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Saint Lucia


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2000
February 23, 2001
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Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Government is composed of a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislative assembly. A Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In general elections in 1997, the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) defeated the incumbent United Workers Party (UWP), gaining 16 of 17 seats in the House of Assembly. Dr. Kenny Anthony of the SLP assumed the prime ministership from the UWP's Dr. Vaughan Lewis. The judiciary is independent.

The Royal Saint Lucia Police is the only security force and includes a small unit called the Special Services Unit (which has some paramilitary training) and a coast guard unit. They are controlled by and responsive to the Government. There were occasional allegations of abuse by the police.

The economy is based on tourism and on the export of bananas, which represent the principal sources of foreign exchange earnings. Saint Lucia is diversifying its economy into other types of agriculture, light manufacturing, and construction. Unemployment, estimated at 21 percent, remains a source of potential instability. Per capita gross domestic product for 1999 was provisionally estimated at $3,648.

The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, there were problems in a few areas. The major problems included an extrajudicial killing by police; occasional credible allegations of physical abuse of suspects or prisoners by the police; very poor prison conditions; some censorship; long delays in trials; and recurring domestic violence against women. Child neglect and abuse are problems. On December 31, a deadly attack on parishioners in a Catholic church, although believed to be an isolated act by disturbed persons, raised concerns about religious tolerance.

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 killings; however, there was one extrajudicial killing by police.

On November 19, police shot and killed an escaped prisoner, Alfred Harding, who was jailed on charges of armed robbery and attempted murder. Harding, a Barbadian national, had escaped from prison in that country and also escaped from prison in Castries in July 1999. The police reported that he was killed while trying to flee, armed with an ice pick; some witnesses contradicted police reports and said that the police shot the prisoner after recapture, while he was subdued and held on the ground. Human rights groups criticized the police action as an example of the use of excessive force by police. The Minister for Home Affairs stated that an international group would be invited to conduct an impartial investigation; results still were pending at year's end.

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 there were no reports of such abuse. However, human rights groups assert that the police occasionally use excessive force.

In July 1999, when the police recaptured escaped prisoner Alfred Harding (see Section 1.a.), they detained him in chains and shackles and kept him continuously in solitary confinement amid the general prison population. He filed a court case asserting that his rights were violated, but he was held in this manner until his human rights case was decided. In August the High Court awarded him $9,250 (EC$25,000) in compensation, stating that prison authorities were wrong in keeping him in shackles and solitary confinement for so long.

Prison conditions are very poor. The island's only prison, built in the 1800's to house a maximum of 101 prisoners, was subject to severe overcrowding with over 340 inmates. The prison's conditions, overcrowding, and lengthy trial delays led to a prison riot in June 1997; prisoners set fires that destroyed over half of the antiquated prison. The inmates asserted that the fires were part of a protest for improved prison conditions. Following the fires, the authorities transferred about 250 inmates to a factory shell outside the capital and stationed the paramilitary Special Services Unit at the prison. The prison since has been repaired, the majority of prisoners have been returned to the prison, and the Special Services Unit has ceased guarding the prison.

Following the riots, the Government invited Penal Reform International (PRI), a London-based nongovernmental organization, to study the prison and make recommendations. Its recommendations included the release of prisoners awaiting trial for minor offenses and the introduction of noncustodial alternatives as a sentencing option. As a result of the PRI report, the authorities selected a new superintendent of prisons who took over in February 1998, established a permanent Complaints Board composed of prominent citizens to meet every month to hear prisoners' complaints, hired 24 new prison officials, and made some limited improvements to the facility. Despite these measures, inmates made another attempt to burn down the main prison facility in September 1998 but caused only limited damage. According to the superintendent, both the 1997 and the 1998 incidents of unrest occurred prior to the start of a new session of the High Court when prisoners on "remand" (detention pending trial or further court action) discovered that their cases were not on the published list of cases to be heard. At any given time, there may be 100 or more prisoners on remand who have been denied bail and are awaiting trial.

The Government started the groundwork for a new $17 million (EC$50 million) prison in the more remote eastern part of the island in 1998. It was scheduled for completion during the year, but progress was delayed and officials expect it to be completed in 2001.

The Government maintains a separate facility for women and in September there were 11 female prisoners. Conditions in the women's facility are somewhat better than those at the men's prison. Detained juveniles are held in the same facility as women.

The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government adheres to the constitutional provisions that prohibit arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and require a court hearing within 72 hours after detention. However, the authorities frequently have held prisoners for years on remand after charging them (there is no constitutional requirement for a speedy trial). At the time of the 1997 prison riot, about 160 of the prisoners were on remand. For example, two foreign nationals, a Ghanaian and a Nigerian, have been held on remand since 1996. These individuals are detained for immigration violations, pending resolution of who is to pay the expense of their deportations.

