PR Political Rights 38 40
CL Civil Liberties 57 60
Last Year's Score & Status
95 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Barbados is a democracy that regularly holds competitive elections and upholds civil liberties. Challenges include official corruption and a lack of government transparency, discrimination against LGBT+ people, violent crime, and poverty.

header2 Key Developments in 2020

  • In September, the Barbadian government announced that it would remove the British monarch as head of state and become a republic by November 2021. Further, Prime Minister Mia Mottley publicized that the government would hold a referendum to legalize same-sex civil unions.
  • In March, the first people in Barbados tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the government to impose a lockdown, which included a curfew. These measures were time-bound and relied on public health data; experts praised the Mottley government’s openness and transparency in providing information to the public about the pandemic. By yearend, 372 people had tested positive for the virus and 7 people had died, according to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO).

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party in Parliament, is head of government. The British monarch is head of state, represented by a governor general. In September 2020, however, the Barbadian government announced that it would remove the British monarch as head of state and become a republic by November 2021. Dame Sandra Mason was appointed governor general in 2018.

Mia Mottley of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was appointed prime minister after her party decisively won the May 2018 general elections, unseating Freundel Stuart of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The polls were regarded as competitive and credible.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

Members of the 30-seat House of Assembly, the lower house, are directly elected for five-year terms. The governor general appoints the 21 members of the upper house, the Senate: 12 on the advice of the prime minister, 2 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining 7 at their own discretion. Senators serve five-year terms.

The results of parliamentary elections held in May 2018 were accepted by all stakeholders. The opposition BLP took all 30 seats in the House of Assembly. Bishop Joseph Atherley, originally a BLP member who was elected in the May 2018 polls, subsequently sat as an independent to become the leader of the opposition.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 4.004 4.004

The independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) oversees elections in Barbados in a professional manner. Its five commissioners are chosen based on their expertise by the prime minister and the opposition for a maximum term of five years.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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? 4.004 4.004

Political parties form and operate freely. New parties emerged in 2018 to challenge the traditionally dominant BLP and DLP, but all failed to win any seats. In June 2019, Atherley launched the People’s Party for Democracy and Development—a self-described socialist and Christian movement that was joined by two opposition senators.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Opposition parties have a realistic chance of gaining power, which has historically rotated peacefully between the BLP and DLP. The BLP’s landslide victory over the DLP in 2018 highlighted the political system’s competitiveness.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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? 4.004 4.004

Voters and candidates are generally able to express their political choices without interference from actors that are not democratically accountable.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4.004 4.004

Barbados’s population is fully enfranchised, with adult citizens, Commonwealth citizens, and foreigners with seven years’ residency able to vote. Laws protect the political rights of women, but conservative, discriminatory attitudes and societal marginalization can discourage women from running for office. Although Mia Mottley became the country’s first woman to be prime minister in 2018, politics remain dominated by men. Women make up only 20 percent of the House of Assembly.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4.004 4.004

The prime minister and members of Parliament are largely unimpeded in their ability to craft and implement policy, notwithstanding the powerful role played by labor unions, the demands of international creditors, and the growing influence of China.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3.003 4.004

Barbados’s government has failed to implement key anticorruption measures. Civil society groups, business figures, and the attorney general have complained of serious incidences of corruption, but no major officials have faced arrest under the Mottley administration. Potential whistleblowers fear costly defamation suits.

Barbados is one of just seven countries in the Americas to have neither signed nor ratified the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters. The government is also yet to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), having signed the treaty in 2003. However, in January 2018 the government ratified the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which it signed in 2001.

Concerns over major alleged irregularities prior to the Mottley administration at eight state-owned enterprises, including the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), surfaced in June 2020.

In Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer published in September 2019, perceived corruption in Barbados was the lowest in the Americas, with 55 percent of respondents believing that the Mottley administration is doing a good job in fighting corruption.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3.003 4.004

Academic experts praised the BLP government’s transparency during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the use of regular press briefings. However, Barbados lacks key laws to ensure this openness persists, notably, a long-promised Freedom of Information Act. A long-promised Integrity in Public Life Bill—which would require politicians and senior officials to declare their personal wealth and would create a new Integrity Commission—was passed by the House of Assembly in July 2020 but failed to pass the Senate in August. Information on the country’s national budget is difficult to obtain.

The Mottley administration passed a Public Finance Management Act, involving greater oversight of state-owned enterprises, in 2019, and an ongoing Public Sector Modernisation Project aims to improve citizens’ access to public spending information.

