Trinidad and Tobago
The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary democracy governed by a prime minister and a bicameral legislature. The island of Tobago’s House of Assembly has some administrative autonomy over local matters. In the 2015 elections, which observers considered generally free and fair, the opposition People’s National Movement, led by Keith Rowley, defeated the ruling People’s Partnership, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The Ministry of National Security oversees three major divisions: police, immigration, and defense. Police maintain internal security. The defense force, which includes the coast guard, is responsible for external security but also has certain domestic security responsibilities. The coast guard is the main authority responsible for maritime border security in places where there are no official ports of entry. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: serious acts of corruption and laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although those laws were not enforced and their constitutionality was being litigated.
The government took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but impunity persisted.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The Sedition Act defines seditious intent as an intention to bring contempt and hatred to the government; to raise disaffection among inhabitants of Trinidad and Tobago; to engender or promote feelings of hostility against any class of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago distinguished by race, color, religion, or profession; or to promote violence against a particular group.
The government charged Watson Duke, president of the Public Services Association, a labor union, with sedition in August. The charges stemmed from Duke’s statement at a press conference that his union members were willing to die if the government came to take their jobs. Some commentators expressed concern that Duke was targeted for his frequent criticism of the government, and they criticized the Sedition Act as an outdated colonial law. After the incident the government expressed willingness to update the law, but it did not drop the charges against Duke. Duke was free on bail awaiting trial.
Violence and Harassment: The government charged a police constable and the chief executive officer of A&V Oil Gas Limited with assaulting Trinidad Guardian photographer Kristian De Silva. The case was dismissed in September but later refiled by the director of public prosecutions. As of November the matter was pending.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government agreed to let the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conduct refugee status determinations. Thousands of UNHCR’s determinations affirmed refugee status. A positive determination by UNHCR, however, did not confer recognition by the government of an individual as a refugee or otherwise affect the person’s legal status in the country.
Durable Solutions: The government collaborated with UNHCR to facilitate transit of a few refugees to countries that had offered them resettlement.
Temporary Protection: In response to a large influx of Venezuelans, the government conducted a one-off registration exercise in June and agreed to allow registrants to reside, work, and access emergency health services in the country for one year from their date of registration. Approximately 16,500 Venezuelans registered with the government. Registration was unavailable to those who arrived after or who failed to register during the June exercise. Refugee children could not access public education, however, even if they were registered.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: Corruption remained a problem at many levels of government. Senior police officials acknowledged that officers participated in corrupt and illegal activities, often accepting bribes to facilitate drug, weapons, and human smuggling, as well as human trafficking.
Opaque public procurement processes continued to be of concern. There were continued allegations that some politicians and ministers had close relationships with gang leaders and facilitated procurement and contracting of road, bridge, and construction projects to companies owned and operated by criminal enterprises.
During the year high-profile corruption cases were initiated against current and former officials from each of the two main political parties. On May 2, police arrested former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and Senator Gerald Ramdeen. Prosecutors charged both with conspiring to engage in money laundering, corruption, and misbehavior in public office. On August 12, prosecutors charged Minister of Public Administration and Member of Parliament Marlene McDonald with seven criminal charges: three charges of misbehavior in public office, three charges of conspiracy to defraud the state, and one charge of money laundering.
Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that senior public officials disclose their assets, income, and liabilities to the Integrity Commission, which monitors, verifies, and publishes disclosures. The commission publishes a list annually of officials who failed to file by the deadline. The law provides criminal penalties for failure to comply, but there were no prosecutions.