Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008
Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and federation, with a population of approximately 39,200. In the 2004 national elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) won seven seats in the 11-seat legislature. International observers considered the electoral process flawed. The constitution provides the smaller island of Nevis considerable self-government under a premier, as well as the right to secede from the federation in accordance with certain enumerated procedures. In July 2006 voters in Nevis elected Joseph Parry of the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) as premier. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, problems included poor prison conditions, corruption, and violence against women.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces shot and killed two persons in two separate incidents.
On March 8, police shot and killed Philmore "Kiddy" Seaton when he allegedly assaulted a police officer with a firearm. The case remained under investigation and awaited a coroner's inquest at year's end.
On August 2, police shot and killed Clyde Williams in Old Road, Saint Kitts. According to police, an investigation was under way at year's end.
Authorities completed their investigation into the police killing of Nigel Langley Sweeney in October 2006 after he killed one officer; the matter was with the police commissioner at year's end.
A coroner's inquest began into the 2005 police shooting of Rechalieu Henry, who had escaped from custody, but it was not completed by year's end. Similarly, a coroner's inquest was held in Nevis regarding the 2005 police killing of Garnet Tyson.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Corporal punishment is legal and is an accepted measure for juveniles in schools and the justice system; a court can order that an accused person receive lashes if found guilty.
On June 1, police shot and wounded Alister Henderson, who reportedly attacked a police officer who was trying to stop Henderson from throwing rocks at another man. On October 11, police shot and wounded Ivan James, when he attempted to run from them when they attempted to arrest him on a larceny charge. Both cases were under investigation at year's end.
In November a court sentenced a 12-year-old boy found guilty of possessing an illegal firearm to receive 10 lashes as punishment.
In December the Police Disciplinary Tribunal found Constable Alister Huggins guilty of "discreditable conduct" for stealing money during a search at a Rastafarian community. The tribunal sentenced Huggins to be confined to barracks for 28 days, and he faced criminal charges at year's end.
In the July robbery trial of four defendants, the accused alleged that they were beaten in police custody in 2005. According to their testimony, after they were arrested for multiple armed robberies, police officer Dexter Jacobs beat them, although they gave other evidence indicating the abuse was suffered at the hands of the armed forces. The police denied the allegations, and the case was deferred to the 2008 court session due to a hung jury.
In June a 15-year-old boy claimed that soldiers forcibly removed him from his school and took him to Camp Springfield, where for three days soldiers beat him and forced him to perform constant exercise. The Sun newspaper cited a defense force source who alleged that a recently established security force unit was involved in many beatings and warned parents not to seek the help of soldiers in punishing their children or to send them to Camp Springfield to be disciplined.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons were overcrowded, and resources remained limited. The prison on Saint Kitts had a capacity intended for 150 prisoners but held 182 prisoners as of October 31, including two women; some prisoners slept on mats on the floor. There were separate facilities for men and women. A low-security prison on Nevis held 44 inmates. The prison staff periodically received training in human rights.
The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, although no such visits were known to have occurred during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The security forces consist of a 400-officer police force, including a paramilitary Special Services Unit, a coast guard, and a small defense force. Military forces patrolled jointly with the police. The military and the police report to the Ministry for National Security, Justice, and Labor.
Senior police officers investigated 170 complaints against members of the police force. They referred three cases to an internal disciplinary tribunal that subsequently dismissed them; gave warnings to the officers involved in 35 cases; closed 12 cases as false or unproven, and had 20 cases pending action. Four cases were withdrawn, and the remaining 96 cases were under consideration at year's end.
Arrest and Detention
Police may arrest a person without a warrant based on the suspicion of criminal activity. The law requires that persons detained be charged within 48 hours or be released. If charged, a detainee must be brought before a court within 72 hours. There was a functioning system of bail. Family members, attorneys, and clergy were permitted to visit detainees regularly.
There were 26 prisoners in pretrial detention and 34 waiting a preliminary inquiry at year's end. Detainees may be held for a maximum of seven days awaiting a bail hearing. Those accused of serious offenses are remanded to custody to await trial, while those accused of minor infractions are released on their own recognizance.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
The court system includes the 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.