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and it is independent in practice.

There are two levels of courts: Courts of summary jurisdiction (magistrate's courts) and the High Court. Both levels have civil and criminal authority. The lower courts accept civil claims up to about $1,850 (EC$5,000) in value and criminal cases generally classified as "petty." The High Court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases can be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Cases may be appealed to the Privy Council in London as the final court of appeal.

The Constitution requires public trials before an independent and impartial court and, in cases involving capital punishment, provision of legal counsel for those who cannot afford a defense attorney. In criminal cases not involving capital punishment, defendants must obtain their own legal counsel. Defendants are entitled to select their own legal counsel; are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court; and have the right of appeal. The authorities observe both constitutional and statutory requirements for fair public trials.

However, the court system continued to face a serious backlog of cases. In the latter part of 1998, the magistrate's courts had a backlog of over 6,000 cases. Following an official study, in July 1999, the Government hired a new director of public prosecutions and provide him an assistant to attempt to speed up the trial process and reduce the backlog. His work and the flow of cases through the court system continue to be hampered by a shortage of magistrates and resources, and the backlog likely has not diminished. Previously, the Government had invited a team of justices from Australia to conduct a study and to make recommendations for reducing the backlog. The team issued a report (the Bauer report) in 1998. At year's end, the Government still was reviewing the report's recommendations.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanctions.

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 respects these rights in practice; however, some censorship is practiced. In September a representative of a small foreign publishing house arrived in the country from Martinique with a number of books. Customs authorities seized 57 of them under a law that bans certain books. The authorities returned 37 of the books but kept the others for further review. The publisher questioned the banning and confiscation as a violation of freedom of speech. A number of the books seized were on religion or religious themes (see Section 2.c.).

There are five privately owned newspapers, two privately owned radio stations, and one partially government-funded radio station. They carry a wide spectrum of political opinion and are often critical of the Government. The radio stations have discussion and call-in programs that allow persons to express their views. The two local television stations also are owned privately and cover a wide range of views. In addition there is subscription cable television service, which provides programming from a variety of sources.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The law requires permits for public meetings and demonstrations if they are to be held in public places, such as streets, sidewalks, or parks. The police routinely grant such permits; the rare refusal generally stems from the failure of organizers to request the permit in a timely manner, normally 48 hours before the event.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. However, a number of the books customs authorities seized in September were on religion or religious themes, including titles such as The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Greater Key of Solomon, The Lost Books of the Bible, and The Ancient Mysteries of Melchizedek (see Section 2.a.).

On December 31, two men alleged to be members of the Rastafarian movement attacked a Sunday Mass in a Catholic Church. They killed a nun, set the priest on fire, and wounded 12 other persons. At year's end, the authorities brought charges of murder and arson against the two men, and the investigation continued. Rastafarian leaders criticized the attack, and Archdiocese representatives criticized what they termed "an atmosphere of intolerance" and a "callous disrespect for authority" in the country. The Government criticized the attack as the work of mentally disturbed persons who underscored the plight of "impoverished and marginalized youth" alienated from societal norms.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. The issue of the provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of the 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 have the right to change their government and exercised that right in 1997 when the SLP defeated the UWP, which had governed with only one interruption since 1964. The SLP won 16 of 17 seats, campaigning on a platform of job creation and economic diversification and appealing explicitly to women and younger voters. In response to concerns about the size of the SLP's parliamentary majority, Prime Minister Anthony publicly emphasized that the Government would make efforts to reach out to the opposition to ensure that the country's democratic traditions were not undermined by the small size of the parliamentary opposition. The 1996 merger of smaller parties--the Concerned Citizens' Movement, the Saint Lucia Freedom Party, and the Citizens' Democratic Party--into the SLP left the country with only two major political parties. The Governor General, who had been affiliated with the UWP, stepped down following the elections. He was replaced by Pearlette Louisy.

Under the Constitution, general elections must be held at least every 5 years by secret ballot, but may be held earlier at the discretion of the government in power. Two members of the Senate are independent, appointed by the Governor General.

There are no legal impediments to participation by women and minorities in government and politics; however, they are underrepresented. Two of the 13 members of the Cabinet are women, as is the Governor General.

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

The Government generally does not restrict international or nongovernmental investigations of alleged violations of human rights. In some cases it has requested international organizations to investigate possible abuses.

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

The Constitution does not address discrimination specifically; however, government policy is nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement. There are no legal restrictions on the role of women or minorities.

Women

There is increased awareness of the seriousness of violence against women. The Government does not prosecute crimes of violence against women unless the victim presses charges. If the victim chooses for any reason not to press charges, the Government cannot bring a case. Charges must be brought under the ordinary Civil Code. In 1997 the Government established a family court to hear cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children.

