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TITLE: DOMINICA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1993 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DOMINICA Independent since 1978, Dominica is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Prime Minister Eugenia Charles' Dominica Freedom Party, in office since 1980, was reelected in 1985 and 1990 in free and fair elections. The Defense Force was disbanded in 1981 following two violent coup attempts. Since then the Commonwealth of Dominica police have been the only security force. The police force, supervised by the Commissioner of Police, includes a Coast Guard unit and a Special Services Unit (SSU)--a small, paramilitary unit established in 1983 by the Regional Security System of the Eastern Caribbean states. There are no instances on record of human rights violations by the SSU. The police are controlled by and responsive to the democratically elected Government. Dominica's mountainous terrain and periodic devastation by hurricanes make it one of the least developed nations in the Eastern Caribbean. The primarily agrarian economy depends upon earnings from banana exports to the United Kingdom. Several small industrial plants operate, but unemployment and underemployment are high. Per capita gross domestic product at current prices was estimated at $2,233 in 1992. The Government is attempting to develop its tourist industry, to diversify agricultural production, and to promote exports of raw fruits, vegetables, and coconut products both within and outside the region. Human rights were generally well respected in Dominica, although overcrowding and unsanitary conditions continued in the prison, and there were charges of searches without cause of young men in drug-related inspections. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 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 disappearances or politically motivated abductions. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The Constitution prohibits torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and there were no reports of such practices. Prominent nongovernmental organizations, trade unions, and the press reported that allegations of harsh treatment by law enforcement officials made in previous years have diminished. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions continue to be problems in Dominica's only prison facility. An addition to the prison is under construction, and during the past 2 years, the prison instituted work therapy, sports programs, educational opportunities, and counseling to offset the poor conditions. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The law requires that persons arrested or detained be charged with a crime within 24 hours or be released from custody. This is honored in practice except in rare cases in which, for example, persons cannot afford legal counsel. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial Dominican law provides for public trial before an independent, impartial court. Criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, are allowed legal counsel, and have the right to appeal. Indigents are provided free legal counsel only in capital cases. There are no political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Constitution prohibits arbitrary entry, search, and seizure. Search warrants are required by law. While there were no official reports of arbitrary government intrusions into the private lives of individuals, most human rights groups allege that young men are often searched with little or no probable cause in drug-related inspections. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The right of free expression is provided in the Constitution and adhered to in practice. The political opposition openly criticizes the Government. Dominica's main radio station is state owned but offers ample access for citizens to express their views. There is also an independent radio station owned by the Catholic Church which broadcasts, although it has not yet been granted an official operating license. Dominicans also enjoy good access to independent news sources through cable television and radio reception from neighboring islands. The principal newspaper was founded by the Catholic Church, but the Church divested its interest in it in 1990. The editorial stance of the newspaper remains progovernment, but opposition viewpoints are prominently reported. During the intraparty leadership campaign of 1993, a second weekly newspaper, the Tropical Star, was inaugurated. It published its political views without interference. Political parties publish their own journals, and the opposition United Workers' Party prints a weekly newsletter. The Dominica Labour Party complained that a ban on live broadcasts of parliamentary sessions, which continued in 1993, is a form of censorship. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Government respects the constitutionally mandated freedoms of association and assembly and does not hinder opposition groups from holding political meetings or public demonstrations. Such meetings and gatherings were held frequently throughout the year. c. Freedom of Religion Roman Catholicism is the predominant faith, and there are various Protestant denominations. There are also small Muslim and Rastafarian communities. While Rastafarians are not banned from entering Dominica, they are not always looked upon kindly by Dominican immigration officials. A "dread law" forbidding dreadlocks (braided hair) was repealed over 10 years ago, but harassment of Rastafarians still occurs occasionally. Outside religious groups are not restricted in their activities. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation These rights are provided for by law and respected in practice. The Government may revoke passports if subversion is suspected but has not done so in recent times. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Dominica, independent since 1978, had a prior long historical tradition of democracy and home rule. Power is exercised by a Cabinet appointed by the Prime Minister. Elections are by secret ballot and held every 5 years or earlier, at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Elections in 1980, 1985, and 1990 were free and fair, and voter participation was high. The 1990 elections were contested by the incumbent Dominica Freedom Party (DFP), the Dominica Labour Party (DLP), and the United Workers Party (UWP). The DFP won 11 of the 21 parliamentary seats, the UWP 6, and the DLP 4. As a result of a December 20 by-election, the UWP holds seven seats and the DLP three. Prime Minister Charles plans to remain in office until the next general election (due before 1995), but the DFP has already chosen Foreign Minister Brian Alleyne to be Charles' eventual successor as party leader. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights There are no government restrictions on the formation of local human rights organizations, although no such groups exist at present. Several advocacy groups such as the Association of Disabled People and a women and children self-help organization operate freely and without government interference. There were no requests for investigations of human rights abuses from international or regional human rights groups during 1993. