Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and federation, governed by a prime minister, a cabinet, and a unicameral legislature, with a governor general as titular head of state. 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 the October 25 national elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's St. Kitts and Nevis Labor Party (SKNLP) won 7 of 8 St. Kitts seats in the 11-seat legislature, and he remained Prime Minister. International observers considered the electoral process flawed. In elections on Nevis in 2001, Premier Vance Amory's Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) won four of five seats in the Nevis Assembly. The judiciary is independent.
The security forces consist of a small police force, including a 30-person Special Services Unit that received some light infantry training, a coast guard, and a small defense force. Military forces patrolled jointly with the police. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.
The country had a mixed economy based on sugar cane, tourism, and light industry; the population was approximately 45,000. Most commercial enterprises were owned privately, but a state corporation owned the sugar industry and 85 percent of arable land. The gross domestic product, which rose 2.1 percent in 2003, was expected to rise by 4 percent during the year following growth in the tourism sector and contraction in the sugar sector. The unemployment rate was estimated at 5 percent. In January, the Government raised public sector salaries by 10 percent.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in a few areas. Poor prison conditions, opposition complaints about access to government-controlled media, and violence against women remained the principal problems.
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 of the arbitrary of unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.
During the year, one person died in prison, and one person died while in police custody; however, foul play was not suspected in either case.
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.
Prisons were overcrowded, and resources remained limited. The prison on Saint Kitts had a capacity for 155 prisoners but held 183 prisoners at year's end; some prisoners slept on mats on the floor. A low-security prison on Nevis held 35 inmates. Corporal punishment is legal; a court can order that an accused person receive lashes if found guilty. The prison provided voluntary work and education programs. The prison staff periodically received training in human rights.
Unlike in 2003, there were no reported deaths in prison during the year.
Female inmates were held separately from male prisoners, and juveniles were segregated from adult prisoners. Pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners.
The Government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred during the year. In addition, the Ministry of National Security appointed "visiting justices," who volunteered to oversee the treatment of prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.
The police force consists of 370 officers (72 officers in Nevis), with 27 auxiliary members. Senior officers investigated complaints against members of the police force, and criminal offenses are referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The police force continued to conduct its own internal investigation when complaints were made against its members. There were 27 complaints filed during the year, resulting in 10 warnings to police, 3 disciplinary actions, and 1 dismissal.
Starting in July, officers received human rights training based on resources provided by the International Red Cross.
Police may arrest a person based on the suspicion of criminal activity; warrants are not required. 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 is a functioning system of bail. Family members, attorneys, and clergy were permitted to visit detainees regularly.
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 a 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 that every person accused of a crime must receive 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. Free legal assistance was available for indigent defendants in capital cases only.
As of September, there were 75 persons in pretrial detention. The length of pretrial detention varied according to offense and charges; persons may be held for days, weeks, or months. In April, authorities tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging Joseph Hazel. Hazel had been in pretrial detention since 2001 for the 2000 murder of Tony Fetherston. At year's end, his sentence was under appeal.
In December 2003, the legislature passed legislation to empower the courts to pass noncustodial sentencing such as discharges, suspended sentences, probation orders, and community service orders.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
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 and did not restrict academic freedom. The opposition People's Action Movement (PAM) party continued to allege that the ruling SKNLP blocked PAM's access to the Government-controlled media. The PAM acknowledged, however, that it had access to independent media outlets.
There was one daily independent newspaper and four independent weekly newspapers, as well as papers published by the major political parties. Several privately owned radio stations also operated.
In March, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court ordered the PAM newspaper to pay two government ministers a total of $35,000 (EC$95,000) for libel. Two other libel cases filed by government ministers against the PAM publication during the year resulted in judgments of $13,000 (EC$35,000) and $9,200 (EC$25,000).
In December, Clive Bacchus, a Guyanese national and the general manager of the WINN radio station, was informed that the renewal of his work permit was delayed pending verification that no qualified citizens were interested in his job. Since work permit renewals are granted routinely and recruitment of citizens was not a requirement, the incident was criticized as a government attempt to suppress the independent media.
The Government did not restrict access to the Internet.
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.
On July 16, police arrested and briefly detained leaders of the PAM during a peaceful demonstration. PAM organizers claimed that police changed their demonstration route at the last moment. When demonstrators attempted to follow the originally approved route, their leaders were arrested.
In September 2003, PAM leaders received a court summons for having a public gathering without a permit. PAM officials alleged they had requested a permit and the Government knew about the gathering but deliberately refused to issue a permit. The cases were adjourned indefinitely and no trial date was set.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.
The Constitution does not address forced exile, but the Government did not use it.
Although the country is a signatory of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 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 they feared persecution, but did not routinely grant refugee status or asylum.
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. All citizens 18 years of age and older may register and vote by secret ballot. A multiparty political system existed, in which political parties were free to conduct their activities; however, the PAM continued to allege that the ruling party restricted access to the media (see Section 2.a.).
In October general elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's SKNLP was returned to office after winning 7 of 8 St. Kitts-assigned seats in the 11-seat Parliament. The PAM won one seat after nearly 5 years without representation. Nevis Premier Vance Armory's CCM won two of the three parliamentary 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. During and after the election, government information services touted the SKNLP and criticized the opposition. The Government also deported and refused reentry to an important political consultant to the opposition party.
The Governor General appoints three senators, two on recommendation of the Prime Minister and one on the recommendation of the Leader of the Opposition. The island of Nevis has considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature. In the 2001 Nevis elections, Premier Amory's CCM won four of the five seats in the Nevis Island Assembly.
During the year, in accordance with its rights under the Constitution, the Nevis Assembly again proposed secession and initiated formal constitutional procedures to hold a referendum on the issue. While opposing secession, the Government acknowledged the constitutional rights of Nevisians to determine their future independence. The referendum was delayed and had not been rescheduled by year's end.
