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Diplomacy in Action

Saint Kitts and Nevis


Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2006
March 6, 2007
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Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and federation, with a population of approximately 39,200. In the 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 considered the electoral process flawed. 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 July voters in Nevis elected Joseph Parry of the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) as premier. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, problems included poor prison conditions, lack of opposition access to government-controlled media, corruption, 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

The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, security forces shot and killed one person. Authorities had not made any determination regarding possible culpability in this killing by year's end.

On October 1, police shot and killed Nigel Langley Sweeney after he fired shots at them, killing one police officer. According to media reports, the officers were responding to a report of a robbery in progress when the suspect, who had been the focus of a nationwide manhunt, opened fire on them. According to the assistant police commissioner, police conduct internal investigations whenever warranted, but there is no time frame in which the investigations must be completed.

The investigation and inquests into 2005 killings by police of Rechalieu Henry and Garnet Tyson had not yet been completed 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 prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them. Corporal punishment is legal; a court can order that an accused person receive lashes if found guilty.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded, and resources remained limited. The prison on Saint Kitts had a capacity for 150 prisoners but held 204 prisoners at year's end, including three women; some prisoners slept on mats on the floor. There were separate facilities for men and women. A low-security prison on Nevis held 33 inmates. 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 400-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, and criminal offenses were referred to the director of public prosecutions.

Arrest and 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.

There were 43 prisoners in pretrial detention and 17 awaiting a court hearing at year's end. 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.

Trial Procedures

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. 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.

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.

While the independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, 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.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail.

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.

Rastafarians complained that the use of marijuana, an aspect of their religious ritual, was prohibited.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Rastafarians complained of widespread discrimination, especially in hiring and in schools. There were no other reports of societal abuses or discrimination, including anti-Semitic acts. There was no organized Jewish community.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 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 law does not address forced exile, but the government did not use it.

Protection of Refugees

The country is a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but not to its 1967 protocol. 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.

Elections and Political Participation

In the October 2004 general elections, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's SKNLP was returned to office after winning seven of eight Saint Kitts-assigned seats in the 11-seat National Assembly. The PAM party won one seat after nearly five years without representation. The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) party won two of the three assembly 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 island of Nevis exercises considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature. In July voters in Nevis ousted incumbent Vance Amory and elected Joseph Parry of the NRP as premier.

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.). The PAM also alleged widespread employment discrimination by the SKNLP against public sector employment of persons perceived to be PAM supporters.

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 member of parliament and the president of the House of Assembly were women.

Government Corruption and Transparency

There were a number of allegations of corruption in the government. The opposition PAM party continued to allege corrupt electoral practices and brought a civil law suit against an SKNLP candidate. In July the High Court dismissed the case for lack of compelling evidence.

While no laws provide for public access to government information, the government maintained a Web site with limited information concerning government actions.

Section 4 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 5 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.

Women

Violence against women was a problem. The law criminalizes domestic violence, including emotional abuse, and provides penalties of up to $5,000 (EC$13,500) and/or six months in prison. Although many women were reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts, the Department of Gender Affairs reported 29 cases of domestic violence during the year, commensurate with the average of 25-30 reports received during each of the last few years. The departmental director believed that the true number was higher, but that due to the nature of the crime, many women did not feel comfortable reporting it. There is no central database of the reports, and she plans to create a mechanism to centralize all the reports. The department 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. In addition the department's permanent secretary participated in a weekly radio program to discuss gender issues, including domestic violence.

The law prohibits rape, but 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.

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 attain leadership positions for women. One such program, the Viola Project, focused on teenage mothers and enabled them to finish their education and learn life skills. According to the UN Children's Fund, there were over a dozen participants from five high schools, and six alumnae of the program were studying in higher education institutions. The program had strong support from the private sector and was being expanded to include fathers as well.

Children

The government was committed to children's rights and welfare. Education is compulsory, free, and universal, up to the age of 16. More than 98 percent of children completed secondary school.

The government provides free medical care for children.

Child abuse remained a problem. The law sets the age of consent at 16. Authorities brought charges in two cases involving alleged sexual activity with minors (indecent assault). Unlike the previous year there were no charges of incest (which includes sexual activity with any member of the household).

According to the police, juveniles committed 10 percent of crimes detected in the country, including malicious damage, possession of controlled drugs, larceny, robbery, shooting with intent, and attempted murder.

Trafficking in Persons

While no laws address trafficking in persons specifically, 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

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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers exercised their 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 end of the sugar industry, which was largely unionized, caused a drop in union membership. 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 (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 stifle other unions that would threaten the SKTLU in the workplace.

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 had worked at least one 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 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. 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. Foreign companies that recently opened reportedly discouraged workers from organizing.

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 constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, and forced labor of children, and the Department of Labor effectively enforced this law in practice. There were no reported complaints 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

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 minimum wage for full-time domestic workers was $56 (EC$150) per week and $74 (EC$200) per week for skilled workers. However, average wages were considerably higher in these and all other categories, and there was no need to enforce the outdated legal minimum wages, which would not provide a decent standard of living for a worker 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.

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 receive 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 were 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.



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