Antigua and Barbuda is a democracy that holds regular elections. Corruption in government is a concern, and women and LGBT+ people are underrepresented in politics and experience some discrimination. In 2017, Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda: the entire island was evacuated, and many residents lost their livelihoods; some have yet to return home. The government has since sought to weaken the island’s longstanding system of communal land rights.
- In July, groups protested outside Parliament against what they claimed were unfair restrictions implemented by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19; restrictions for tourists were lighter than those imposed upon residents. Prime Minister Gaston Browne blamed the opposition for the protest and suggested that the young people who made up a majority of the protesters were ignorant of what the government was doing to protect lives. According to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO), 159 people had tested positive for coronavirus and 5 people had died during the year.
- In August, the Barbuda Council called for secession from Antigua, due to rising tensions over the control of land on Barbuda stemming from a dispute over the right to develop a multimillion-dollar private resort, supported by the central government. In September, the government threatened to remove the Barbuda Council from the country’s constitution by means of a referendum.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The country’s 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary system, with a governor general representing the British monarch as ceremonial head of state. The prime minister is the head of government and is typically the leader of the majority party elected to Parliament. Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) leader Gaston Browne once again became prime minister after his party won a majority in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The bicameral parliament is composed of a 17-seat Senate, whose members are appointed by the governor general, and the House of Representatives, whose 17 members are directly elected in single-seat constituencies, by means of a simple majority; representatives serve five-year terms.
In February 2018, citing a need to demonstrate state stability to investors, Prime Minister Browne called snap elections for March, a year ahead of schedule. The campaign period was at times rancorous, with the Commonwealth Observer Group noting a “surge of vitriolic and personal attacks exchanged between political parties and candidates.” The governing ABLP took 59 percent of the total vote and won 15 constituencies, up from 14 previously. The main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) took 37 percent of the vote, but only one constituency. The Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) won the Barbuda constituency, which had previously been held by the ABLP. Observers deemed the polls generally competitive and credible. Turnout was high, at about 76 percent.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
Electoral laws are generally fair and are implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies. However, in 2018, polling for all Barbudans took place on Antigua as a result of Hurricane Irma, requiring that many people travel between the islands to vote. The government provided services to those needing to travel, and 87 percent of eligible Barbudans participated.
Separately, since 1984, the electoral boundaries of Antigua and Barbuda have shifted only slightly. Consequently, there is now a significant disparity in constituency size, from 1,138 (St. Phillip South) to 4,878 (St. George).
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3.003 4.004|
Political parties can organize and operate freely. While there are several small political parties in the country, elections have been won by either the ABLP or the UPP since 1994.
Inadequate campaign finance regulations allow candidates and parties to accept donations without disclosing donors’ identities.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
There are realistic opportunities for opposition parties to increase their support or gain power through elections. Power has alternated frequently between the ABLP and UPP.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from the influence of nondemocratic actors. However, a lack of transparency for party and campaign financing has given rise to concerns about the potential influence of unknown domestic and foreign interests over political candidates. The most significant case was that of R. Allen Stanford, a United States citizen, who was an influential figure in Antigua (the second largest employer in the country at one point) and used the country to run a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Separately, the Brazilian multinational Odebrecht SA purchased Meinl Bank (Antigua) Ltd in 2010 as part of its scheme to bribe government officials in various countries. The ABLP, then in opposition, has called on key members of the UPP to disclose their involvement in the purchase. Prime Minister Browne has denied any involvement in the Odebrecht scandal.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Women are underrepresented in politics, and only two women were elected to the House of Representatives in 2018. LGBT+ people are marginalized and face discrimination, impacting their ability to engage fully in political processes.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
The elected prime minister, cabinet, and parliament determine government. There are some concerns about the influence of businesses on policymaking.
Tensions between the central government and residents and representatives from Barbuda have grown since the 2016 dissolution of the Barbuda Land Act of 2007, which guaranteed that land was communally owned by Barbudans and that their consent was required for its purchase and development. The 2016 law allows privatization without communal consent. The Barbuda Council and the Browne government have been at odds over a plan to build a multimillion-dollar resort, endorsed by the government, but resisted by the Council due to concerns over potential environmental damage. The rising tensions led to the Council calling for the secession of Barbuda in August 2020. In September, the government accused the Council of treason and threatened to remove it from the country’s constitution by means of a referendum.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Government corruption remains a concern, and anticorruption laws are enforced unevenly. Authorities have been criticized for doing little to investigate local official wrongdoing in the case of R. Allen Stanford. Several other company officials have faced justice, but only in the United States. Similarly, few prosecutions have emerged from the Odebrecht corruption scandal.
In May 2018, Asot Michael, the minister of investment and trade, resigned over allegations (which he denied) that he had engaged in illegal campaign financing and bribe-taking while previously serving as the energy minister. The Antiguan Integrity Commission indicated it would investigate the allegations, but no charges appeared to have been filed. The ABLP tried to discipline Michael, but he has challenged the party’s punishments.
