Capital: Bridgetown
Population: 281,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free


As Barbados continued to grapple with the impact of the global recession, widespread concern emerged in September over Prime Minister David Thompson's health and ability to remain in office. Thompson died of pancreatic cancer in October, and the new prime minister, Freundel Stuart, faced a sluggish economy and rising crime rate.

Barbados gained its independence from Britain in 1966 but remained a member of the Commonwealth. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP) under Prime Minister Owen Arthur governed from 1994 to January 2008, when the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) won a clear majority of 20 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The BLP was left with the remaining 10 seats. Despite this stunning upset, the new government led by David Thompson of the DLP did not break markedly from the policies pursued by the Arthur government.

During much of the summer of 2010, Thompson remained out of office due to an undisclosed ailment, and DLP member Freundel Stuart took over as acting prime minister. While Thompson returned to office in late August, many important economic decisions, including the new budget and several proposed judicial and other reforms, were delayed. In September, the government officially acknowledged that he had pancreatic cancer. Thompson died on October 23 and was replaced by Stuart.

As Barbados struggled to emerge from the economic recession, the government was forced to cut expenditures, freeze public wages, and shore up the country's foreign reserves. Efforts to reduce the debt burden also remained a top priority. Barbados experienced its third straight year of recession in 2010, as private consumption remained low and the tourism sector performed below expectations.

Barbados has been more successful than other Caribbean countries in combating violent crime, though the crime rate in 2010 rose to its highest level since 2006. The drug trade remains an important problem for Barbados, as the island becomes a transshipment point for cocaine originating from Venezuela, while radar monitoring cannot cover the entire island.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Barbados is an electoral democracy. Members of the 30-member House of Assembly, the lower house of the bicameral Parliament, are directly elected for five-year terms. The governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state, appoints the 21 members of the Senate: 12 on the advice of the prime minister, 2 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining 7 at his own discretion. The prime minister is the leader of the political party with a majority in the House.

Political parties are free to organize. Historically, power has alternated between two centrist parties – the DLP and the BLP. Other political organizations without representation in Parliament include the small, left-wing Workers Party of Barbados and the People's Empowerment Party (PEP), an opposition force favoring trade union rights and greater state intervention in the economy.

Barbados was ranked 17 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, the second best ranking in the Americas after Canada.

Freedom of expression is respected. Public opinion expressed through the news media, which are free of censorship and government control, has a powerful influence on policy. Newspapers, including the two major dailies, are privately owned. Four private and two government-run radio stations operate. The single television station, operated by the government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, presents a wide range of political viewpoints. Access to the internet is not restricted.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is widely respected for mainstream religious groups. However, members of Barbados's small Rastafarian community have protested prison regulations that require inmates to have their long dreadlocks cut off while in detention. Academic freedom is fully respected.

Barbados's legal framework provides important guarantees for freedom of assembly, which are upheld in practice. The right to form civic organizations and labor unions is respected. Two major labor unions, as well as various smaller ones, are active.

The judicial system is independent, and the Supreme Court includes a high court and a court of appeals. Lower-court officials are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. Barbados has ratified the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its highest appellate court. There are occasional reports and complaints of the use of excessive force by the Royal Barbados Police Force to extract confessions, along with reports that police do not always seek warrants before searching homes.

The government has taken some positive steps to address overcrowding in the prison system. In 2006, Barbados began an important and complex judicial reform process which would allow courts to remain open longer and hear more cases each year. However, reforms were delayed again in 2010 during Thompson's illness and following his death. Authorities have made significant efforts to discharge prison personnel accused of beating inmates, but there has not been substantial progress in their prosecution. The death penalty remains a mandatory punishment for certain capital crimes, although it has not been implemented since 1984.

Barbadian authorities have been criticized for excessively restrictive migration policies, including the treatment of foreign nationals at airports. In response, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart's government has agreed to a series of talks with its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) neighbors to address their concerns.

Women comprise roughly half of the country's workforce, though violence against women and children continue to be serious social concerns.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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