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Constitution includes provisions against racial and sexual discrimination, which are adhered to in practice. Women Beyond the general protection of the Constitution, women do not benefit from any specific civil rights legislation. There is little open discrimination, yet sexual harassment is common. Both the police and the courts prosecute cases of rape and sexual assault. Under the law, victims may report sexual and other violent abuse to the Welfare Department or to the police, but there is no specific recourse for women who are abused by their husbands. There is no shelter for battered women, but a hotline manned by volunteers is available. The Welfare Department often provides assistance to victims of abuse by finding them temporary shelter, providing counseling to both parties, or recommending police action. The Welfare Department reports all cases of abuse to the police, although the police are often reluctant to interfere in domestic quarrels. Women's rights organizations advocate adoption of eight gender- neutral draft laws developed by the Caribbean Community Secretariat for Women's Rights. These proposals cover domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual offenses, inheritance, and other matters but have not been introduced in Parliament. Property ownership is deeded to "heads of households," who are usually males. When the husband head of household dies without a will, the wife cannot inherit the property or sell it, although she can live on it and pass it to her children. In the workplace, young women often are able to obtain jobs because they are considered more reliable than their male counterparts, who are often unemployed. The law permits unequal pay for men and women in daily paid employment. In the civil service, pay is attached to a specific job and is fixed, whatever the gender of the incumbent. In the private sector, there is no law requiring equal pay for equal work by salaried workers. Children Legislation covering children's rights in Dominica includes the Children and Young Person's Act, the Legitimation Act, the Infants' Protection Act, and the Adoption of Infants Act. Enforcement of these laws falls under the Welfare Department, police, court system, and prison director. However, there is no enforcement arm for the Children and Young Person's Act, and the training school it mandated has not been established. The Government lacks the resources, organizations, and skills needed to effect much positive change in the area of children's rights. There were 210 reported cases of child abuse during 1992, compared to 174 in 1991 and 127 in 1990. It is likely that this represents an increase in reporting cases rather than an actual increase in child abuse. Women's advocacy groups have also called for programs to support pregnant school children and those with babies. During 1992 the age of consent to sexual relations was raised from 14 to 16. Indigenous People There is a significant Carib Indian population in Dominica, estimated at 3,000 out of a total population of 72,000. Most live on a 3,700-acre reservation created in 1903. School, water, and health facilities available on the Carib reservation are similar to those available to other rural Dominicans. Caribs participate in national political life and enjoy the same civil rights accorded other Dominican nationals. Worrell Sanford, a Labour member of Parliament who resigned December 20, is a Carib, and Carib Chief O'Gustie is a nationally respected leader. People with Disabilities Beyond the general protection of the Constitution, the disabled do not benefit from any specific legislation. There is no requirement mandating access for those with disabilities. Fiscal considerations limited action to adopt legislation covering the disabled. Dominica lacks trained specialists, roads inhibit mobility of shut-ins, and wheelchairs are unaffordable. There is no rehabilitation center. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Workers have the legal right to organize, to choose their representatives, and to strike. Less than 10 percent of the work force is organized; two unions disbanded in 1992, and there was only one significant strike, which lasted 1 day. The Civil Service Association, which had instigated demonstrations against the Public Service Act of 1991, continues to press for changes in areas of concern to civil servants. Among other provisions, the law sets a limit on the period for wage negotiations. (In the past, civil servants traditionally received large back-pay awards after marathon negotiations.) This Act also bars civil servants from speaking in public on controversial national political issues, except when it is in line with their duties. There is no restriction on forming a national labor federation. All the unions are independent of the Government and political parties and are affiliated with various international labor organizations. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Unions have legally defined rights to organize workers and to bargain with employers. Collective bargaining is widespread in the nonagricultural sectors of the economy, including the government service, and there is also recourse to mediation and arbitration by the Government. Antiunion discrimination by employers is prohibited by law, and union rights are enforced by judicial and police authority. In addition, workers fired for union activities must be reinstated. Enforcement mechanisms are the responsibility of Department of Labour inspectors under the supervision of the Labour Commissioner. However, the small Labour Inspection Office lacks qualified personnel to carry out its duties under existing labor legislation. Labor regulations and practice governing Dominica's industrial areas and other export firms do not differ from that prevailing in the rest of the economy. It is legally compulsory for employers to recognize unions as bargaining agents once both parties have followed appropriate procedures. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited and does not exist. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The minimum legal age for employment is 15 years. Employers generally observe this law without government enforcement. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work Minimum wages for various categories of workers are set by statute and were last revised in November 1989. The minimum wage rate for most categories of workers is $0.56 (EC$1.50) per hour and is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a household. However, most workers earn more than the legislated minimum wage. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours in 5 days. The law provides for a minimum of 2 weeks' paid vacation. The Employment Safety Act, an occupational health and safety law, is considered by a major union and by local nongovernmental organizations to be consistent with international standards. The Advisory Committee on Safety and Health is an established body but has never met. The enforcement mechanism consists of inspections by the Department of Labour, which can and does prescribe specific compliance measures, impose fines, and prosecute offenders. In practice, however, inspections are rarely made.
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