2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
March 11, 2010
Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and federation, with a population of approximately 39,200. In 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 concluded that the election was credible and that the results reflected the will of the voters, but noted weaknesses in the electoral process. 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 2006 voters in Nevis elected Joseph Parry of the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) as premier. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, problems included use of excessive force by police, poor prison conditions, and violence against women.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Following a coroner's inquest, no police officers were charged with the 2007 police killing of Philmore "Kiddy" Seaton. Security force Private Louis Richards was charged and convicted of manslaughter for the 2007 killing of Clyde Williams.
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. However, due to an increasing number of violent incidents involving police, law enforcement officials came under increased scrutiny, and citizens were becoming increasingly afraid of reporting crime because of the heavy-handedness with which police carried out their duties. Corporal punishment is legal and an accepted measure for juveniles in schools and the justice system. A court can order that an accused person receive lashes if found guilty.
Authorities brought no charges against the police who shot and injured Devon Albertine in January 2008. Nor were charges brought against police who shot Beko Lapsey, also in January 2008. In both incidents, authorities determined that the shootings were justifiable.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons remained overcrowded, and facilities austere. Built in 1840, the prison on Saint Kitts had an intended capacity of 150 prisoners but held 259 prisoners; some prisoners slept on mats on the floor. There were separate facilities for men and women. 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 412-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 complaints against members of the police force. When warranted, they refer them to an internal disciplinary tribunal for adjudication; penalties include dismissal, warnings, or other administrative action. No information was available as to the number or disposition of cases under consideration during the year.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
Police may arrest a person based on the suspicion of criminal activity without a warrant. 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 is a functioning system of bail. Family members, attorneys, and clergy were permitted to visit detainees regularly.
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.
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 the government generally respected these rights in practice.
There were eight radio stations and two daily newspapers on the islands. In addition, each major political party published a weekly or fortnightly newspaper. Opposition publications freely criticized the government, and international media were available. Television was government owned, and there were some government restrictions on opposition access to the medium.
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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, there were 31 Internet users per 100 inhabitants in 2008.
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
There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination, including anti-Semitic acts. There was no organized Jewish community.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf.
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 law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but not to its 1967 protocol, which the government has not signed. However, the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened, but it did not routinely grant refugee status or asylum.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and was prepared to cooperate with other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. In the one case that occurred, a UNHCR interview determined that the asylum seeker was an economic refugee. There is an honorary UNHCR liaison in the country.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution provides citizens with 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 December the government called for the next general elections to be held on January 26, 2010.
In the October 2004 general elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's SKNLP 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. 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 reported concerns about voter fraud, intimidation, and foreign influence. Lack of a requirement to prove identity limited voting officials' ability to prevent persons voting more than once. Use of foreign campaign advisers was controversial, government information services were accused of biased coverage, and the government deported and refused reentry to a leading opposition consultant.
In 2007 parliament passed electoral reform legislation meant to address the PAM's allegations of corrupt electoral practices by the ruling SKNLP; however, the 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 new legislation does not include absentee voting, but there are no restrictions on political parties providing funding for citizens to return to vote. Although the opposition complained about the voter reregistration process, in which all voters were required to appear in person, it was completed in September 2008 without major incidents.
The island of Nevis exercises considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature. In 2006 voters in Nevis elected Joseph Parry of the NRP as premier.
The governor general appoints three senators, two on 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.
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government 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 possible misconduct on the part of government officials.
Public officials are not subject to financial disclosure laws, and there is no agency responsible for combating government corruption.
While no laws provide for public access to government information, the government maintained a Web site with limited information concerning government actions.
Section 5 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.
Section 6 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 a number of cases of rape and indecent assault.
Violence against women was a problem. The law criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides penalties of up to EC$13,500 ($5,000) or six months in prison. Although many women were reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts, the Ministry of Gender Affairs handled an annual average of 25 to 30 reports of domestic violence. The director believed 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.
Prostitution is illegal and was not considered 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. Reproductive rights were generally protected; couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children. The National Family Planning Office provided information on contraception and support for reproductive rights on a nondiscriminatory basis. Skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care was widely available. Women and men were given equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.
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 of Gender Affairs conducted programs addressing poverty and health and promoting institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women and attain leadership positions for women. Although no legislation requires equal pay for equal work, women and men generally received equal salaries for comparable jobs.
Children acquire citizenship by birth in the country, and all are registered at birth and equally able to access public education and public services. Children born to citizen parents abroad can be registered by either of their parents.
Child abuse remained a major problem. The law sets the age of consent at 16. Authorities received a number of reports of sexual assaults against children during the year and brought charges in cases involving alleged sexual activity with minors (indecent assault). Under the statutory rape law, sexual relations with anyone under 16 is illegal, with penalties ranging from probation to life in prison. Child pornography is illegal and carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Trafficking in Persons
Laws criminalize trafficking in persons that include all elements of the offense, such as withholding identification or travel documents of a person and controlling and restricting the movement of a person. The penalties for trafficking in persons range from 20 years to life in prison. There were no confirmed reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country. The UNHCR representative noted that trafficking for the purpose of labor exploitation 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.
The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.
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 five 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.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There are no laws that prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation. Homosexual acts are illegal and carry penalties up to 10 years in prison.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Although no statistics were available, anecdotal evidence suggested that societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS occurred.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers exercised their legal right to form and join trade unions. Employers are 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 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.
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.
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 worked at least one year, based upon their length of service.
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 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 reports 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 made 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
The government sets the minimum wage, which was increased in October 2008 to EC$8.00 ($3.00) an hour. The Ministry of Labor received tripartite input from the major labor union, private sector groups, and the Ministry of Finance, and the minimum wage was debated openly in parliament. Average wages were considerably higher than the minimum wage, 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 received 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 are no specific health and safety regulations, the law provides general health and safety guidance to Department of Labor 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, and workers may leave such locations without jeopardy to their continued employment.