U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1998 - Saint Kitts and Nevis

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable self- government, as well as the right to secede from the Federation in accordance with certain enumerated procedures. The Government comprises a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislative assembly. The Governor General, appointed by the British Monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. After national elections in June 1995, Dr. Denzil Douglas of the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party became Prime Minister and formed a government with 7 of 11 seats in the legislature. The judiciary is independent. Security forces consist of a small police force, which includes a 50-person Special Services Unit that receives some light infantry training, a coast guard, and a small, newly formed defense force. The mixed economy is based on sugar cane, tourism, and light industry. Most commercial enterprises are privately owned, but the sugar industry and 85 percent of arable land are owned by a state corporation. In September Hurricane Georges devastated the economy, causing an estimated $445 million worth of damage. The 1998-99 tourist season was expected to suffer significant losses, since 85 percent of the houses and buildings were damaged. The hurricane also damaged an estimated 50 percent of the sugar industry. Per capita gross domestic product was about $6,100 in 1996. Human rights were generally respected. Poor prison conditions, apparent intimidation of witnesses and jurors, government restrictions on opposition access to government-controlled media, and violence against women were the principal problems.


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 in 1998. During the summer of 1997, police shot and killed a man who was throwing cement blocks at neighbors and the police as a protest against a neighbor who stored the blocks on his property without permission. The authorities charged the police officer with manslaughter, but in February, a court dismissed the case on grounds of self-defense and insufficient evidence. Prior to the incident, the police officer had submitted his resignation from the police force. The police officer subsequently made a request to reenlist but the authorities refused his request.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Law enforcement authorities abide by the constitutional prohibitions against the use of torture or other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. However, there are occasional instances of excessive use of force by the police. The police force conducts its own internal investigation when complaints are made against members. In 1997, there were 40 complaints filed against the police. These complaints resulted in 7 disciplinary proceedings, 2 civil proceedings, 12 warnings, 2 cases pending trial, 3 cases under inquiry, 6 cases found false, and 8 cases with no further action. Family members, attorneys, and clergy are permitted to visit detainees regularly. Prison conditions are poor. Saint Kitt's prison was built in 1947. Prisoners suffer from severe overcrowding, poor food, and lax security. These conditions have contributed to riots in the past, although none has occurred since 1994. There are 128 prisoners and 55 prison officials. The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and this provision is respected in practice. The law requires that persons detained be charged within 48 hours or be released. If charged, the police must bring a detainee before a court within 72 hours. There were no reported cases of exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the judiciary is highly regarded. However, intimidation of witnesses and potential intimidation of jurors in high-profile drug-related cases threatened this traditional independence. The Government is exploring the possibility of a program to protect witnesses, judges, and jurors through the Caribbean Community (Caricom). The court system comprises one high court and four magistrate's courts at the local level, with the right of appeal to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Final appeal may be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. There are no military or political courts. Free legal assistance is available for indigent defendants in capital cases only. The Constitution provides that every person accused of a crime must receive a fair, speedy, and public trial, and these requirements are generally observed. At year's end, 35 of the 128 prisoners were being held on "remand" (detention pending trial or further court action). There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

There were no reports of arbitrary government or police interference in the private lives of individuals. The law requires judicially issued warrants to search private homes.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and, for the most part, the authorities respected these provisions in practice. The Government owns the only radio and television station on St. Kitts. A Trinidadian company manages it; however, the Government appoints three of its five board members. There is a religious television station and a privately owned radio station on Nevis. St. Kitts and Nevis does not have a daily newspaper; each of the major political parties publishes a weekly or biweekly newspaper. A third weekly newspaper is nonpartisan. The papers are free to criticize the Government and do so regularly and vigorously. International news publications are readily available. The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly. Political parties organized demonstrations, rallies, and public meetings during the 1995 election campaign without significant government interference. Many meetings sponsored by the Nevis Island administration and opposition parties were held in Nevis to discuss the secession question. The Constitution provides for the right of association, and the Government respects this right in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the free exercise of religion, and religious practices are not restricted. All groups are free to maintain links with coreligionists in other countries.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not restrict travel within or departure from the country. However, following Hurricane Georges in September, the Government declared a state of emergency and instituted a curfew to avoid looting during the period of electrical power loss. No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. The issue of provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of forced expulsion of anyone having a valid claim to refugee status; however, government practice remains undefined.