The constitution provides for a fair, speedy, and public trial, and these requirements generally were observed. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with counsel in a timely manner. There is a presumption of innocence, and defendants may question or confront witnesses. Juries are used at the High Court level for criminal matters only. Free legal assistance was available for indigent defendants in capital cases only.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters, including lawsuits regarding alleged civil rights violations.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Rastafarians complained of discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools. There were no other reports of societal abuses or discrimination, including anti-Semitic acts. There was no organized Jewish community.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
The law does not address forced exile, but the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The country is signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but not to its 1967 protocol. The government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees or asylum seekers. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where there was reason to believe they feared persecution, but did not routinely grant refugee status or asylum.
Although no known cases occurred, the government was prepared to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
There is a multiparty political system, in which political parties were free to conduct their activities.
In the October 2004 general elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's SKNLP was returned to office after winning seven of eight Saint Kitts-assigned seats in the 11-seat National Assembly. The People's Action Movement (PAM) party won one seat after nearly five years without representation. The Concerned Citizens Movement party won two of the three assembly seats assigned to Nevis. The Commonwealth observer team categorized the electoral rules as "followed but flawed," and there were reports of vote fraud, intimidation, and foreign influence.
In December Parliament passed electoral reform legislation, one aspect of which allows nationals living abroad to return to the country to vote. Although the entire reform package was meant to address the PAM's allegations of corrupt electoral practices by the ruling SKNLP, the final legislation did not address all such concerns, especially safeguards against persons voting multiple times. There are no campaign finance regulations or prohibitions on political parties paying for the transportation of overseas nationals to return to the country to vote.
The island of Nevis exercises considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature. In 2006 voters in Nevis ousted incumbent Vance Amory and elected Joseph Parry of the NRP as premier.
The governor general appoints three senators, two on the recommendation of the prime minister and one on the recommendation of the leader of the opposition. There were no women in the parliament or the cabinet; three of four magistrates were women, the court registrar was a woman, and six of 11 permanent secretaries were women. In Nevis one elected member of the House of Assembly, the (appointed) president of the House of Assembly, and the island's resident judge were women.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year. The opposition PAM party continued to allege corrupt electoral practices by the ruling SKNLP as well as possible misconduct on the part of government officials.
Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws, and there is no agency responsible for combating government corruption. The leader of the opposition PAM party disclosed his personal finances publicly and called for the prime minister to do the same.
While no laws provide for public access to government information, the government maintained a Web site with limited information concerning government actions.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
While there are no governmental restrictions on human rights groups, no local human rights groups operated in the country. There were no requests for investigations or visits by international human rights groups during the year.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, place of origin, birth out of wedlock, political opinion or affiliation, color, gender, or creed, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
The law prohibits rape, but it does not address spousal rape. Penalties for rape range from two years' imprisonment for incest between minors to life imprisonment for statutory rape or incest with someone under 16. Indecent assault has a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment. Incest with a person 16 or older carries a penalty of 20 years' imprisonment. During the year police investigated 14 cases of rape and 20 cases of indecent assault. None of the rape cases had gone to trial by year's end.
Violence against women was a problem. The law criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides penalties of up to $5,000 (EC$13,500) or six months in prison. Although many women were reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts, the Ministry of Gender Affairs reported 25 cases of domestic violence during the year, commensurate with the recent annual average of 25 to 30 reports. The director believed that the true number was higher, but that due to the nature of the crime, many women did not feel comfortable reporting it or asking for a protection order. There were no prosecutions or convictions for domestic violence during the year.
The ministry offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic violence and gender violence for officials in the police and fire departments, nurses, school guidance counselors, and other government employees. In addition the ministry's permanent secretary participated in a weekly radio program to discuss gender issues, including domestic violence. Several NGOs worked to raise awareness of domestic violence, and in November one called Men Underpinning Saint Kitts hosted a domestic violence symposium with the police force, nurses, the Ministry of Gender Affairs, and others.
Prostitution is illegal and was not considered to be a problem.
The law does not specifically address sexual harassment, and it remained a problem.
The role of women in society is not restricted by law but was circumscribed by culture and tradition. There was no overt societal discrimination against women in employment, although analyses suggested that women did not occupy as many senior positions as men. The ministry conducted programs addressing poverty and health and promoting institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women and attain leadership positions for women. Although there was no legislation requiring equal pay for equal work, women and men generally received equal salaries for the same jobs.
