Saint Lucia is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister and a cabinet, which represent the majority party in the lower house of the bicameral Parliament. Queen Elizabeth II appoints a governor general who has some residual powers under the Constitution. In generally free and fair elections in 2001, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony's Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) retained power, winning 14 seats in the 17-member House of Assembly. The judiciary is independent.
The Royal Saint Lucia Police numbers 704 officers and includes a 35-officer Special Services Unit, which had some paramilitary training, and a coast guard unit. The civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. There were occasional allegations that members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.
The country has a market-based economy dominated by tourism, trade, communications, and transport. The population was approximately 160,000. Economic growth was 3.4 percent during the year, and inflation was estimated at approximately 2 percent. Unemployment at the end of 2003 was 19.7 percent.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in a few areas. There were some allegations of physical abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police; long delays in trials and sentencing, domestic violence against women, and child abuse also were 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 politically motivated killings by the Government or its agents; however, security forces killed three suspects while attempting to apprehend them.
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 torture. Prisoners and suspects regularly complained of physical abuse by police and prison officers. Through October, the Police Complaints Commission investigated more than 100 complaints of police beatings. There were three disciplinary recommendations against police officers and three criminal convictions.
Prison conditions generally met international standards at the Bordelais prison, which had a capacity of 500 prisoners. In December, it held 485 prisoners, and 184 staff positions were filled. The prison had separate facilities for females, young offenders, and those awaiting trial. It also has a magistrate's courtroom. The prison administered rehabilitation, education, and recreations programs in farming, carpentry, literacy, and Bible study.
A boys' training school, which operated separately from the prison, held 14 juveniles between 12 and 18 years of age.
The Government permitted prison visits by human rights observers, although no such visits took place during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest or imprisonment and the Government generally adhered to these provisions in practice.
The Royal Saint Lucia Police numbered 704 officers and included a Special Services Unit and a coast guard unit. The Police Commissioner continued implementation of the 2003 5-year community policing initiative to increase professionalism, prevent crime, and address customer service issues.
The Constitution requires a court hearing within 72 hours of detention. There was no constitutional requirement for a speedy trial, but every Wednesday, the Government used the magistrate's court located in the prison to reduce processing time for court hearings after detention. Those charged with serious crimes spent an estimated 6 months to a year in pretrial detention; however, those charged with petty offenses often received speedy trials, particularly if victims or witnesses were likely to leave the island. Detainees are allowed prompt access to counsel and family. There is a functioning bail system.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.
The two-level court system includes the Courts of Summary Jurisdiction (Magistrate's Courts) and the High Court, both of which have civil and criminal authority. The lower courts accept civil claims up to approximately $1,850 (EC$5,000) and criminal cases generally classified as "petty." The High Court has unlimited authority in both civil and criminal cases. All cases may be appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. Cases also may be appealed to the Privy Council in London as the final court of appeal. A family court handles child custody, maintenance, support, domestic violence, juvenile affairs, and related matters.
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. Authorities observed both constitutional and statutory requirements for fair public trials.
The court system continued to face a serious backlog of cases. The Government hired three new magistrates during the year for a total of nine. The average time for a trial was 3 to 6 months in the magistrate's courts and 6 to 12 months for non-petty criminal cases.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits such actions, 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 independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were five major privately owned newspapers, two privately owned radio stations, one partially government-funded radio station, one government-operated television station, and two private television stations.
Local media outlets and the opposition party continued to voice concerns with the "spreading false news" clause, enacted in 2003 as part of the new Criminal Code.
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.
The law requires permits for public meetings and demonstrations if they are to be held in public places, such as on streets or sidewalks or in parks. The police routinely granted such permits; the rare refusal generally stemmed from the failure of organizers to request the permit in a timely manner, normally 72 hours before the event.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.
Two Rastafarians, convicted of murder and arson and sentenced to hang in 2003 for attacking parishioners at a Catholic Mass in 2000, remained on death row.
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 prohibits forced exile, and it was not used.
No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests existed. 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. During the year, the Cabinet of Ministers gave temporary residence status with permission to work to nine Haitians and referred them to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
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, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. 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. The Governor General appoints the 11-member Senate, which includes 2 independents. In 2001, in elections that generally were considered free and fair, Prime Minister Anthony's SLP defeated the United Workers Party, led by Morella Joseph. The SLP won 14 of 17 seats and 55 percent of the popular vote.
The law provides for public access to information, and parliamentary debates are open to the public. The Government Information Service disseminates public information on a daily basis, operates an extensive website, and publishes a number of official periodicals.
There were no legal impediments to participation by women and minorities in government and politics, and 8 women competed in the 2001 elections in a field of 45 candidates for 17 positions. Voters elected two women to the House of Assembly, and there were four appointed female senators. One of the 14 members of the cabinet was a woman, as was the Governor General.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A few domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Although the Government officially cooperated with such investigations, observers noted occasional reluctance by lower officials to cooperate.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Neither the Constitution nor the law address discrimination specifically; however, government policy was nondiscriminatory in the areas of housing, jobs, education, and opportunity for advancement.
Violence against women was recognized as a serious problem. The Government prosecuted crimes of violence against women only when the victim pressed charges. Most charges involving domestic violence must be brought under the ordinary Civil Code, but rape and other crimes were subject to the Criminal Code. The family court heard cases of domestic violence and crimes against women and children. The police force conducted some training for police officers responsible for investigating rape and other crimes against women. A special police unit handled domestic violence, and its officers, which include women, worked closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs and Gender Relations. There were 31 reported cases of domestic violence in 2003. Most of the cases were referred to a counselor, and the police facilitated the issuance of court protection orders in some. Police and courts enforced laws to protect women against abuse, although police were hesitant to intervene in domestic disputes, and many victims were reluctant to report cases of domestic violence and rape or to press charges.
