Freedom in the World 2004 - Saint Kitts and Nevis

Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 2
Status: Free
Population: 50,000
GNI/Capita: $6,370
Life Expectancy: 71
Religious Groups: Anglican, other Protestant, Roman Catholic
Ethnic Groups: Predominantly Black, British, Portuguese, Lebanese
Capital: Basseterre


The process for Nevis to secede from St. Kitts gained momentum during 2003, as the country celebrated two decades of independence from the United Kingdom.

European colonization of Nevis began in the seventeenth century with the arrival of English and French colonists. The English settled mostly on Nevis, while the French chose St. Kitts. Intermittent warfare led to changes in sovereignty, but the Treaty of Paris in 1783 awarded both islands to Britain. In 1967, together with Anguilla, they became a self-governing state in association with Great Britain; Anguilla seceded late that year and remains a British dependency. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19, 1983.

Going into the March 6, 2000 elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas was able to tout his government's efforts at promoting resort construction in St. Kitts, combating crime, and raising public employees' salaries. Critics of the St. Kitts Labour Party (SKLP) claimed that the country had accumulated $192 million in debt and that the government had failed to reinvigorate the islands' sugar economy. The SKLP won a stronger parliamentary majority in elections, taking all 8 seats on St. Kitts, out of the 11-member National Assembly. Opposition leader Kennedy Simmonds's People's Action Movement (PAM), which had hoped to oust the SKLP by winning 3 seats in St. Kitts and forming a coalition with the winners of seats in Nevis, instead lost its only seat on the island to the SKLP, which had previously held 7 seats.

In 2002, the Financial Action Task Force removed the twin island federation from the list of jurisdictions that were uncooperative in the fight against money laundering and other financial crimes.

Beginning in mid-2003, momentum gathered for Nevis to secede from St. Kitts, a process that cast a shadow over the twentieth anniversary of independence from Great Britain, which was celebrated on September 19. Nevis is accorded the constitutional right to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators approve and two-thirds of voters endorse succession through a referendum. Though a 1998 referendum on independence failed the required two-thirds majority, Nevisians continue to feel neglected. No Nevisian is a member of the governing cabinet, and the island holds only 3 of 11 seats in the legislature.

A major new resort hotel opened in November, a possible sign of economic recovery, although tourist visits have not recovered to the pre-September 11, 2001 levels. Sugar is still the mainstay of the economy, and depressed global prices continued to hurt the local economy during the year.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Citizens are able to change their government democratically. The 2000 elections were free and fair. Nevertheless, drug trafficking and money laundering have corrupted the political system. The St. Kitts and Nevis national government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. Elected assembly members – eight from St. Kitts and three from Nevis – serve five-year terms. Senators, not to exceed two-thirds of the elected members, are appointed – one by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two by the prime minister. Nevis also has a local assembly, composed of five elected and three appointed members, and pays for all of its own services except for those involving police and foreign relations. St. Kitts has no similar body. The country is a member of the Commonwealth with a governor-general appointed by the Queen of England.

Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. Television on St. Kitts is government owned, although managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some government restrictions on opposition access to it. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas has kept pledges to privatize radio, with the selling of the government radio station. There are eight radio stations on the islands and two daily newspapers. In addition, each major political party publishes a weekly or fortnightly newspaper. Opposition publications freely criticize the government, and international media are available. There is free access to the Internet.

The free exercise of religion is constitutionally protected, and academic freedom is generally honored.

The right to organize political parties, civic organizations, and labor unions is generally respected, as is the right of assembly. The main labor union, the St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKLP. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice.

The judiciary is generally independent. However, in March 1996, when an earlier drug and murder scandal came to trial, the public prosecutor's office failed to send a representative to present the case. The charges were dropped, which raised suspicions of a government conspiracy. The highest court is the West Indies Supreme Court in St. Lucia, which includes a court of appeals and a High Court. Under certain circumstances there is a right of appeal to the Privy Council in London.

The traditionally strong rule of law has been tested by the increase in drug-related crime and corruption. In 1995, it appeared that the police had become divided along political lines between the two main political parties. In June 1997, despite concerns of its cost to a country of some 50,000 people, parliament passed a bill designed to create a 50-member Special Services Unit, which receives light infantry training, to wage war on heavily armed drug traffickers. The intimidation of witnesses and jurors is a problem. The national prison is overcrowded, and conditions are abysmal. In July 1998, the government hanged a convicted murderer, ending a 13-year hiatus in executions and defying pressure from Britain and human rights groups to end the death penalty.

The deportation of a number of felons from the United States under the U.S. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 has contributed to local law enforcement agencies in the region feeling overwhelmed. In 1998, the drug lord Charles "Little Nut" Miller threatened to kill U.S. students at St. Kitts's Ross University if he were extradited to the United States. A magistrate had twice blocked Miller's extradition, but it was approved by the High Court after police stopped and searched his car, finding two firearms, ammunition, and a small amount of marijuana.

Reports suggest that the country's economic citizenship program, which allows for the purchase of passports through real estate investments with a minimum of $250,000 and a registration fee of $35,000, has facilitated the illegal immigration of persons from China and other countries into the United States and Canada.

Violence against women is a problem. The Domestic Violence Act of 2000 criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties for abusers. The Department of Gender Affairs, a part of the Ministry for Social Development, Community, and Gender Affairs has offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic and gender violence. There are no laws for sexual harassment.

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