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TITLE: ST. VINCENT & GRENADINES HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES A member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy. Prime Minister James F. Mitchell and his New Democratic Party (NDP) returned to power for an unprecedented third term in free and fair elections held in February. The Royal St. Vincent Police, the only security force in the country, includes a Coast Guard and a small Special Services Unit with some paramilitary training. The force is controlled by and responsive to the Government, but there continued to be occasional reports of the use of force and other extralegal means to elicit confessions from suspects. St. Vincent has a young population, a high rate of illiteracy, and serious unemployment, possibly as high as 40 percent. The leading export product is bananas, which also represents the major source of foreign exchange earnings. The banana industry throughout the Windward Islands suffered a severe downturn in 1993-94, and St. Vincent has not escaped the negative impact. Efforts toward nontraditional economic diversification met with some success in new agricultural products, luxury tourism expansion, and in some industrial sectors. The country's human rights problems continued to include police use of physical abuse to extract confessions, the Government's failure to punish those involved in such abuse, inadequate and overcrowded prisons, and an overburdened court system. 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. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The Constitution prohibits torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and there were no reports of such practices. However, a very high percentage of convictions (estimated at 90 percent by the regional human rights group, Caribbean Rights) continue to be based on confessions. Many of these confessions resulted from unwarranted police practices, including physical abuse during detention, illegal search and seizure, and not properly informing those arrested of their rights. There were no known instances of the Government trying, convicting, and punishing police officers involved in such abuses. There is no independent review board to monitor police activity and to hear public complaints about police misconduct. Caribbean Rights has advocated such a board to protect the rights of citizens complaining of these activities. Inadequate and overcrowded prisons remain a serious problem. These conditions are particularly harsh for juvenile offenders. There is a small facility for delinquent boys, but it is seriously inadequate and is generally used for those already convicted through the criminal system. In one case police forced three youths aged 13, 14, and 15 to sit in a police station for nearly 2 days awaiting processing of their case. Although separate legal statutes exist for youthful offenders, there are no separate magistrates or prosecutors to hear these cases. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution provides for persons detained for criminal offenses to receive a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an impartial court. The Government made progress in addressing the problem of slow administration of justice resulting from a backlog of cases in 1993 by increasing the number of magistrates from two to four. While this reduced the backlog, complaints remain regarding police practices in bringing cases to court. Some defense attorneys claim this has caused 6- to 12-month delays in preliminary inquiries for serious crimes. There were no reports of instances of arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Constitution provides for public trials before an independent and impartial court. The court appoints attorneys for indigent defendants only when the defendant is charged with a capital offense. Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and may appeal cases to a regional high court system and ultimately to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. There are no separate security or military court systems. There are no political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Constitution prohibits arbitrary search and seizure or other government intrusions into the private life of individual citizens, and there were no reports of such abuses. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. There are two major newspapers and numerous smaller, partisan publications; all are privately owned, and most are openly critical of the Government's policies. There were no reports of government censorship or interference with the operation of the press. Opposition political parties had equal access to all forms of media during the 1994 elections. The lone television station in St. Vincent is privately owned and operates without government interference. The Government controls programming for the government-owned radio station. There are no call-in talk shows; the Government canceled such a show in 1988, claiming it was politically slanted. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for these freedoms, and the Government respects them in practice. c. Freedom of Religion All religions are free to practice and proselytize. The Constitution provides protection for these rights. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The law provides for these rights and the authorities honor them in practice. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens have the right to change their government through regularly scheduled free and fair elections. St. Vincent has a long history of multiparty parliamentary democracy. During the 1994 campaign, the two opposition parties united to challenge the ruling New Democratic Party. The effort was successful to the extent that the "Unity" coalition won 3 of 15 parliamentary seats--the NDP held all 15 prior to the election. Since the new Parliament convened, the opposition complained that the ruling party has not complied with what the opposition asserts is a constitutional obligation to answer questions it puts forth. Two separate cases of voting irregularities were filed against the Government following the 1994 elections, but the courts found them to be groundless. