Barbados is a constitutional democracy with a population of approximately 278 thousand. In the 2003 parliamentary elections, which were considered generally free and fair, citizens returned Prime Minister Owen Arthur of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) for a third successive term in office. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were problems in a few areas:
- excessive use of force by police
- poor prison conditions
- societal violence against women and children
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
While the government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, two prisoners died while in temporary detention facilities following the Glendairy Prison fire. Authorities charged an inmate with the killing of Junior Boyce and were investigating the police shooting of inmate Dwayne O'Brian Harding at year's end.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
While the law specifically prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment, there were reports that police sometimes used excessive force. The majority of complaints against the police alleged unprofessional conduct and beating or assault. Police regularly were accused of beating suspects to obtain confessions, and suspects often recanted their confessions during their trial. There were numerous cases where the only evidence against the accused was a confession.
No information was available regarding complaints received by the Police Complaints Authority or how they were handled (see section 1.d.).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained poor. Glendairy Prison, the nation's sole prison, was a 150-year-old structure designed to hold 350 prisoners that routinely held more than a thousand prisoners. In March prisoners rioted and set fire to the prison, causing such severe damage that the government decided to abandon it permanently. One prisoner, Junior Boyce, was killed, and several were injured in fighting that broke out among prisoners. Prison guards and police also injured several prisoners in the process of regaining control of the facility. On March 31, security personnel reportedly shot and injured prisoners Glenroy Bruce and Winston Small during a confrontation with a prison guard. The government declared a state of emergency that authorized the use of soldiers from the Barbados Defense Force (BDF) to assist prison guards and police officers in securing the prison. A contingent of 120 security personnel from the Regional Security System was brought in from neighboring countries to assist as well.
The damage necessitated the removal of nearly one thousand prisoners to several temporary holding facilities, including a fort used by the BDF and a former warehouse. Authorities had difficulty maintaining order at these facilities and fights frequently broke out among prisoners. On April 10, guards reportedly shot and killed Dwayne O'Brian Harding at one of these facilities after he and other prisoners failed to obey orders to stop fighting. Another prisoner was also injured by gunshots during the disturbance.
On April 11, the government announced that all prisoners had been moved to a temporary prison constructed at Harrison Point until a permanent prison could be built. Conditions at the temporary prison were inadequate.
Keith Fields, held at the temporary prison while awaiting trial, told a judge that conditions at the prison were dangerous. Fields said he had to be hospitalized after being beaten and stabbed by other prisoners. On April 30, Deryck Smith, a prisoner held at the temporary prison, died after reportedly suffering an asthmatic attack. On May 24, prisoner Darcy Bradshaw fell into a coma and died in the hospital after having become ill at Harrison Point.
In May the press reported complaints by prisoners and their families about inadequate conditions at the temporary prison, including unsanitary cells, inedible food, and unclean drinking water. Family members complained that they were denied the opportunity to visit their relatives in prison and that prison authorities had failed to inform them in a timely manner when prisoners had serious health problems that resulted in their being taken to the hospital. Attorneys also complained that they were denied the ability to see their clients held at Harrison Point and other facilities. The superintendent of prisons responded that the emergency situation necessitated temporary restrictions on visits but that attorneys were allowed to visit prisoners.
The government also characterized the temporary prison as an improvement over the former prison, with several buildings spread over 65 acres, compared with the 39-acre Glendairy. The temporary prison also had separate facilities for persons on remand awaiting trail as well as for female prisoners, both of which the government described as improvements over the former prison.
In September the government announced that construction had begun on a new permanent prison. The Harrison Point facility held approximately 900 prisoners; the new facility, which will have a capacity of 1,200 prisoners, is due to be completed by January 2007.
While the government normally permitted prison visits by independent human rights monitors, no such visits were known to have taken place during the year at the Harrison Point facility.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) numbered 1,394--including 110 Special Constables--and is responsible for internal law enforcement. While still a male-dominated profession, the number of female recruits to the RBPF was on the rise. The small BDF protects national security and may be called upon to maintain public order in times of crisis, emergency, or other specific need. The RBPF reports to the minister of home affairs, and the BDF reports to the minister of defense and security. Although the police largely were unarmed, special RBPF foot patrols in high crime areas carried firearms in response to public concern. An armed special rapid response unit continued to operate. The law provides that the police can request the BDF to assist them as needed with special joint patrols.
The Office of Professional Responsibility, headed by a superintendent, handled complaints of inappropriate police conduct. In 2004 an independent Police Complaints Authority (PCA) began operating to review complaints against the police. No information was available as to its operations; during the year the PCA's chairman resigned, and a new one had not been appointed by year's end.
Arrest and Detention
Police are authorized to arrest persons suspected of criminal activity; a warrant is typically required. The law permits detainees to be held without charge for up to one week; however, once charged, detainees must be brought before a court without unnecessary delay. There is a functioning bail system. Criminal detainees were given prompt access to counsel and were advised of that right immediately after arrest. Although access to family members generally was permitted, several families complained that they did not receive regular access in the weeks immediately following the prison fire. Authorities confirmed this, asserting that it was necessary until appropriate security provisions could be made at the temporary holding facilities.
