U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Barbados

BARBADOS   Barbados, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, is a constitutional democracy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. The Queen is Head of State and is represented by an appointed Governor General. Prime Minister Owen Arthur is the Head of Government and governs with an appointed Cabinet. The Royal Barbados Police Force is charged with maintaining public order. The small volunteer Barbados Defence Force (BDF), responsible for national security, can be employed to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific need. The BDF continues to assist the police by patrolling certain tourist areas in response to an increase of crime. On the whole, the police respected constitutional and legal provisions protecting human rights, but there continued to be infrequent reports of incidents of use of excessive force by police. The economy is based on tourism, services, light manufacturing, and agriculture, which makes it vulnerable to external economic developments. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) exceeds $5,000 per year. In order to stimulate demand and reverse a 3-year decline in GDP and employment, the Government decided in May 1993 to abandon attempts to meet economic targets set in consultation with the International Monetary Fund. Barbados experienced a very moderate recovery in 1995. Citizens enjoy a wide range of rights and freedoms, and the Government respects constitutional provisions regarding human rights. Principal human rights problems continued to be societal violence against women and children and occasional instances of excessive use of force by police.

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 cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. However, the Caribbean Human Rights Network and the local press reported numerous allegations of coerced confessions. There continued to be credible reports that law enforcement officials sometimes used force during detention to extract confessions from detainees. Police procedures provide that the police may question suspects and other persons they hold only at a police station, except when expressly permitted by a senior divisional officer. An officer must visit detainees at least once every 3 hours to inquire about the detainees' condition. After 24 hours, the detaining authority must submit a written report to the deputy commissioner. The authorities must approve and record all movements of detainees between stations. The Caribbean Human Rights Network is satisfied that the authorities generally adhere to these basic principles, although officials occasionally used excessive force. Barbados is in the forefront of an initiative to standardize police procedures throughout the English-speaking Caribbean region. The authorities issued firearms to special units and some foot patrols in high-crime areas in response to the 1993 shooting death of a policeman and a rise in gun- and drug-related crime. Aside from this, the police force is still mainly unarmed, in keeping with its British traditions. The only prison is overcrowded, with over 700 prisoners in a structure built for 350 inmates, and has very antiquated equipment. There is no separation of violent from nonviolent offenders. Although discipline and security are generally strict, there were allegations that guards ignored the brutal gang-rape of a young prisoner by other convicts. The Government has not investigated this case.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment and requires detainees to be brought before a court of law within 72 hours of arrest. The Government generally respects these provisions in practice. Criminal defendants have the right to counsel, and attorneys have ready access to their clients. The authorities do not use exile as a punishment or means of political control. There is no formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status; however, government practice remains undefined.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides that persons charged with criminal offenses be given a fair public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court, and the Government respects this in practice. The judicial system provides for the right of due process at each level. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. The Government provides free legal aid to the indigent. The judiciary acts independently and is free of intervention from other branches of government. Criticizing the Government is not a political offense. There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary entry, search, or seizure, and the law requires warrants to be issued before privately owned property may be entered and searched. The Government does not routinely interfere in the private lives of its citizens. Nonetheless, there continued to be credible reports that, in response to increased drug-related crime, the police resorted to searches of homes in certain neighborhoods, sometimes without warrants. The Government neither censors mail nor restricts the receipt of foreign correspondence or publications.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the authorities respect these rights in practice. There are two independent daily newspapers, both of which present opposition political views. The Government regularly comes under attack in the newspapers and on daily call-in radio programs. There are five radio stations, two of which are owned by the Government. The Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television service (the only television source, excluding direct satellite reception) is government owned. Though CBC is a state enterprise, it regularly reported views opposing government policies. Although critics allege that the Government sometimes uses its influence to discourage media reporting on sensitive issues, the press remained vigorously critical of the Government on a broad span of issues. The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government observes the constitutional provisions for peaceful assembly and private association in practice. Political parties, trade unions, and private organizations function and hold meetings and rallies without hindrance.

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

Citizens and legal residents move freely within Barbados and leave and enter the country without restriction.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have this right in law and exercise it in practice. Political parties freely compete in fair elections by secret ballot at least every 5 years. In the most recent election in September 1994, the Barbados Labour Party won a decisive victory, gaining a 19-to-8 majority over the Democratic Labour Party. The New Democratic Party won one seat, its first ever in Parliament. There are no impediments to participation in the political process, and all citizens over age 18 may vote. The Prime Minister exercises executive power along with the Cabinet of Ministers he appoints, balanced by the bicameral Parliament and the judicial system. Women are well represented at all levels of government and politics, including the Head of State, Governor General Dame Nita Barrow. After the September 1994 elections, Prime Minister Arthur appointed women to several cabinet-level portfolios. For the first time, the Deputy Prime Minister is a woman (she also serves concurrently as Foreign Minister). The Ministries of Health and Education are also headed by women.

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

Local groups involved with human rights matters operate freely and without Government hindrance. The Caribbean Human Rights Network, a Caribbean-wide human rights organization which has its headquarters and a small staff in Barbados, investigates and reports on allegations of human rights violations throughout the region.

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

The Constitution provides for equal treatment under the law, regardless of race, religion, or sex. The Government respects these rights in practice.


