PR Political Rights 37 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 a lack of government transparency, discrimination against LGBT+ people, violent crime, and poverty.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • In a snap election in January, the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) of Prime Minister Mia Mottley won another term, securing every seat in the lower house. Turnout fell to a record low of 41.7 percent.
  • A Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) started work in June. The CRC has a mandate to develop a new constitution to “meet the circumstances of a 21st century Barbados.”
  • In December, the High Court struck down sections of the 1992 Sexual Offences Act that criminalized same-sex relations. A written ruling was to be released in January 2023.

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, heads the government. Mia Mottley of the BLP became prime minister after that party won the 2018 polls, defeating a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) government. Mottley remained in office after the BLP won snap elections in January 2022.

The British monarch was the head of state and was represented by a governor general until 2021, when Barbados became a republic. Former governor general Sandra Mason began serving a four-year term as president after being appointed by the prime minister and voted into the office by Parliament that year.

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 upper house, the Senate, comprises 21 members appointed by the president: 12 are chosen by the prime minister, 2 are nominated on the advice of the opposition, and 7 are chosen by the president. Senators serve five-year terms.

The BLP won 69 percent of the vote and all 30 lower-house seats in the snap January 2022 elections. The DLP won 27 percent of the vote. While the polls were credible, turnout stood at a record low at 41.7 percent. Some Barbadians were unable to cast ballots because they were in COVID-19 quarantine. A lawsuit over the issue was not allowed to proceed in mid-January for technical reasons. After the elections, Prime Minister Mottley said she would reach out to opposition parties to discuss senatorial appointments.

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 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 term of five years.

In January 2022, Prime Minister Mottley called for a constitutional amendment to allow an 18-year-old nominee to enter the Senate. The government decided not to pursue the matter further in March because it lacked sufficient support for such an amendment.

The CRC, which is comprised of legal experts and civil society leaders selected by the attorney general, started work in June 2022 with a broad mandate to develop a constitution, including via public consultation, to be approved by Parliament. The CRC’s formation is widely seen as long overdue, but the CRC has been criticized as opposition members and some minority groups are not represented on it.

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

The BLP dominates politics and holds all seats in the lower house, though other political parties do exist. The DLP was until recently a major political force but, along with several smaller opposition parties, failed to win any seats in either the 2018 or 2022 elections. Barbados has been without a leader of the opposition since January 2022, as no opposition party won seats in that month’s polls.

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? 3.003 4.004

Power has historically rotated peacefully between the BLP and DLP. However, the BLP won major electoral victories in 2018 and January 2022.

The DLP, meanwhile, won no seats in either election. Since 2018, neither the DLP nor any other opposition party has received the annual subvention generally paid to such groups. In November 2022, the DLP called on the Mottley administration to account for the subvention funds and warned that the lack of opposition funding was impacting Barbadian party politics; the party also questioned whether the ruling BLP had received subvention funds instead.

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because opposition groups have not received mandated state funding since losing parliamentary seats in the last election, hindering their ability to compete.

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 societal marginalization can discourage women from running for office. While the BLP and DLP leaders who contested the January 2022 elections were female, women make up only 26.7 percent of the House of Assembly—though that figure is the highest seen in the country’s history.

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 Parliament are largely unimpeded in their ability to craft and implement policy. In 2021, Barbados became a republic.

Barbados’s first-past-the-post electoral system meant that a 69-percent vote for the BLP in January 2022 translated to a 100-percent share of the lower house. There is no constitutional mechanism to select a leader of the opposition in such cases, which weakens scrutiny of the government.

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

Acts of corruption occur but with less frequency than in the rest of the region. Barbados’s government has failed to prosecute senior officials. Potential whistleblowers fear costly defamation suits. A Prevention of Corruption Act was passed in 2021, updating legislation dating back to 1929.

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 has signed but not ratified the UN Convention against Corruption.

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

A Freedom of Information Act is yet to materialize. In February 2022, the Mottley administration vowed to reintroduce its Integrity in Public Life Bill, which the Senate rejected in 2020. That bill was not laid before Parliament by year’s end, however.

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. The government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation is the main 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. Greater protections for the Rastafarian and Muslim communities have been secured in recent years.

Blasphemy is banned in Barbados, but that restriction is reportedly not enforced.

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 2022, including a demonstration in February to demand the reopening of schools after COVID-19-related lockdowns.

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

Many nongovernmental organizations operate without restriction or surveillance in Barbados, primarily focusing 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 influential. However, critics have alleged that the BLP is seeking to sideline or co-opt organized labor bodies. Unions have argued that the Employment Rights Tribunal is weak; in September 2022, the government vowed to address the issue.

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 (CCJ) is the highest appellate court for Barbados. The prime minister enjoys a wide degree of discretion in judicial appointments and removals, something Mottley has promised to address in an ongoing constitutional reform process.

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

Constitutional due process guarantees are generally upheld. While the Mottley administration has appointed new judges, a case backlog persists.

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. However, complaints that the Barbados Police Force physically abuses suspects have been reported in recent years.

Amid worsening gang violence, 43 homicides were reported in 2022, up from 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; the CCJ had ruled that practice unconstitutional in 2018. Capital punishment remains on the statute book, though the last execution was in 1984 and the last sentence in 2016. However, a number of prisoners facing the death sentence still awaited resentencing in 2022.

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. LGBT+ people face discrimination in housing, employment, and health care.

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 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.

Same-sex relations were illegal under the 1992 Sexual Offences Act, but the High Court decriminalized those relations by striking part of that law down in December 2022. A written ruling was to be released in January 2023.

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, unions have criticized opaque employment practices in the hospitality industry.

The government continues to crack down on human trafficking; in the 2022 edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, the US State Department reported that authorities launched the first trafficking-related prosecutions since 2013. However, no successful convictions have been recorded since the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Prevention Act came into force.

On Barbados

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  • Global Freedom Score

    94 100 free