Police procedures provide that the police may question suspects, and other persons they hold, only at a police station, except when expressly permitted by a senior divisional officer. An officer must visit detainees at least once every three hours to inquire about the detainees' condition. After 24 hours the detaining authority must submit a written report to the deputy commissioner. The authorities must approve and record all movements of detainees between stations.
There were no reports of political detainees.
There were 242 prisoners in pretrial detention at year's end.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
The judiciary includes the courts of first instance, or magistrate's courts, and the Supreme Court of Judicature, which consists of the High Court and the Court of Appeals. The Privy Council in the United Kingdom was the final court of appeal until the government withdrew from it in April and adopted legislation making the new Caribbean Court of Justice its final appellate court.
The law provides that persons charged with criminal offenses be given a fair public hearing without unnecessary delay by an independent and impartial court, and the government generally respected this right in practice. The judicial system provides for the right of due process at each level. The law presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty; they have the right of appeal. The government provided free legal aid to the indigent in family matters, child support, criminal cases such as rape or murder, and all cases involving minors.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
The government did not censor mail, but it restricted the receipt and importation of foreign publications deemed to be pornographic.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom or access to the Internet.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
In April the press reported that members of the Rastafarian community complained about a new legal measure that allows prison authorities to cut the hair of prisoners considered to be security risks. The Rastafarians said this infringed upon their religious practices, which includes the wearing of long hair in dreadlocks. Prison authorities argued that security considerations following the prison riot in March required that they be allowed to cut a prisoner's hair if it was believed the prisoner might hide weapons or contraband in the long hair.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination, including anti-Semitic acts. The Jewish community was very small.
For more detailed information, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice.
The law prohibits forced exile, and it was not used.
Protection of Refugees
The government has not formulated a policy regarding refugees or asylum. 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 law 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.
Elections and Political Participation
In the 2003 elections, the BLP, led by Prime Minister Owen Arthur, won its third parliamentary election, returning to office with a 23 to 7 seat majority over the Democratic Labour Party.
Approximately one-third of cabinet members were women, including the deputy prime minister, who served concurrently as the attorney general and minister of home affairs. There were 4 women and no minorities in the 30-seat House of Assembly. There were 7 women and 3 minorities in the 21-member Senate.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The public perception of corruption in government was reportedly low.
There was no law providing citizens access to information held by the government. While access to information was provided on government Web sites, responses to requests for specific government information by citizens and other interested parties often were slow.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law provides for equal treatment regardless of race, religion, or gender, and the government generally respected these provisions in practice.
Violence and abuse against women continued to be significant social problems. Spousal abuse remained a significant problem during the year, despite legal protections against spousal rape for women holding a court-issued divorce decree, separation order, or nonmolestation order. The law prohibits rape, and the maximum penalty for it is life imprisonment.
The law prohibits domestic violence, provides protection to all members of the family, including men and children, and applies equally to marriages and to common law relationships. Penalties depend on the severity of the charges and range from a fine for first-time offenders (unless the injury is serious) up to the death penalty for a killing. The courts heard a number of cases of domestic violence against women involving assault or injury. Victims may request restraining orders, which the courts often issued. The courts can sentence an offender to jail for breaching such an order. The police have a Victim Support Unit, made up of civilian volunteers, which offered assistance primarily to female victims of violent crimes.
There were public and private counseling services for victims of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse. The Business and Professional Women's Club operated a crisis center staffed by trained counselors and provided legal and medical referral services. The government funded a shelter for battered women, operated by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which accommodated up to 20 women and children. The shelter offered the services of trained psychological and physiological counselors to victims of domestic violence.
Prostitution is illegal, but it remained a problem, fueled by poverty and tourism. The media occasionally reported on prostitution, usually in the context of concern over HIV/AIDS. There is no statute specifically prohibiting sexual tourism, and no statistics on it, but anecdotal evidence suggested that it occurred.
The law does not deal with sexual harassment, and sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem, but no statistics were available. An advocacy group called the Coalition on Sexual Harassment worked with the Department of Labor, among others, to develop legislation on this issue. Media reports often indicated that women were afraid to report sexual harassment because they feared retribution in the workplace. The Barbados Workers Union (BWU) continued to seek guidelines on sexual harassment in contracts and agreements it concluded with employers.
The Office of Gender Affairs in the Ministry of Social Transformation worked to ensure the rights of women. Women actively participated in all aspects of national life and were well represented at all levels of the public and private sectors. A Poverty Eradication Fund focused on encouraging entrepreneurial activities to increase employment for women and youth. The government reported that the number of female applicants for the police force, as well as for other jobs traditionally held by men, continued to increase. Women have equal property rights, including after a divorce.
The government was committed to children's human rights and welfare, although violence and abuse against children remained serious problems.
Education was free, compulsory, and universal until the age of 16. The government estimated that 98 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 16 attended school. The highest educational level achieved by most children was secondary school.