The police force conducts some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women, but there is no special unit that handles crimes against women. Police and courts enforce laws to protect women against abuse, although police are hesitant to intervene in domestic disputes, and many victims are reluctant to report cases of domestic violence and rape or to press charges.

The 1994 Domestic Violence Act allows a judge to issue a protection order prohibiting an abuser from entering or remaining in the place where the victim is. It also allows the judge to order that an abuser's name be removed from housing leases or rental agreements, with the effect that the abuser would no longer have the right to live in the same residence as the victim.

The Saint Lucia Crisis Center for women was established in 1988 in Castries, the capital; a second opened in the southern town of Vieux Fort in January 1999. These centers monitor cases of physical and emotional abuse and help clients deal with such problems as incest, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, nonpayment of child support, custody, and visitation rights. The Crisis Center has publicized the plight of battered women and has protested the rare deaths of women who were victims of domestic violence. The organizers continued to work to establish a shelter for battered women and homeless girls; however, no progress had been made at year's end. The Crisis Center reports that the number of new cases declined since the establishment of the family court because women can seek help in two places. Some secondary schools address the problems of sexual harassment and battering in their curriculum topics.

Women's affairs come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs, and Women. The Minister is responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including ensuring equal treatment in employment.

Children

Since independence, successive governments have given high priority to improving educational opportunities and health care for the nation's children. Education is free and compulsory from age 5 through 15. However, only about one-third of primary school children continue on to secondary schools, and the drop-out rate from primary to secondary school is higher for boys than for girls. Government clinics provide prenatal care, immunization, child health care, and health education services throughout the island.

A broad legal framework exists for the protection of children through the Criminal Code, the Children and Young Persons Act, the Family Court Act, the Domestic Violence Act, and the Attachment of Earnings Act. Although the Government adopted a national plan of action in November 1991 for the survival, protection, and development of children, it still has not fulfilled this program by implementing effective programs. The Saint Lucia Crisis Center reported that the incidence of child abuse remains high. There were reports of abandoned children at times roaming the streets with no organized, fully functioning safety net or adequate supporting institutions to assist them. There are no specific laws enacted to cover foster care, adoptions, and child welfare social services.

People with Disabilities

No specific legislation protects the rights of the disabled, nor mandates provision of access to buildings or government services for them. There is no rehabilitation facility for the physically disabled, although the Health Ministry operates a community-based rehabilitation program in residents' homes. There are schools for the deaf and for the blind up to the secondary level. There is also a school for the mentally retarded.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution specifies the right of workers to form or belong to trade unions under the broader rubric of the right of association. Most public sector employees are unionized; about 20 percent of the total work force is unionized. Unions are independent of government and are free to choose their own representatives in often vigorously contested elections. There are no restrictions on the formation of national labor federations. In 1994 several of the major unions formed an umbrella grouping called the Industrial Solidarity Pact.

Strikes in both the public and private sectors are legal, but there are many avenues through collective bargaining agreements and government procedures that may preclude a strike. The law prohibits members of the police and fire departments from striking. Other "essential services" workers--water and sewer authority workers, electric utility workers, nurses, and doctors--must give 30 days' notice before striking.

Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations, and some have done so.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

On January 11, the Registration Status and Recognition of Trade Unions and Employer Organizations Act entered into effect. Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they fully exercise this right. Although union representatives have reported attempts by the Government and other employers to undermine this process, the new law is viewed widely as prounion, and it has resulted in increased organizational activity by unions.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers, and there are effective mechanisms for resolving complaints. It also requires that employers reinstate workers fired for union activities.

Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones (EPZ's), and there are no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones. However, in practice many firms resist union efforts to organize in the EPZ's, but there has been some progress because of the new law.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it is not known to occur. While there is no specific prohibition of forced or bonded labor by children, there were no reports of such practices.

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

While the Children and Young Persons Act permits a minimum legal working age of 14 years, education legally is required through age 15. Ministry of Labor officials are responsible for enforcing the law. There were no reports of violations of child labor laws. The Government does not prohibit specifically forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Wages Regulations (Clerks) Orders, in effect since 1985, set out minimum wage rates only for clerks. These office workers receive a legislated minimum wage of about $300 (EC$800) per month. The minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but some categories of workers receive more than the legal minimum for clerks, which is used only as a guide for setting pay for other professions.

There is no legislated workweek, although the common practice is to work 40 hours in 5 days. Special legislation covers hours that shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and young people in industrial establishments may work.

Occupational health and safety regulations are relatively well developed. The Labor Ministry periodically inspects health and safety conditions at places of employment under the Employees' Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1985. The Ministry enforces the act through threat of closure of the business if it discovers violations and the violator does not correct them. Workers are free to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.

f. Trafficking in Persons

There are no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons. There were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, within, or through the country.

[End.]



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