2014 Scores

Status: Free
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst): 1.0
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst): 1
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst): 1


In February 2013, elections confirmed Freundel Stuart of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) as prime minister, albeit with a very narrow majority. Stuart had assumed the post in 2010 following the death of then prime minister David Thompson.

Barbados continued to grapple with the impact of the global recession, with a sluggish economy and high crime rate. The tourist arrival rate dropped by 6.3 percent in 2013. Central government debt rose to 94 percent of GDP in September 2013, thus putting enormous strain on the economy. The island nation currently uses more than 13 percent of government revenues to service its debt.


Political Rights: 40 / 40

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

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 appointed by the governor general and is usually the leader of the political party with a majority in the House.

Elections were held on February 21, 2013. In a narrow win, the ruling DLP won 16 of 30 seats in the House of Assembly. The Barbados Labour Party (BLP), under former prime minister Owen Arthur, took the remaining 14 seats.

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

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 People's Empowerment Party, an opposition force favoring trade union rights and greater state intervention in the economy.

C. Functioning of Government: 12 / 12

Barbados is largely free from governmental corruption. The country was ranked 15 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Civil Liberties: 59 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

Freedom of expression is respected. Public opinion expressed through the news media, which are free from 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 broadcast television station, operated by the government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, presents a wide range of political viewpoints. The DLP has so far failed to make good on its promise to introduce a new Freedom of Information Act. 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, and have also reported discrimination in the areas of education and employment. Academic freedom is fully respected.

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

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.

F. Rule of Law: 16 / 16

The judicial system is independent, and the Supreme Court includes a high court and a court of appeals. Barbados has ratified the Caribbean Court of Justice 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.

Barbados has been more successful than other Caribbean countries in combating violent crime, though the crime rate in 2013 remained at high levels. The drug trade continues to be an important problem for Barbados, as the island has become a transshipment point for cocaine originating from Venezuela.

The government has taken some positive steps to address overcrowding in the prison system and to discharge prison personnel accused of beating inmates, but there has not been substantial progress in their prosecution. Although the death penalty remains mandatory for certain capital crimes, it has not been implemented since 1984. In October 2011, the government announced plans to update the Corporal Punishment Act, the Juvenile Offenders Act, and the Prevention of Cruelty Act, in response to rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that found Barbados in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights; however, no steps had been taken by the end of 2013.

Barbadian authorities have been criticized for excessively restrictive migration policies, including the treatment of foreign nationals at airports. In several separate cases, visitors from Jamaica claim to have been sexually abused and even raped by Barbadian immigration officers. In October 2013, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled in favor of Jamaican Shanique Myrie, deciding that Barbados had violated her rights of entry as stipulated in the Treaty of Chaguaramas (which established the Caribbean Community). Myrie was subjected to a body cavity search upon arrival in Barbados and then deported. Barbados was ordered to pay approximately 77,000 Barbadian dollars (US$39,000) in damages.

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 15 / 16

Women comprise roughly half of the country's workforce, although the World Economic Forum reported that in 2013 women earned 25 percent less than men for comparable work. Women are underrepresented in the political sphere, comprising only 17 percent of the elected House. Violence against and abuse of women continues to be widespread despite domestic violence laws, and police responsiveness is often slow and inadequate. The United States has kept Barbados on its Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking because the island nation does not fully comply with minimum standards, a claim which the Barbadian government has disputed.

Human rights groups have criticized Barbados for some of the harshest laws against same-sex sexual activity in the Western Hemisphere, which effectively put the country in violation of its obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights. Although Barbados has not repealed these laws since the United Nations' 2008 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommended it do so, the 2013 UPR did not mention the laws.

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

This 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.