In October 2020, the European Council added Barbados to a list of noncooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes, reflecting a “partially compliant” rating given to the country by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in April 2020.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief



D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 4.004 4.004

The media are free from censorship and government control. Newspapers, including the two major dailies, are privately owned. Four private and two government-run radio stations operate in the country. The government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is the only local television station and is broadly balanced.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is widely respected for mainstream religious groups. However, members of Barbados’s small Rastafarian and Muslim communities have reported some discrimination.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academic freedom is respected, though members of the government occasionally disparage academics who criticize government policy.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

Freedom of speech is largely respected in Barbados, with commentators and members of the public free to express their views on most topics without encountering negative consequences.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

Barbados’s legal framework guarantees freedom of assembly, which is upheld in practice. Several protests took place peacefully in 2020, including Black Lives Matter demonstrations in June.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without restriction or surveillance. There are many NGOs active in the country, which primarily focus on cultural issues, homelessness, environmentalism, and women’s rights.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4.004 4.004

The right to form labor unions is respected, and unions are active and politically influential. In February 2020, construction workers staged a successful strike for wage increases. In May, healthcare workers, organized by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), staged a brief walkout over the government’s failure to distribute sanitary and personal protective equipment, among other issues, during the COVID-19 crisis. After meeting with Prime Minister Mottley, they returned to work.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The judiciary generally operates with independence. The Supreme Court includes a high court and a court of appeals. The Caribbean Court of Justice is the highest appellate court for Barbados.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 4.004 4.004

Constitutional guarantees of due process are generally upheld. In January 2020, the government appointed two more judges (making a total of five), and plans to appoint more prosecutors, to address the large backlog of nearly 1,000 cases it inherited from the previous administration in 2018. However, progress remains slow.

In 2017, the judiciary adopted a protocol to prevent gender discrimination in the administration of justice. The protocol, drafted with UN support, was the first of its kind in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Barbados is free from war and insurgencies. However, complaints that the Royal Barbados Police Force physically abuses suspects to coerce individuals to provide information have been reported in recent years. In March 2020, charges against murder suspect Roger Sealy were dismissed after evidence showed that police had abused Sealy to gain information from him.

The number of homicides has risen steadily in recent years, although the figure for 2020 (39) was somewhat below 2019 levels (49).

The government has taken some positive steps to address prison overcrowding and abuse. Legal changes in April 2019 complied with a June 2018 ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice that the mandatory death penalty in Barbados for those convicted of murder was unconstitutional. However, by April 2020, several prisoners on death row were still awaiting resentencing and more than 70 prisoners were waiting to be tried for murder. The death penalty remains on the statute book, though the last execution was carried out in 1984 and the last sentence was given in 2016.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

Women make up half of the country’s workforce, although they earn less than men for comparable work. As of 2017, workplaces have been required to articulate a policy against sexual harassment. LGBT+ people face discrimination in housing, employment, and health care, and reported verbal harassment from the authorities when seeking assistance during the pandemic.

In February 2020, a transgender activist filed a lawsuit with the Employment Rights Tribunal (ERT), the first of its kind, alleging that her employer had fired her for changing her name to reflect her gender identity.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

Individuals in Barbados are generally free to move, live, and work across the territory as they see fit.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 4.004 4.004

The legal framework generally supports property rights and private-business activity. The government has worked to ensure a healthy environment for business and to attract domestic and foreign investment, particularly in the tourism industry.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
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

Violence against women remains widespread, and laws addressing domestic violence are not well enforced. Reports of child abuse have increased in recent years, according to the US State Department. In September 2020, the Mottley administration said it would put same-sex civil unions to a referendum. Same-sex relations remain punishable with jail sentences, though the law is not enforced.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 4.004 4.004

Residents generally have access to economic opportunity, and the law provides some protections against exploitative labor practices. However, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic nearly 18 percent of the population lived in poverty. Some estimates suggest the unemployment rate rose to over 50 percent by the end of 2020, largely reflecting the impact of the pandemic.

The government has taken steps to crack down on human trafficking, including police raids, screening of vulnerable people, training officials to detect possible trafficking victims, and awareness campaigns. However, partly reflecting a lack of resources and government inattention, there have been no prosecutions for trafficking since 2013 and no trafficking convictions to date.

On Barbados

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  • Global Freedom Score

    94 100 free