The 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 living. It also allows the judge to order that an abuser's name be removed from housing leases or rental agreements, revoking the right of the abuser to live in the same residence as the victim.
The Saint Lucia Crisis Center for Women, a nongovernmental organization located in Castries, monitored cases of physical and emotional abuse and helped clients to deal with such problems as incest, nonpayment of child support, alcohol and drug abuse, homelessness, custody, and visitation rights. The Ministry of Health, Human Services and Family Affairs reported 34 cases of domestic violence, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. During 2003, the Women's Support Center, a government shelter for abused persons, received 105 crisis calls and offered residential services to 24 clients and 27 dependent children. The center also engaged in an active community outreach program that included visits to schools, health centers, and community centers.
Prostitution is illegal; however, it was a growing problem. The police did not take serious action against the clubs despite some reports of child abuse and trafficking.
The law does not prohibit sexual harassment; however, it remained a problem.
Women's affairs were under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Gender Relations. The Ministry was responsible for protecting women's rights in domestic violence cases and preventing discrimination against women, including ensuring equal treatment in employment.
The Government gave high priority to improving educational opportunities and health care for children. Education was compulsory from age 5 through 15; registration fees were required. Approximately one-third of primary school children continued on to secondary schools, and the dropout rate from primary to secondary school was higher for boys than for girls.
Government clinics provided prenatal care, immunization, child health care, and health education services. Boys and girls had equal access to medical care.
During the year, the Ministry of Health, Human Services, and Family Affairs reported 41 cases of child sexual abuse, 34 cases of physical abuse, 13 cases of psychological abuse, and 59 cases of neglect and abandonment. In 2003, the Saint Lucia Save the Children Fund (LUSAVE) reported receiving an average of three calls per day from abused children and documented numerous incidences of children as young as 10 years of age giving birth as a result of sexual abuse. LUSAVE also claimed to have evidence of child pornography, including the rape of minors recorded on video for sale. As there was no welfare system in place, parents of sexually abused children sometimes declined to press sexual assault charges against the abuser in exchange for financial contributions toward the welfare of children born of such abuse.
Trafficking in Persons
No laws specifically address trafficking in persons; however, there were reports that internal trafficking, particularly of minors, began to be a problem. There was a credible report of trafficking for sexual exploitation of a woman from the Dominican Republic whose passport was seized by a nightclub owner and who claimed she was coerced into prostitution. Police intervened and returned the woman's passport. The country had a reputation as a regional hub for nightclubs and weekend trysts. While recognizing the increase in prostitution and nightclub activity, the Government did not acknowledge that trafficking was a problem and had no programs to protect victims or prevent trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
No specific legislation protects the rights of persons with disabilities or mandates provision of access to buildings or government services for them. The Government is obliged to provide disabled access to all public buildings, and several government buildings added ramps to provide access. There was no rehabilitation facility for persons with physical disabilities, although the Health Ministry operated a community-based rehabilitation program in residents' homes. There were schools for the deaf and for the blind until the secondary level. There also was a school for persons with mental disabilities.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There was widespread stigma and discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS, although the Government initiated several programs to address this issue. In May, the Government committed $2.6 million (EC$7 million) for a 5-year program to combat AIDS. The U.N. Population Fund also provided support for youth-oriented AIDS prevention programs.
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 and about 36 percent of the total work force was unionized.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Unions have the legal right to engage in collective bargaining, and they exercised this right in practice. The Registration of Trade Unions and Employer Organizations Act regulates internal union governance. It also provides that an employer must recognize a union if the union obtains the support of 50 percent plus one of the employees at a particular business.
Strikes in both the public and private sectors were legal, but there were many avenues such as collective bargaining agreements and government procedures that often precluded a strike. The law prohibits members of the police and fire departments from striking on the grounds that these professions were "essential services." Workers in other "essential services"--water and sewer authority workers, electric utility workers, nurses, and doctors--must give 30 days' notice before striking.
Labor law is applicable in the export processing zones, and there were no administrative or legal impediments to union organizing or collective bargaining in those zones; however, there were no unions registered in these zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Government prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there were no reports that such practices occurred. While there is no specific prohibition of forced or compulsory labor by children, there were no reports of such practices.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law provides for a minimum legal working age of 16 years. The minimum legal working age for industrial work is 18 years. Child labor existed to some degree in the rural areas, primarily where larger, stronger, school-age children helped harvest bananas from family trees. Children also typically worked in urban food stalls or sold confectionery on sidewalks. However, these activities occurred on nonschool days and during festivals. The Department of Labor of the Ministry of Labor Relations, Public Service, and Cooperatives was responsible for enforcing statutes regulating child labor. Employer penalties for violating the child labor laws were $3.55 (EC$9.60) for a first offense and $8.88 (EC$24) for a second offense. There were no formal reports of violations of child labor laws.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wage regulations in effect since 1985 set wages for a limited number of occupations. The minimum monthly wage for office clerks was $111 (EC$300), for shop assistants $74 (EC$200), and for messengers $59 (EC$160). The minimum wage was not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but most categories of workers received much higher wages based on prevailing market conditions. The 1999 Minimum Wage Act established a commission responsible for setting a minimum wage level; it met during 2003, but it had not finished its work by year's end.
There is no legislated workweek, although the common practice was to work 40 hours in 5 days. Special legislation covers work hours for shop assistants, agricultural workers, domestics, and persons in industrial establishments.
Occupational health and safety regulations were relatively well developed; however, there was only one qualified inspector for the entire country. The Ministry enforced the act through threat of closure of the business if it discovered violations and the violator did not correct them. However, actual closures rarely occurred because of lack of staff and resources. Workers had the legal right to leave a dangerous workplace situation without jeopardy to continued employment.