Antigua’s Citizenship by Investment program (CBI) and Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC), in which individuals can be granted citizenship or residency in exchange for a sizable business investment or contribution, have been heavily scrutinized in recent years. In 2018, the US Department of State noted that the CBI left the country vulnerable to financial crimes and raised questions about the program’s autonomy from politicians who might seek to misuse it. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also raised concerns about the programs.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
Antigua and Barbuda has gradually improved its accountability structures since 2004, when the government enacted a Freedom of Information Act. The Public Accounts Committee can also expose governmental improprieties and wrongdoings, but historically has not functioned effectively. There have been lengthy delays in submission of the auditor general’s report. Public officials must disclose all income, assets, and personal gifts received in their official capacity in a confidential report to the Integrity Commission per the 2004 Integrity in Public Life Act. Resource deficiencies have impeded the commission’s ability to investigate corrupt individuals. Despite the Procurement and Contract Management Act of 2011, concerns remain about public procurement in relation to the expertise of officials in positions mandated by the law, the completeness of documentation, and that some applications are made retrospectively, with often a waiver being requested.
Accountability for elected officials has increased somewhat in recent years. In January 2020, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs Dean Jonas was suspended for six months after allegations that he mistreated staff. In November, Minister of Education Michael Browne was removed from his position after he was charged with an undisclosed crime.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Press freedom is generally respected in Antigua and Barbuda. Criminal defamation was abolished in 2015. However, under the Sedition and Undesirable Publications Act, seditious libel is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. Critical journalists remain at risk of libel suits from unhappy politicians. The prime minister has characterized the frequently critical Observer as “fake news” and a threat to the country.
Most media outlets are concentrated among a small number of firms affiliated with either the current ABLP government or the UPP.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of worship as well as the right to practice and change religion, and these freedoms are generally respected. A law outlawing blasphemous language is not enforced.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally respected.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals are generally free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the constitution, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. In July 2020, groups protested outside Parliament against what they claimed were unfair restrictions implemented by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19; restrictions for tourists were lighter than those imposed upon residents. Prime Minister Browne blamed the UPP for the protest and suggested that the young people who made up a majority of the protesters were ignorant of what the government was doing to protect lives. However, the government did not restrict political demonstrations.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
The country’s few nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are active, though inadequately funded and often influenced by the government.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Labor unions can organize freely and bargain collectively. Workers providing essential services must give notice two weeks before intent to strike. However, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has described the list of essential services as excessively broad. Strikes are fairly rare.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which is generally respected by the government. In November 2018, voters rejected in a referendum the adoption of the Caribbean Court of Justice as their highest appellate court. Thus, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, based in London, retains that role.
In recent years, the courts have increasingly asserted independence from the ABLP government—which had a history of manipulating the judicial system—with the support of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. The High Court of Justice has issued several rulings since 2018 that have slowed government-backed development plans for Barbuda. In October 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Privy Council should decide whether the Antiguan government or the Barbuda Council controls land sales on Barbuda.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of due process are mostly upheld. However, prisoners on remand often remain in jail for an average of three to four years before their cases are heard.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
Residents of Antigua and Barbuda do not face any significant security threats. However, prisons are severely overcrowded, and conditions within them are poor.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The 2005 Equal Opportunity Act bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, political affinity, or place of origin. There are no specific laws prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, or LGBT+ individuals. Societal norms discourage participation of women in some sectors of the economy, and few women hold leadership positions.
Same-sex sexual activity remains criminalized under a 1995 law; however, the law is not strictly enforced. In November 2019, the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE) announced it would file official legal challenges against colonial era laws against same-sex sexual activity in Antigua and Barbuda and four other Caribbean countries. The government announced it would not support, nor enact, any such legal changes.
Gender stereotypes and discrimination can make finding employment a challenge for women. Mental health services require improvement and people with physical disabilities are stigmatized and underemployed.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Many Barbudans forced to evacuate the island due to Hurricane Irma opposed moves by lawmakers in Antigua to eliminate the communal land ownership system that governed the island for almost two centuries, and instead establish private land ownership. The government argues that the change is necessary to assist Barbuda’s recovery.
The development of a multimillion-dollar private resort on Barbuda, led by the Peace Love and Happiness partnership, has driven tensions between the Browne government and Barbudan population and their representatives, who are concerned about the environmental impacts of the development. The Browne government has threatened those who attempt to obstruct the plans with jail time; in July 2020, the Barbudan Council Secretary, Paul Need, was arrested for blocking passage to a public road with his vehicle.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
The Domestic Violence Act of 2015 strengthened the measures that can be taken against the perpetrators of domestic violence and laid out a process for victims to obtain an order of protection. However, domestic violence remains a serious problem. Same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are not recognized. In November 2020, local advocacy groups called for the Minister of Gender Affairs Dean Jonas to resign after he suggested that girls who are still legal minors could consent to having sex with older men.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Antigua and Barbuda is a destination and transit country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Government efforts to address the problem are inadequate, but progress is being made, according to the US State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report. Compulsory labor is prohibited by law. In September 2019, the Industrial Court ruled against Antigua and Barbuda’s Department of Immigration, confirming that it has been breaching the rights of its workers for at least the last two decades, during which time the department did not paid employees for sick days, holidays worked, and overtime.
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