed to limit the exposure of agricultural workers to hazardous substances. Trade unions addressed some violations relating to safety gear, long overtime hours, and the safety of machinery. There were some reports of significant visual impairment by visual display unit workers, and some reports of hearing impairment by power station and stone crushing employees. The law does not address specifically whether workers have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, but it stipulates conditions under which plants must be maintained. Failure to do so would constitute a breach, which might cover a worker who refused to work under these conditions.

f. Trafficking in Persons

There were no laws specifically addressing trafficking in persons. There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country during the year.

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