The National Health Insurance Scheme provided children with free medical and dental services for most medical conditions.
The Child Care Board has a mandate for the care and protection of children, which involved investigating day care centers and cases of child abuse or child labor, and providing counseling services, residential placement, and foster care. The Welfare Department offered counseling on a broad range of family-related issues, and the Child Care Board conducted counseling for child abuse victims.
Trafficking in Persons
No laws specifically address trafficking in persons, although laws against slavery and forced labor could be applied. There were reports that persons were trafficked to the country.
In June the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released an exploratory assessment that identified the country as one of several in the region to which people were trafficked. The findings of the report suggested that persons were trafficked, both to work as prostitutes and as domestic workers. Persons also reportedly were trafficked to work in the construction and garment industries, where they were subject to low wages and false contracts. The IOM noted that in cases where trafficking may have occurred, the government typically deported the persons suspected of being trafficked and failed to investigate or prosecute the alleged traffickers.
In November the government deported 14 persons who had been trafficked to the country from India. According to press reports, the trafficked persons said they came to work for an India-based construction company that falsely claimed to have acquired work permits for them. The Indian migrant workers walked off the job in November to protest low pay, poor living conditions, and the inadequate food provided by their employer. The government deported them several days later. The BWU criticized the government for punishing the workers and not the traffickers; at year's end a government investigation into whether the migrants' employer had broken the law was under way.
Although prostitution is illegal, a number of brothels with women from Guyana, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean islands operated in the country. The police periodically raided brothels and deported women found working illegally. Authorities reportedly did not use screening procedures before deportations to determine whether these women were trafficking victims.
The government's Bureau of Gender Affairs, working in conjunction with NGOs, initiated a public education program to heighten awareness about potential human trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
Other than constitutional provisions asserting equality for all, there are no laws that specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or the provision of other state services. In practice persons with disabilities faced discrimination. Informal surveys suggested that there were 10 thousand to 12 thousand persons with disabilities in the country. The Ministry of Social Transformation operated a Disabilities Unit to address the concerns of persons with disabilities, but parents complained of added fees and transport difficulties for children with disabilities at public schools.
While there is no legislation mandating provision of accessibility to public thoroughfares or public or private buildings, the Town and Country Planning Department set provisions for all public buildings to include accessibility to persons with disabilities. As a result, the majority of new buildings had ramps, reserved parking, and special sanitary facilities for such persons.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There are no laws that prohibit discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, or health care. Although no statistics were available, anecdotal evidence suggested that societal discrimination against homosexuals occurred.
The government initiated programs designed to discourage discrimination against HIV/AIDS infected persons and others living with them.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers freely exercised their right to form and belong to trade unions. Approximately 19 percent of the 148-thousand-person workforce was unionized; unionized workers were concentrated in key sectors, such as transportation, government, and agriculture.
Although employers were under no legal obligation to recognize unions under the law, most did so when a significant percentage of their employees expressed a desire to be represented by a registered union. While there is no specific law that prohibits discrimination against union activity, the courts provide a method of redress for employees who allege wrongful dismissal. The courts commonly awarded monetary compensation but rarely ordered reemployment.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers exercised the legal right to organize and bargain collectively. Since 1993 a series of negotiated protocols have contained provisions for increases in basic wages and increases based on productivity. Government, the private sector, and labor representatives signed a fifth such protocol in May.
There are no export processing zones.
The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right in practice. All private and public sector employees are permitted to strike, but essential workers may strike only under certain circumstances and after following prescribed procedures.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law provides for a minimum working age of 16, and this provision generally was observed in practice. Compulsory primary and secondary education policies reinforced minimum age requirements (see section 5). The Labor Department had a small cadre of labor inspectors who conducted spot investigations of enterprises and checked records to verify compliance with the law. These inspectors may take legal action against an employer who is found to have underage workers.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for and the authorities establish minimum wage rates for specified categories of workers. The categories of workers with a formally regulated minimum wage are household domestics and shop assistants. The minimum wage for these employees was $2.50 (BDS$5) per hour, which provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family; most employees earned more than the minimum wage. The Labor Department within the Ministry of Labor and Social Security was charged with enforcing the minimum wage. There were occasional press reports alleging that migrant workers received less than the minimum wage.
The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in 5 days, and the law requires overtime payment for hours worked in excess. The law prescribes that all overtime must be voluntary.
In August parliament passed the Occupational Safety and Health at Work Act, but by year's end the government had not issued regulations pursuant to the act. The Labor Department enforced other health and safety standards and followed up to ensure that management corrected problems cited. The law requires that in certain sectors firms employing more than 50 workers create a safety committee, which could challenge the decisions of management concerning the occupational safety and health environment. Trade union monitors identified safety problems for government factory inspectors to ensure the enforcement of safety and health regulations and effective correction by management. The Labor Department's Inspections Unit conducted several routine annual inspections of government-operated corporations and manufacturing plants. Workers had the right to remove themselves from dangerous or hazardous job situations without jeopardizing their continued employment.