1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, February 25, 2000
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 forces are controlled by and responsive to the
Government. There were occasional allegations of abuse by the police.
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 November Hurricane Lenny
caused $7.2 million in additional damage to the economy, which had been devastated by Hurricane Georges in 1998, which
caused an estimated $445 million in damage. The 1998-99 tourist season suffered significant losses, since 85 percent of the
houses and buildings were damaged. The hurricanes also damaged an estimated 50 percent of the sugar industry. Per capita
gross domestic product was about $7,080 in 1998.
The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, there were problems in a few areas. 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.
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.
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. There was one reported
incident of excessive physical force against civilians by a police officer, involving abuse of a suspect. The police conducted
an internal investigation of this case, but the case finally was dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence.
Prison conditions are poor. Prisoners suffer from severe overcrowding and poor food, and security is lax. These conditions
have contributed to riots in the past, although none has occurred since 1994. The prison, built in 1840, was designed to
accommodate 60 inmates but houses approximately 127 prisoners.
The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government respects this provision 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. Family members, attorneys, and clergy are permitted to visit detainees regularly.
The Government does not use forced 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
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 generally are observed. In the latter part of the year, approximately 26 persons 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 of 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 1998, 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
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 1998. 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
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.
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.
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. However, in practice few disputes actually go to the Commission for resolution. If neither the
Commission nor the Ministry of Labor can resolve the dispute, legislation allows for a case to be brought before a civil
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. 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.
Although the law does not specifically address bonded labor (see Section 6.c.), it has not been a problem in practice.
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.
f. Trafficking in Persons
There are no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons.
Recent press reports indicate that the country's economic citizenship program, which allows individuals to purchase
passports through investments ranging from $200,000 (EC$540,000) to $285,000 (EC$770,000), has facilitated the illegal
immigration of persons from China and other countries to North America. Criminal organizations reportedly provide funds
to such individuals to pay these fees, and the persons later are trafficked to Canada and the United States, where they work
under conditions similar to bonded labor until their debt is repaid.
[end of document]
Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada Index | Table of Contents | 1999 Report Homepage |
Human Rights Reports Index