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Opposition political groups and the Vincentian press often comment on human rights matters of local concern. The St. Vincent Human Rights Association, affiliated with the regional body Caribbean Rights, closely monitors government and police activities, especially with respect to treatment of prisoners, publicizing any cases of abuse. The Government is generally responsive to public and private inquiries about its human rights practices. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Constitution provides for equal treatment under the law regardless of race, sex, or religion, and the Government adheres to this provision. Women Violence against women occurs in St. Vincent, but the Government has failed to take steps to determine the seriousness of the problem. Although some victims of domestic violence are reluctant to press charges, women were increasingly willing to report such incidents to police and the National Council of Women. Penalties for violent crimes against women are identical to those involving acts of assault perpetrated against men. Depending on the magnitude of the offense and the age of the victim, the penalty for rape is generally 10 or more years in prison. There are no mechanisms to enforce support payments by men who father children-- legitimately or otherwise. The Ministry of Education, Youth, and Women's Affairs has a women's desk which assists the National Council of Women with seminars, training programs, and public relations. The minimum wage law specifies that women should receive equal pay for equal work. Children The Social Welfare Office is the government agency responsible for monitoring and protecting the welfare of children. The police are the enforcement arm--the Social Welfare Office refers all reports of child abuse to the police for action. Marion House, a social services agency established by the Catholic Church in 1989, provides counseling and therapy services. Its director said that the problem of child abuse is still underreported. The legal age of consent in St. Vincent is 15. People with Disabilities There is no specific legislation covering those with disabilities. Most severely handicapped people rarely leave their homes because of the poor road system and lack of affordable wheelchairs. The Government partially supports a school for the disabled which has two branches. A separate, small rehabilitation center treats about five persons daily. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association By law, Vincentians have the right to form unions, organize employees, and strike; these rights are generally respected in practice. However, there is no legislation for compulsory recognition of trade unions, and--given the high level of unemployment--participation in unions has decreased to about 10 percent of the work force. Several existing unions united in 1994 to form a new union, the National Congress of Labour. This move toward unification reflects the need for unions to combine in order to survive. There were no major strikes in 1994. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively There are no legal obstacles to organizing unions; however, no law requires employers to recognize a particular union as an exclusive bargaining agent. Some companies offer packages of benefits with terms of employment better than, or comparable to, what a union can normally obtain through negotiations. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. Generally effective mechanisms exist for resolving complaints. The authorities can order employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination for firing workers without cause (including for participation in union activities) to reinstate the workers. There are no export processing zones in St. Vincent. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Forced or compulsory labor is illegal and does not exist. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The law sets the minimum working age at 16, although a worker must be 18 to receive a national insurance card. The labor inspection office of the Ministry of Labour monitors and enforces this provision, and employers generally respect it in practice. There is no known child labor except for children working on family-owned banana plantations, particularly during harvest time. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The law sets minimum wages, which were last promulgated in 1989. They vary by sector and type of work and are specified for several skilled categories, including attendants, packers, cleaners, porters, watchmen, and clerks. In agriculture the wage for workers provided shelter is $0.82 (EC$2.25) per hour; skilled industrial workers earn $7.36 (EC$20) per day, and unskilled workers earn $3.68 (EC$10) per day. In many sectors the minimum wage is not sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for workers and their families, but most workers earn more than the minimum. There is no legislation concerning the length of the workweek; however, the general practice is to work 40 hours in 5 days. The law provides workers a minimum annual vacation of 2 weeks. According to the Ministry of Labour, legislation concerning occupational safety and health is outdated. The most recent legislation, the Factories Act of 1955, has some regulations concerning only factories, but enforcement of these regulations is ineffective due to a lack of inspectors. Workers can remove themselves from dangerous workplace situations without jeopardy to continued employment. (###)
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