The PAM continued to allege widespread employment discrimination by the SKNLP against public sector employment of persons perceived to be PAM supporters.
The PAM claimed that electoral reform is needed to correct inequities and to prevent irregularities in voting, asserting that in the previous election the Government encouraged voters to register in districts where they did not reside and unduly influenced voters by providing airfare and hotel accommodations to overseas citizens willing to return to vote. The PAM also charged that some people voted more than once by voting in different jurisdictions. Citing these irregularities, the PAM proposed that photographic voter identification cards be issued and the existing register of voters be nullified. The PAM also recommended changes to the electoral commission to correct what it perceived as a bias toward the party in power. The PAM criticized the Government's failure to appoint any PAM representatives to the Select Committee of the National Assembly on Constitutional Reform, which will take up matters of electoral reform. The PAM did not have any representatives in the prior assembly; their newly elected representative had not been placed on the Select Committee by year's end.
There were a number of allegations of corruption in the Government. The PAM party continued to allege corrupt electoral practices. In Nevis, the Reformation Party accused the ruling CCM of corruption in the sale of land at preferential prices, among other corrupt practices, and called for an official inquiry. Businesses also complained of high-level corruption in large foreign investment projects.
No laws provide for public access to government information; however, in practice, the Government maintained a website with limited information concerning government actions.
There were 2 women in the 11-seat National Assembly and no women in the cabinet; 3 of 4 magistrates were women, the court registrar was a woman, and 6 of 11 permanent secretaries were women. In addition, in Nevis, one cabinet member and the president of the House of Assembly were women. The Government participated in an Organization of American States program to encourage the participation of women in leadership roles, with a focus on politics.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
While there are no governmental restrictions, there were no local human rights groups. There were no requests for investigations or visits by international human rights groups during the year.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 respected these prohibitions in practice.
Violence against women was a problem. The Domestic Violence Act criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides penalties of up to $5,000 (EC$13,500) and/or 6 months in prison for abusers. Although many women were reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts, there were publicly reported cases of both domestic violence and rape and a few convictions. The Department of Gender Affairs, under the Ministry of Social Development, Community, and Gender Affairs, was active in the areas of domestic violence, spousal abuse, and abandonment. It offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic violence and gender violence for officials of the police and fire departments, nurses, school guidance counselors, and other government employees. In addition, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Gender Affairs participated in a weekly radio program to discuss gender issues, including domestic violence. The Department reported 30 cases of domestic violence during the year. There was no separate domestic violence unit in the police force.
The law prohibits rape; however, spousal rape is not addressed in the legislation.
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 did. The Department of Gender Affairs conducted programs addressing poverty and health and promoting institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women and leadership positions for women. It operated three programs for rural women, providing them with market skills and training as entrepreneurs. The Department provided clients assistance with problems such as lack of housing, unemployment, childcare, technical training, and personal development. It also ran the Viola Project, a program to encourage young mothers to complete their education, which had 17 participants during the year. The Department produced three handbooks on sexual harassment, equal opportunity and employment, and equal pay for work of equal value. The Department continued its programs focusing on men as perpetrators of crimes of violence against women.
The Government was 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. The law mandates compulsory education up to the age of 16; it was free and universal. More than 98 percent of children completed school.
Free medical care was provided for children, and boys and girls had equal access.
Under the law, the age of consent is 16. During the year, authorities brought charges in 22 cases involving alleged sexual activity with minors (statutory rape) and 5 cases of incest (which includes sexual activity with any member of the household).
Trafficking in Persons
No laws address trafficking in persons specifically; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.
The country continued an economic citizenship program, whereby foreign investors were permitted to purchase passports through loosely monitored procedures requiring an investment of at least $250,000 (EC$675,000) in real estate and an additional registration fee of $35,000 (EC$94,500) for the head of household (amounts varied for other family members). This process reportedly facilitated the illegal immigration of persons from China and other countries to North America, where, in some instances, criminal organizations that provided the funds to such persons forced them to work under conditions similar to bonded labor until the debt was repaid. The Government denied any knowledge of illegal immigration facilitated through this program and asserted that applicants were screened adequately.
Persons with Disabilities
There was no 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. During the year, the Government amended the National Development Plan, which emphasized opportunities in education and employment to include blind and visually impaired persons.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers exercised the 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 St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union (SKTLU), was associated closely with the SKNLP and was active in all sectors of the economy. The opposition PAM party alleged that the ruling party used its influence to try to stifle other unions that would threaten the SKTLU in the workplace.
The law prohibits anti-union 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 1 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 for better wages and benefits for union members, and the Government protected this right in practice. If a union obtains membership of over 50 percent of employees at a company, the union 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.
Prisoners were required to work if their sentence was more than 30 days and stipulated "hard labor." They received a small stipend for this work paid upon discharge.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor of children, and the Department of Labor effectively implemented this law in practice. There were no reported cases 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 are 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. Society does not consider domestic work exploitative 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 average wage varied from $67 (EC$180) per week for full-time domestic workers to $166 (EC$443.50) per week for skilled workers. The wages provided a decent standard of living for a wage earner and family; many workers supplemented wages by keeping small animals such as goats and chickens, or other activities. The Labor Commission undertook regular wage inspections and special investigations when it received complaints; it required employers found in violation to pay back wages. Workers who were unemployed for more than 12 weeks received a lump sum payment from the Government based on previous earnings and length of service.
The law provides for a 40- to 44-hour workweek, but the common practice was 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 and provides for premium pay for work above the standard workweek.
While there were no specific health and safety regulations, the Factories Law provides general health and safety guidance to Department of Labor inspectors. The Labor Commission settles disputes over safety conditions. Workers had 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.