Freedom in the World
St. Kitts and Nevis
Despite multiple legal challenges from the opposition, parliamentary elections took place in January 2010. The Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party retained power, and Prime Minister Denzil Douglas was reappointed as prime minister for his fourth consecutive term. Prior to the elections, major reforms had been made to the country’s election laws, including the issuance of voter identification cards. The introduction of a value added tax (VAT) in November and a bill authorizing the government to intercept communications sparked new confrontations with the opposition at year’s end.
Saint Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain in 1983 but remains a member of the Commonwealth. Denzil Douglas of the ruling Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) has been prime minister since 1995. In the 2002 elections, the SKNLP won all eight Saint Kitts seats in the National Assembly, shutting out the opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM).
In early elections held in October 2004, the PAM captured one of the Saint Kitts seats while the SKNLP took seven. The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a pro-independence party that headed Nevis’s local government, retained two of Nevis’s three parliamentary seats. The Nevis Reformation Party (NRP), which has also historically favored secession from Saint Kitts, captured one seat.
Parliamentary elections took place in January 2010 despite multiple legal challenges from the opposition PAM, including allegations of voter padding by the SKNLP, the registration of voters outside their legal districts, and a push by the SKNLP to redraw district lines shortly before the election. These were the first elections to take place under a new electoral law that had created a voter identification system—including the issuance of voter identification cards—under which all existing voters were required to reregister. However, implementation of the new law proved slow and faced operational and political obstacles.International monitors found the elections to be generally free and fair, but noted that several important issues, including campaign finance, media access, and civil society participation, had not been addressed in the reformed electoral law and thus required improvements. The PAM gained an additional Saint Kitts seat for a total of two, while the SKNLP won six seats. The CCM and NRP retained two and one Nevis seats, respectively. Douglas was reappointed to his fourth consecutive term as prime minister.
In June, the Douglas government pursued a variety of initiatives to shore up public finances and boost the economy. Measures included the introduction of a new value added tax (VAT), the streamlining of tax exemptions, and a public wage and hiring freeze. The first initiative, the VAT, was implemented in November against private sector wishes.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Saint Kitts and Nevis is an electoral democracy. The 2004 elections were free and fair. The federal government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. A governor-general represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as ceremonial head of state. Elected National Assembly members—eight from Saint Kitts and three from Nevis—serve five-year terms. Senators are appointed to the body, and their number may not exceed two-thirds of the elected members, with one chosen by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two chosen by the prime minister.
Saint Kitts’s main political parties are the SKNLP and the PAM. On Nevis, the two main parties are the CCM, which had long been the majority party there, and the NRP, which won a majority of seats in the Nevis Island Assembly elections in 2006. Nevis’s assembly is composed of five elected and three appointed members, and the local government pays for all of its own services except for those involving police and foreign relations. Saint Kitts has no similar body.
The constitution grants Nevis the option to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators in Nevis’s local assembly and two-thirds of Nevisian referendum voters approve. Though a 1998 referendum on independence failed, Nevisians continue to feel neglected by the central government.
Saint Kitts and Nevis has generally implemented its anticorruption laws effectively. However, government officials are not required to disclose financial assets. In 2010, Denzil Douglas’s government sought to conclude a number of tax information exchange agreements with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member states to avoid being blacklisted as a tax haven. In December, St. Kitts and Nevis entered into the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC), which allows greater civil society participation in anticorruption initiatives and monitoring. St. Kitts was among the last countries in the hemisphere to join the mechanism.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. The sole local television station is government owned, but managed by a Trinidadian company. There are some restrictions on opposition access to the medium. The country has 15 radio stations, which are operated by state and private broadcasters; there is one weekly newspaper, and one daily, both of which are privately-owned. Foreign media are available, and internet access is not restricted.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected, and academic freedom is generally honored.
The right to form civic organizations is generally respected, as is freedom of assembly. An estimated 10 percent of the workforce is unionized. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice. The main labor union, the Saint Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKNLP.
The judiciary is largely independent, and legal provisions for a fair and speedy trial are generally observed. Capital punishment is legal, and was most recently carried out in 2008. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Saint Lucia, but under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice. Additionally, an appeal may be made to the Privy Council in Britain.
The islands’ traditionally strong rule of law continues to be tested by the prevalence of drug-related crime and corruption. The intimidation of witnesses and jurors also remains a problem. The government reported 2,048 criminal cases in 2008, a 10 percent increase over the previous year. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the murder rate in 2008 in Saint Kitts was 35.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the Caribbean. In an effort to address the country’s growing crime problem, the Douglas administration in August 2010 introduced a controversial law allowing officials to intercept communications related to criminal investigations, expanding the provisions of a 2002 bill that had authorized wiretaps only in terrorism-related cases. The national prison is overcrowded, housing over 270 prisoners in a space intended for 150. In addition to domestic criminal activity, the repatriation of felons from the United States has served to further overwhelm the country’s law enforcement agencies.In November 2010, gunmen attacked a bus carrying cruise ship tourists, demonstrating that crime is starting to affect the island’s most important industry.
While domestic violence was criminalized in 2000, violence against women remains a problem. The Ministry of Gender Affairs records an average of 25 to 30 reports of domestic violence per year and has offered counseling for abuse victims. However, there are no laws against sexual harassment or spousal rape. Legislation passed in 2008 increased the age of consent for sexual activity from 16 to 18. Only one woman serves in the National Assembly.