St. Kitts and Nevis

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 23, 2001

Saint Kitts and Nevis is a multiparty, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. 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. The Government comprises a prime minister, a cabinet, and a bicameral legislative assembly. The Governor General, appointed by the British monarch, is the titular head of state, with largely ceremonial powers. In national elections held on March 6, Denzil Douglas of the ruling St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party remained Prime Minister; his party won 8 of 11 seats in the legislature. The judiciary is independent; however, intimidation of witnesses in high-profile, drug-related cases is a problem.

Security forces consist of a small police force, which includes a 50-person Special Services Unit that receives some light infantry training, a coast guard, and a small defense force. The forces are controlled by and responsive to the Government. There were occasional allegations of abuse by the police.

The mixed economy is based on sugar cane, tourism, and light industry. Most commercial enterprises are privately owned, but the sugar industry and 85 percent of arable land are owned by a state corporation. In 1998 and 1999, hurricanes caused an estimated $450 million damage, affecting over 85 percent of the houses and buildings, greatly reduced sugar production, and caused significant losses in the tourism industry. However, during the year, construction, small manufacturing, and the services sector registered some improvement. Per capita gross domestic product remained about $7,000 in 1999.

The Government generally respected citizens' human rights; however, there were problems in a few areas. Poor prison conditions, apparent intimidation of witnesses and jurors, government restrictions on opposition access to government-controlled media, and violence against women were the principal problems.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits the use of torture or other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the authorities observe this prohibition in practice. However, there were occasional allegations of excessive use of force by the police, particularly during the annual Carnival celebration or other special events. The police force conducts its own internal investigation when complaints are made against members.

Prison conditions are poor. Prisoners suffer from severe overcrowding and poor food, and security is lax. These conditions have contributed to riots in the past, although none has occurred since 1994. The prison, built in 1840, was designed to accommodate 60 inmates but houses over 100 prisoners. A prison on Nevis houses 20 inmates. Female inmates are segregated from male prisoners; however, there are no separate facilities for juveniles.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government respects this provision in practice. 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. Family members, attorneys, and clergy are permitted to visit detainees regularly.

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, intimidation of witnesses and potential intimidation of jurors in high-profile, drug-related cases threatened this traditional independence. The Government is exploring the possibility of a program to protect witnesses, judges, and jurors through the Caribbean Community.

The court system comprises one 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. Free legal assistance is available for indigent defendants in capital cases only.

The Constitution provides that every person accused of a crime must receive a fair, speedy, and public trial, and these requirements generally are observed. In the latter part of the year, approximately 29 persons were being held on "remand" (detention pending trial or further court action). The length of remand varies according to offense and charges; persons may be held for days, weeks, or months.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and the authorities generally respect these prohibitions. The law requires judicially issued warrants to search private homes.

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, for the most part, the authorities respected these provisions in practice.

There are no daily newspapers; each of the major political parties publishes a weekly or biweekly newspaper. A third weekly newspaper is nonpartisan. The publications are free to criticize the Government and do so regularly and vigorously. International news publications are readily available.

The Government owns the only radio and television station on St. Kitts, and these media generally did not adequately publicize rallies and other events held by opposition parties. A Trinidadian company manages the station; however, the Government appoints three of its five board members. There is a religious television station and a privately owned radio station on Nevis.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly. Political parties organized demonstrations, rallies, and public meetings during the March election campaign without government interference.

The Constitution provides for the right of association, and the Government respects this right in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

No formal government policy toward refugee or asylum requests exists. The issue of provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

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 by peaceful means, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. A vigorous multiparty political system exists, in which political parties are free to conduct their activities. All citizens 18 years of age and older may register and vote by secret ballot. Despite some irregularities, orderly general elections were held in March.

The Legislative Assembly has 11 elected seats; 8 for St. Kitts and 3 for Nevis. The Government holds 8 of the 11 seats; opposition parties hold the other 3 seats. In the March elections, Douglas' St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party won all eight seats on St. Kitts; the People's Action Movement (PAM) lost the one seat it had held. The Concerned Citizens Movement won two of the three Nevis seats; the Nevis Reform Party won the remaining one. The island of Nevis has considerable self-government, with its own premier and legislature.

In accordance with its rights under the Constitution, the Nevis Island Assembly in 1996 initiated steps towards secession from the Federation, the most recent being a referendum in August 1998 that failed to secure the required two-thirds majority for secession. However, the matter of secession remained open, and in October the newly appointed opposition leader publicly stated his desire to have "two separate governments."

Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of political opinion or affiliation, the former opposition party PAM alleges widespread employment discrimination by the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party against public sector employment of persons perceived to be PAM supporters. PAM alleged that the ruling party dismissed or demoted many PAM supporters from their jobs in order to replace them with its own supporters. The Government acknowledged that it had withheld pension benefits from opposition members of Parliament voted out of office but asserted that it had paid pension benefits to those entitled to them.

There are no impediments in law or in practice to the participation of women in leadership roles in government or political parties. There are 3 women in the Cabinet, 3 of 4 magistrates are women, the court registrar is female, and 7 of 20 permanent secretaries are female.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

While there are no governmental restrictions, no local human rights groups have been formed. There were no requests for investigations or visits by international human rights groups.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

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 respects these provisions in practice.


According to a government official, violence against women is a problem, but many women are reluctant to file complaints or pursue them in the courts. Despite this reluctance, there were publicly reported cases of both domestic violence and rape, and a few convictions. There is no legislation addressing domestic violence.

The role of women in society is not restricted by law but is circumscribed by culture and tradition. There is no overt societal discrimination against women in employment, although sectoral analyses suggest that women do not yet occupy as many senior positions as men. The Bureau of Women's Affairs, under the Ministry of Health and Women's Affairs, is active in promoting change in the areas of domestic violence, poverty, health, institutional mechanisms to advance the status of women, and leadership positions for women. Since 1997 the Bureau has also been active in training the police and school guidance counselors on issues of domestic violence, sexual crimes, and child abuse.


The Government is 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 is free and universal.

People with Disabilities

Although there is no legislation to protect the disabled or to mandate accessibility for them, the Government and the Constitution prohibit discrimination in employment, education, and other state services.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the right of all workers to form and belong to trade unions. The law permits the police, civil service, and other organizations to have associations that serve as unions. The major labor union, the St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated closely with the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party and is active in all sectors of the economy. There is also a newly active teachers' union, a union representing dockworkers in the capital city, and two taxi drivers' associations.

The right to strike, while not specified by law, is well established and respected in practice. Restrictions on striking by workers who provide essential services, such as the police and civil servants, are enforced by established practice and custom, but not by law. There were no major strikes during the year.

Unions are free to form federations or confederations and to affiliate with international organizations. The islands' unions maintain a variety of international ties.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Labor unions are free to organize and to negotiate for better wages and benefits for union members. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not require employers found guilty of such action to rehire employees who were fired for union activities. However, the employer must pay lost wages and severance pay. There is no legislation governing the organization and representation of workers, and employers are not legally bound to recognize a union, but in practice employers do so if a majority of workers polled wish to organize. Collective bargaining takes place on a workplace-by- workplace basis, not industrywide. The Labor Commissioner mediates all types of disputes between labor and management on an ad hoc basis. However, in practice few disputes actually go to the Commissioner for resolution. If neither the Commissioner nor the Ministry of Labor are able to resolve the dispute, the law allows for a case to be brought before a civil court.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution forbids slavery and forced labor, and they do not occur in practice. While neither the Constitution nor the law specifically address bonded labor, it has not been a problem in practice.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The 1966 Employment of Children Ordinance outlaws slavery, servitude, and forced labor, and prescribes the minimum legal working age, which is 14 years. The Labor Ministry relies heavily on school truant officers and the community affairs division to monitor compliance, which they do effectively. The law mandates compulsory education up to the age of 16. Although the law does not specifically address bonded labor, it has not been a problem in practice (see Section 6.c.).

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 varies from $56.18 (EC$ 150) per week for full-time domestic workers to $74.91 (EC$ 200) per week for skilled workers. These provide a barely adequate living for a wage earner and family; many workers supplement wages by keeping small animals such as goats and chickens. The Labor Commission undertakes regular wage inspections and special investigations when it receives complaints; it requires employers found in violation to pay back wages. The Government provides unemployment benefits to workers who lose their jobs temporarily or permanently.

The law provides for a 40- to 44-hour workweek, but the common practice is 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. While there are no specific health and safety regulations, the Factories Law provides general health and safety guidance to Labor Ministry 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.

f. Trafficking in Persons

There are no laws that specifically address trafficking in persons.

An "economic citizenship" program allows foreign investors to purchase passports through loosely monitored procedures involving cash inflows ranging from $200,000 (EC$540,000) to $285,000 (EC$770,000). This program reportedly has 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 force them to work under conditions similar to bonded labor until their debt is repaid.