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

Citizens are free to change their government by peaceful means. A vigorous multiparty political system exists in which political parties are free to conduct their activities. Periodic elections are held in which all citizens 18 years of age and older may register and vote by secret ballot. According to the Constitution, the next general elections must take place by June 2000. The Legislative Assembly has 11 elected seats; 8 for St. Kitts and 3 for Nevis. The Government holds 7 of the 11 seats; opposition parties hold the other 4. In the June 1995 elections, Dr. Douglas' St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party won seven of eight seats at stake in St. Kitts with 60 percent of the popular vote, and Douglas became Prime Minister. The People's Action Movement (PAM), the former ruling party, took only one seat, but received 40 percent of the vote. The Concerned Citizens Movement won two of the three Nevis seats; the Nevis Reformation Party won the remaining one. The island of Nevis has considerable self-government and its own legislature. In accordance with its rights under the Constitution, the Nevis Island Assembly in 1996 initiated steps towards secession from the Federation, the most recent being a referendum in August. However, the referendum failed to secure the two-thirds majority required for secession. Prior to the referendum, a Caricom-initiated Constitutional Review Commission submitted a report that recommended an alternative political structure--a presidential system with separate elected legislatures for Saint Kitts and for Nevis. These recommendations are under review by both islands. All parties involved adhered to constitutional procedures, and no acts of violence were reported in connection with the secession question. Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of political opinion or affiliation, the opposition PAM alleges widespread employment discrimination by the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party against public sector employment of persons perceived to be opposition supporters. PAM alleges that the ruling party dismissed or demoted many PAM supporters from their jobs in order to replace them with its own supporters. The Government acknowledged that it had withheld pension benefits from opposition members of Parliament voted out of office and entitled to such benefits. However, all pension benefits have since been paid with the exception of those of the former Minister of Women's Affairs. There are no impediments in law or in practice to the participation of women in leadership roles in government or political parties. There are no women in the Cabinet. However, 2 of 3 senators are women, 1 of 2 magistrates is a woman, the court registrar is a woman, and 5 of 9 permanent secretaries are women.

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

While there are no governmental restrictions, no local human rights groups have been formed. There were no requests for investigations or visits by international human rights groups.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, place of origin, birth out of wedlock, political opinion or affiliation, color, sex, or creed, and the Government generally respects these provisions in practice. Women According to a government official, violence against women is a problem, but many women are reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts. Despite this reluctance, there were publicly reported cases of both domestic violence and rape, and a few convictions. There is no domestic violence legislation. The role of women in society is not restricted by law but is circumscribed by culture and tradition. There is no overt societal discrimination against women in employment, although sectoral analyses suggest that women do not yet occupy as many senior positions as men. The Bureau of Women's Affairs, under the Ministry of Health and Women's Affairs, is active in promoting change in the areas of domestic violence, poverty, institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women, health, and leadership positions for women. Since 1997 the Bureau has also been active in training the police and school guidance counselors on issues of domestic violence, sexual crimes, and child abuse. Children The Government is committed to children's rights and welfare and has incorporated most of the provisions of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic legislation. People With Disabilities Although there is no legislation to protect the disabled or to mandate accessibility for them, the Government and the Constitution prohibit discrimination in employment, education, and other state services.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of all workers to form and belong to trade unions. The law permits the police, civil service, and other organizations to have associations which serve as unions. The major labor union, the St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is affiliated with the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party and is active in all sectors of the economy. There is also an independent teachers' union, a union representing dockworkers in the capital city, and two taxi drivers' associations. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is well established and respected in practice. There were no major strikes during the year. Unions are free to form federations or confederations and to affiliate with international organizations. The islands' unions maintain a variety of international ties.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor unions are free to organize and to negotiate for better wages and benefits for union members. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty to rehire employees fired due to antiunion discrimination. However, the employer must pay lost wages and arrange for severance pay. There is no legislation governing the organization and representation of workers, and employers are not legally bound to recognize a union, but in practice employers do so if a majority of workers polled wish to organize. Collective bargaining takes place on a workplace by workplace basis, not industrywide. A Labor Commission mediates all types of disputes between labor and management on an ad hoc basis. In practice, however, few disputes actually go to the Commission for resolution. If neither the Commission nor the Minister of Labor can resolve the dispute, legislation allows for a case to be brought before a civil court. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution forbids slavery and forced labor, and they do not occur in practice. While neither the Constitution nor law specifically addresses bonded labor, it has not been a problem in practice.

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

The 1966 Employment of Children Ordinance outlaws slavery, servitude, and forced labor, and prescribes the minimum legal working age, which is 14 years. Although the law does not specifically address bonded labor (see Section 6.c.), it has not been a problem in practice. The Labor Ministry relies heavily on school truant officers and the community affairs division to monitor compliance, which they do effectively. The law mandates compulsory education up to the age of 16.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A 1984 law, updated in 1994, establishes minimum wage rates for various categories of workers, such as domestic servants, retail employees, casino workers, and skilled workers. The minimum wage varies from $56.18 (EC$ 150) per week for full-time domestic workers to $74.91 (EC$ 200) per week for skilled workers. These provide an adequate, though Spartan, living for a wage earner and family; many workers supplement wages by keeping small animals such as goats and chickens. The Labor Commission undertakes regular wage inspections and special investigations when it receives complaints; it requires employers found in violation to pay back wages. The law provides for a 40-to 44-hour workweek, but the common practice is 40 hours in 5 days. Although not required by law, workers receive at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law provides that workers receive a minimum annual vacation of 14 working days. While there are no specific health and safety regulations, the Factories Law provides general health and safety guidance to Labor Ministry inspectors. The Labor Commission settles disputes over safety conditions. Workers have the right to report unsafe work environments without jeopardy to continued employment; inspectors then investigate such claims.

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.