Freedom in the World
Two members of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), Edison James and Hector John, recaptured their seats in parliament following July 2010 by-elections. The two lawmakers had boycotted parliament to protest alleged fraud in the December 2009 elections, leading the speaker of the house to declare their seats vacant.
Dominica gained independence from Britain in 1978. The centrist Dominica Labour Party (DLP) swept to victory for the first time in 20 years in the January 2000 parliamentary elections, and formed a coalition with the right-wing Dominica Freedom Party (DFP). DLP leader Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas was named prime minister, but died of a heart attack in October 2000. His replacement, Pierre Charles, died of heart failure in January 2004, and was succeeded by DLP member Roosevelt Skerrit.
Skerrit’s government inherited financial troubles and lost public support as it implemented austerity measures. Increased global competition hit the agriculturally-based economy hard, and the imposition of an International Monetary Fund stabilization and adjustmentprogramproved unpopular. Despite such difficulties, the DLP easily won the April 2004 by-election.
Skerrit and the DLP secured 12 seats in the 2005 elections, ensuring a majority. Edison James, former prime minister and leader of the United Workers Party (UWP), initially accepted the results but later claimed that five of the DLP seats were obtained through fraud. Meanwhile, the DFP struggled to remain relevant and was not represented in the parliament.
In May 2009, Skerrit was forced to contend with the so-called “rubbish bin scandal,” a national controversy which emerged after the opposition accused the government of importing 2,700 garbage bins at four times their average retail price. Although the opposition continued to press for a resolution to the scandal, the issue remained unresolved as of the end of 2010.
In the December 2009 legislative election, the DLP won 61 percent of the popular vote and captured 18 seats, while the UWP took only 3 seats. The elections were deemed generally fair by observer teams from both the Organization of American States and CARICOM. However, opposition members accused the DLP of misconduct during the campaign and filed complaints of election irregularities, including having been denied equal access to state media during the campaign period. They also accused Skerrit and Education Minister Peter St. Jean of holding dual citizenship at the time of the election, which under Dominican law should have made them ineligible to hold office. The courts rejected all of the complaints in 2010, except for the dual citizenship issue, which was in a pretrial stage at year’s end. Meanwhile, two prominent opposition members, Edison James and Hector John of the UWP, boycotted parliament beginning in December 2009 to protest alleged electoral fraud and call for new elections. In May 2010, the speaker of the House of Assembly declared their seats vacant under a rule stipulating that parliamentarians must lose their seats if they miss three consecutive sessions. In July by-elections, both James and John recaptured their seats.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Dominica is an electoral democracy. The government is headed by a prime minister, and the unicameral House of Assembly consists of 30 members serving five-year terms. Twenty-one members are elected, and nine senators are appointed—five by the prime minister and four by the opposition leader. The president is elected by the House of Assembly for a five-year term; the prime minister is appointed by the president. The three main political parties are the ruling DLP, the opposition UWP, and the DFP.
Dominica was ranked 44 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s (TI) 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, one of the largest increases in corruption noted by TI that year. The UWP held a peaceful rally in Dominica’s capital on December 18, 2010, which it proclaimed as Anti-Corruption Day.
Although Dominica does not have legislation that guarantees access to information or freedom of expression, the press is free in practice, and there is no government censorship or intrusion. Four private newspapers and an equal number of political party journals publish without interference. Although the main radio station is state-owned, there is also an independent station. Citizens have unimpeded access to cable television and regional radio broadcasts, as well as to the internet.
Freedom of religion is recognized. While the majority of the population is Roman Catholic, there are some Protestant churches. Academic freedom is respected.
The authorities uphold freedoms of assembly and association, and advocacy groups operate freely. Workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. Unions are independent of the government, and laws prohibit anti-union discrimination by employers. Approximately 13 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law is enhanced by the courts’ subordination to the inter-island Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Efforts to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal, instead of the Privy Council in London, continued in 2010. The judicial system generally operates with efficiency, and its handling of cases compares favorably with other islands in the region, though staffing shortfalls remain a problem.
The Dominica police force, which became responsible for security after the military was disbanded in 1981, operates professionally and with few human rights complaints. Crime and homicide rates are low for the Caribbean. The island’s only prison is overcrowded and has sanitation problems, though it otherwise generally met international standards.
The indigenous Kalinago population numbers less than 3,000 and has repeatedly complained of racial discrimination in law and in practice. In November 2010, the Carib Council announced that it would replace the use of the term “Carib”—which has its roots in colonial times and carries derogatory connotations—with “Kalinago”. In October 2010, the Dominican Bar Association admitted its first native Kalinago.
The Protection against Domestic Violence Act allows abused persons, to appear before a judge and request a protective order without seeking legal counsel. There are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work in private-sector jobs, and inheritance laws do not fully recognize women’s rights.