Barbados is a democracy that regularly holds competitive elections and upholds civil liberties. In November 2021, the government officially declared its independence from the United Kingdom, establishing a republican constitutional system. Challenges include official corruption and a lack of government transparency, discrimination against LGBT+ people, violent crime, and poverty.
- Barbados officially declared its independence from the United Kingdom and became a republic in November. In October, Dame Sandra Mason, who was appointed governor general in 2018, was nominated by the prime minister to become the president for a four-year term and almost unanimously voted into the office by the lower and upper houses of the parliament.
- In March, over 140 academics alleged that delays in reappointing Barbadian historian Hilary Beckles to a second term as vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies—which has a major campus on Barbados—was equivalent to government retribution for his outspoken advocacy as chairman of the Reparations Commission of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which was created to map a plan to bring “reconciliation, truth, and justice for the victims of slavery and their descendants.” Beckles was subsequently reappointed in May.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party in Parliament, is head of government. The British monarch was until recently the head of state, represented by a governor general. However, Barbados officially declared its independence from the United Kingdom and became a republic in November 2021. In October, Dame Sandra Mason, who was appointed governor general in 2018, was nominated by the prime minister to become the president for a four-year term and was almost unanimously voted into the office by the lower and upper houses of the parliament.
Mia Mottley of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) was appointed prime minister after her party decisively won the 2018 general elections, unseating Freundel Stuart of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The polls were competitive and credible. In December 2021, Mottley called for snap elections to be held in January 2022, a year ahead of schedule.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
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 7 at their own discretion. Senators serve five-year terms.
The results of parliamentary elections in 2018 were accepted by all stakeholders. The opposition BLP took all 30 seats in the House of Assembly. Bishop Joseph Atherley subsequently broke with the BLP to sit as an independent leader of the opposition.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) oversees elections in Barbados in a professional manner. Its five commissioners are chosen based on expertise by the prime minister and the opposition for a maximum term of five years.
A broader constitutional reform process is slated to begin in January 2022.
|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?
The political scene is dominated by the BLP and DLP, but other parties are able to form with ease. In December 2021, two minority parties formed a coalition, the Alliance Party for Progress (APP), to participate in the January 2022 election.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
Power 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.
|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?
Voters and candidates are generally able to express their political choices without interference from actors that are not democratically accountable.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
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 discrimination and societal marginalization can discourage women from running for office. Women make up only 20 percent of the House of Assembly.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
The prime minister and members of Parliament are largely unimpeded in their ability to craft and implement policy. In November 2021, Barbados declared its independence from the United Kingdom and became an independent republic. The governor general, Dame Sandra Mason, was voted into the newly created office of president for a four-year term by the lower and upper houses of the parliament in October. Critics have argued that Prime Minister Mottley enjoyed too much discretionary power over the process to transition the governance system into a republic, which was not put to a referendum. The recommendations of a committee examining the topic, the Republican Status Transition Advisory Committee, are nonbinding.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
While much less severe than the rest of the region, serious incidences of corruption are known to take place. Barbados’s government has failed to implement key anticorruption measures or prosecute senior officials. Potential whistleblowers fear costly defamation suits.
High-level malpractice was exposed in April 2021, when former minister of industry Donville Inniss was sentenced to two years in prison in the United States for taking bribes from a Barbadian insurance company through New York in 2015 and 2016.
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), which it signed in 2003.
The Mottley administration has sought to create a new Anti-Corruption and Anti-Terrorism Agency (ACATA). However, legal experts have criticized plans for its director general to be appointed by the prime minister and say it needs to be accompanied by comprehensive anticorruption legislation in order to be effective; the existing Prevention of Corruption Act dates back to 1929.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
A Freedom of Information Act long promised by both major parties is yet to materialize. The Mottley administration has also yet to pass its Integrity in Public Life Bill—which would require senior officials to declare their personal wealth and would create a new Integrity Commission.
In October 2020, the European Council added Barbados to a list of noncooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes.
|Are there free and independent media?
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.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is widely respected for mainstream religious groups. In November 2020, the government decriminalized cultivation, personal use, and possession of small amounts of marijuana for religious reasons, a step that was welcomed by Rastafarian community leaders. In October 2020, the government approved an exemption for Muslims and Rastafarians to wear head coverings in official photographs.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Academic freedom is respected, though members of the government occasionally disparage academics who criticize government policy. In March 2021, over 140 academics alleged that delays in reappointing Barbadian historian Hilary Beckles to a second term as Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies—which has a major campus on Barbados—was equivalent to government retribution for his outspoken advocacy as chairman of the Reparations Commission of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Reparations Commission which was created to map a plan to bring “reconciliation, truth, and justice for the victims of slavery and their descendants.” Beckles was subsequently reappointed in May.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
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.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Barbados’s legal framework guarantees freedom of assembly, which is upheld in practice. Several protests took place peacefully in 2021, including a large demonstration in August against reported government plans to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory, which Prime Minister Mottley later denied.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without restriction or surveillance in Barbados, primarily focusing on cultural issues, homelessness, environmentalism, and women’s rights.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The right to form labor unions is respected, and unions are active and influential. However, critics have alleged that the BLP is seeking to co-opt union leaderships and sideline some organized labor bodies.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
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.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Constitutional guarantees of due process are generally upheld. Despite the appointment of new judges under the Mottley administration, there is still a major backlog of court cases.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
Barbados is free from war and insurgencies. However, complaints that the Royal Barbados Police Force physically abuses suspects to secure information have been reported in recent years.
The number of homicides, often related to microtrafficking (drug trafficking in small quantities), has risen steadily in recent years, although the figure decreased from 42 in 2020 to 32 in 2021.
The government has taken some steps to address prison overcrowding and abuse. In 2019, the government repealed the mandatory death penalty in cases of murder. Capital punishment remains on the statute book, though the last execution was carried out in 1984 and the last sentence was given in 2016. However, several prisoners on death row are still awaiting resentencing.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Women make up half of the country’s workforce, although they earn less than men for comparable work. LGBT+ people face discrimination in housing, employment, and health care, and reported verbal harassment from the authorities when seeking assistance during the pandemic.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Individuals in Barbados are generally free to move, live, and work across the territory as they see fit.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
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.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Violence against women remains widespread, and laws addressing domestic violence—which spiked during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020—are not well enforced. Same-sex relations remain punishable with jail sentences, though the law is not enforced.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Residents generally have access to economic opportunity, and the law provides some protections against exploitative labor practices. However, some estimates suggest that 50 percent of the population fell below the poverty line in 2020. The number of families seeking government assistance to pay for basic needs, including electricity and internet bills and books and supplies for school, rose sharply in 2021.
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, reflecting in part a lack of resources, there have been no prosecutions for trafficking since the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Prevention Act (TIPPA) came into force.
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Global Freedom Score94 100 free