Women actively participate in all aspects of national life and are well-represented at all levels of both the public and private sectors. They form a large percentage of heads of household and are not discriminated against in public housing or other social welfare programs. However, violence against women and children continued to be a significant social problem. Women's rights groups reported that the incidence of sexual assaults, domestic violence, incest, and rape increased, despite the fact that there is still some reluctance on the part of victims to report such incidents. There are public and private counseling services for domestic violence, rape, suicide, and child abuse. The 1992 domestic violence law specifies the appropriate police response to domestic violence, intended to protect all members of the family, including men and children. It applies equally to marriages and to common law relationships. Criminal penalties for violent crimes are the same, regardless of the sex of the offender or the victim. The courts heard a number of cases of domestic violence against women involving assault or wounding. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issue. The courts can sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order. Human rights monitors continued to criticize the inconsistency in sentencing for rape, incest, and statutory rape, which is often left to the discretion of the judge. They noted that the lack of sentencing guidelines resulted in longer sentences being handed down for persons accused of petty theft than for incest; and lesser sentences for incest than for rape or sexual assault of nonfamily members.


The Government is committed to children's human rights and welfare, although violence against children remains a serious problem. The Child Care Board is the key agency responsible for monitoring and responding to the critical welfare needs, interests, and rights of children.

People With Disabilities

The law does not prohibit discrimination against the physically disabled in employment, education, or the provision of other state services. The Labour Department, which is responsible for finding jobs for the disabled, unsuccessfully advocated the introduction of such legislation in the 1980's. Similarly, there is no legislation mandating provision of accessibility to public thoroughfares or public or private buildings. Interest groups have lobbied for this type of legislation from time to time, but without success.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers freely exercise their right to form and belong to trade unions and to strike. There are two major unions and several smaller ones, representing various sectors of labor. The civil service union, the National Union of Public Workers, is completely independent of any political party or the Government. The largest union, the Barbados Workers' Union, was historically closely associated with the opposition Democratic Labour Party. The law accords full protection to trade unionists' personal and property rights. Another law prohibits strikes against public utilities. All other private and public sector employees are permitted to strike. There were no major strikes or long-term work stoppages, although there were two minor industrial actions. Transport workers called a 2-day wildcat mini-bus strike to protest operating fee increases included in the 1995 budget. Barbados Light and Power workers worked slowly for a couple of days until the Prime Minister stepped in to negotiate restructuring and salary issues. Trade unions are free to form federations and are in fact affiliated with a variety of regional and international labor organizations. The Caribbean Congress of Labor (CCL) has its headquarters in Barbados. On August 11, a new umbrella Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations was inaugurated. All unions belong to this organization.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, and authorities respected it in practice. Recent losses of jobs in the economy resulted in a reduction in union membership to about 20 percent of the working population. Normally, wages and working conditions are negotiated through the collective bargaining process, but a tripartite wage policy accord signed in the summer of 1993 established a 2-year wage freeze. During the year, unions bargained for wage and benefit increases to be incorporated into a replacement wage and price policy accord for 1995-97, which Parliament approved on January 16, 1996. Unions representing public sector workers had yet to agree to it, however, by the end of that month. Employers have no legal obligation to recognize unions under the Trade Union Act of 1964, but most do so when a majority of their employees signify a desire to be represented by a registered union. While there is no specific law prohibiting antiunion discrimination, the courts provide a method of redress for employees alleging unfair dismissal. The courts commonly award monetary compensation but rarely order reemployment. There are no manufacturing or special areas where collective bargaining rights are legally or administratively impaired. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports of its use.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum working age of 16 is generally observed. Compulsory primary and secondary education policies, which require school attendance until age 16, reinforce minimum age requirements. Occasionally, especially among migrant worker families, children assist in agricultural production during peak season. The Labour Department has a small cadre of labor inspectors who conduct spot investigations of enterprises and check records to verify compliance with the law. These inspectors may take legal action against an employer who is found to have underage workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law sets and the authorities establish minimum wages for specified categories of workers. Only two categories of workers have a formally regulated minimum wage--household domestics and shop assistants (entry level commercial workers). Household domestics receive a minimum wage of about $32.50 (bds $65.00) per week, although in actual labor market conditions, the prevailing wage is almost double that amount. There are two age-related minimum wage categories for shop assistants. The adult minimum wage for shop assistants is $1.87 (bds $3.75) per hour; the juvenile minimum wage for shop assistants is $1.62 (bds $3.25) per hour. Agricultural workers (for example, sugar plantation workers) receive a minimum wage as a matter of practice but not of law. The minimum wage for shop assistants is marginally sufficient to meet minimum living standards; most employees earn more. In 1992 an International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts (COE) cited Barbados for not adhering to the ILO convention on equal remuneration in its wage differentials in the sugar industry. The COE admonished the Government to ensure the application of the principle of equal remuneration for work of equal value to male and female workers in the sugar industry or to provide further information on job descriptions which might justify such wage distinction. This case was not resolved by year's end. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in 5 days, and the law requires overtime payment for hours worked in excess. Barbados accepts ILO conventions, standards, and other sectoral conventions regarding maximum hours of work. However, there is no general legislation that covers all occupations. Employers must provide workers a minimum of 3 weeks' annual leave. Unemployment benefits and national insurance (social security) cover all workers. A comprehensive, government-sponsored health program offers subsidized treatment and medication. Under the Factories Act of 1983, which sets out the officially recognized occupational safety and health standards, the Labour Department enforces health and safety standards and follows up to ensure that problems cited are corrected by management. Workers have a limited right to remove themselves from dangerous or hazardous job situations without jeopardizing their continued employment. The Factories Act requires that in certain sectors firms employing more than 50 workers set up a safety committee. This committee can challenge the decisions of management concerning the occupational safety and health environment. Trade unions have called on the Government to increase the number of factory inspectors in order to enforce existing and proposed safety and health legislation more effectively, and to follow up to ensure that problems cited are corrected by management. Government-operated corporations in particular were accused of doing a "poor job" in health and safety. The Government has promised to undertake inspections of government-operated corporations and manufacturing plants as a priority.

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