The government was committed to children's rights and welfare. Education is compulsory, free, and universal, up to the age of 16. More than 98 percent of children completed secondary school. Girls had equal access to education and tended to outnumber boys at the secondary and tertiary levels.
The government provided free medical care for children.
Child abuse remained a major problem. The law sets the age of consent at 16. Authorities brought charges in six cases involving alleged sexual activity with minors (indecent assault). In addition to those charges, the Ministry of Gender Affairs received 24 reports of sexual assaults against children during the year, an increase from the 11 cases reported in 2006.
In February and in November, the Sun newspaper reported that authorities arrested two juvenile boys for "unlawful carnal knowledge" in two separate incidents.
In November a former police officer in Nevis was tried for incest, but the matter was rescheduled to April 2008 when the jury could not reach a decision.
Trafficking in Persons
While no laws address trafficking in persons specifically, there were no confirmed reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country. The UNHCR representative noted that labor trafficking was known to occur, especially in the form of importing foreign nationals from Guyana and other countries to work on construction projects for lower wages.
Persons with Disabilities
While the law prohibits discrimination, it does not specifically cite discrimination against persons with disabilities. There was no reported discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services. The law does not mandate access to buildings for persons with disabilities.
Persons who are mentally ill and deemed a menace to society
can be incarcerated for life; there were six such persons in the prison. Ministry of Health nurses in the various district health centers deal with persons with mental illness, and the General Hospital has a wing dedicated to caring for patients with mental illness.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There are no laws that prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation. Although no statistics were available, anecdotal evidence suggested that societal discrimination against homosexuals and persons with HIV/AIDS occurred.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers exercised their legal right to form and join trade unions. Employers were not bound legally to recognize a union, but in practice employers did so if a majority of workers polled wished to organize. Approximately 10 percent of the workforce was unionized. The law permits the police, civil service, and other organizations to organize associations that serve as unions. The major labor union, the Saint Kitts Trades and Labour Union, was associated closely with the SKNLP and was active in all sectors of the economy. The Saint Kitts dock workers formed a new union late in the year.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such action to rehire employees fired for union activities. However, the employer must pay lost wages and severance pay to employees who had worked at least one year, based upon their length of service.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Labor unions have the legal right to organize and to negotiate better wages and benefits for union members, and the government protected these rights in practice. A union that obtains membership of more than 50 percent of employees at a company can apply to be recognized by the employer for collective bargaining.
There are no export processing zones.
The right to strike, while not specified by law, is well established and respected in practice. Restrictions on strikes by workers who provide essential services, such as the police and civil servants, were enforced by established practice and custom, but not by law.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor of children, and the Department of Labor effectively enforced this law in practice. There were no reported complaints of child labor during the year. The minimum legal working age is 16 years. The Department of Labor relied heavily on school truancy officers and the Community Affairs Division to monitor compliance, which they generally did effectively.
Juveniles worked in agriculture, domestic service, and illicit activities. In rural areas where families engaged in livestock farming and vegetable production, children often were required to assist as part of family efforts at subsistence. Girls often engaged in domestic service. Such labor included family-oriented work where children were required to look after younger siblings or ailing parents and grandparents at the expense of their schooling. Children often worked in other households as domestic servants or babysitters. In general society did not consider domestic work exploitive child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wage rates for various categories of workers, such as domestic servants, retail employees, casino workers, and skilled workers, were last updated in 1994, and manufacturing sector wages were revised in 1996. The minimum wage for full-time domestic workers was $56 (EC$150) per week and $74 (EC$200) per week for skilled workers. However, average wages were considerably higher in these and all other categories, and there was no need to enforce the outdated legal minimum wages, which would not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The Labor Commission undertook regular wage inspections and special investigations when it received complaints; it required employers found in violation to pay back wages.
The law provides for a 40- to 44-hour workweek, but the common practice was 40 hours in five days. Although not required by law, workers receive at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law provides for premium pay for work above the standard workweek. There was no legal prohibition of excessive or compulsory overtime, although local custom dictated that a worker could not be forced to work overtime.
While there were no specific health and safety regulations, the law provides general health and safety guidance to Department of Labor inspectors. The Labor Commission settles disputes about safety conditions. Workers have the right to report unsafe work environments without jeopardy to continued employment; inspectors then investigate such claims, and workers may leave such locations without jeopardy to their continued employment.