St. Kitts and Nevis

PR Political Rights 36 40
CL Civil Liberties 53 60
Last Year's Score & Status
89 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

St. Kitts and Nevis has a history of competitive and credible elections, and civil liberties are generally upheld. There are some concerns about government corruption and transparency, particularly regarding the Citizenship by Investment program. Authorities in recent years have seen some success in addressing a high rate of violent crime. LGBT+ people face discrimination and are politically marginalized

header2 Key Developments in 2019

  • In February, opposition leader Denzil Douglas was vindicated in a legal case in which the government had attempted to remove him from Parliament. The High Court ruled that the attempt, based on allegations of improper use of a diplomatic passport issued by Dominica, had no standing.
  • The year saw a significant reduction in homicides and nonfatal shootings. To address the problem, the government had, among other initiatives, launched the “Peace Initiative,” in which members of criminal groups were offered avenues to pursue legal activities.

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 the parliament, is head of government. Prime ministers are normally appointed after legislative elections by the governor general, who represents the British monarch as the largely ceremonial head of state.

After the 2015 elections, Timothy Harris of Team Unity—an umbrella organization of the People’s Action Movement (PAM) and the People’s Labour Party (PLP) in St. Kitts, and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) in Nevis—was appointed prime minister.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3.003 4.004

There are 14 seats in the unicameral National Assembly—8 for representatives from St. Kitts, 3 for those from Nevis, and 3 for senators appointed by the governor general (2 on the advice of the prime minister and 1 on the advice of the opposition leader); all serve five-year terms.

Team Unity won the 2015 parliamentary elections, taking 7 of the 11 directly elected seats and unseating the Labour Party (SKNLP), which had been in government for two decades. The vote took place peacefully and was considered credible, but a number of shortcomings were observed. Opposition candidates and others criticized a lack of campaign-finance legislation, and a monitoring mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) noted that the difference between state resources and SKNLP financing was not always clear. Some observers also noted that the government enjoyed disproportionate access to state-owned media for campaign purposes.

Nevis has its own local legislature, with five elected and three appointed members. Elections in 2017 resulted in a win for the incumbent CCM, which took four elected seats, leaving the Nevis Reformation Party with 1.

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? 3.003 4.004

Electoral laws are generally fair and usually implemented impartially by the Electoral Commission. However, the lead-up to the 2015 elections featured an eleventh-hour dispute over district delineations and concerns about the Electoral Commission’s independence. The SKNLP government introduced new electoral boundaries just a month before the polls. The new map was ultimately thrown out four days before the elections by the Privy Council in London, the highest court of appeal for St. Kitts and Nevis, after the opposition challenged the changes. Separately, OAS observers expressed concern that an election calendar with key dates was not shared publicly. A delay in reporting the results of the polls also prompted questions about the independence of the Electoral Commission. In 2017, the former supervisor of elections was arrested and charged with misconduct in connection with the delayed transmission of the 2015 results. His case remained unresolved in 2019. Other problems plagued the Electoral Commission also stretched into 2019, with the opposition SKNLP accusing it of conspiring with the government to manipulate election-registration procedures.

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

There are no major constraints on the right to organize in different political parties and to form new parties.

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 candidates are able to campaign without restrictions or interference, and there are realistic opportunities for opposition parties to increase their support or gain power through elections. In 2015, the Team Unity coalition unseated the SKNLP, which had been in government since 1995.

In February 2019, opposition leader Denzil Douglas was vindicated in a legal case in which the government had attempted to remove him from parliament. The High Court ruled that the attempt, based on allegations of improper use of a Dominica diplomatic passport, had no standing.

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

Candidates and voters are generally able to make political choices without undue interference. However, in 2015 the OAS raised concerns about the lack of transparency of party and campaign financing, which could enable improper forms of political influence.

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

All citizens are formally entitled to equal political rights and electoral opportunities. While women play an active role in political parties and as grassroots organizers, only one woman won a seat in the National Assembly in 2015. The only woman member of the Nevis Island Assembly was appointed. The LGBT+ community is marginalized, affecting LGBT+ people’s ability to engage fully in political processes.

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 elected prime minister, cabinet, and national legislative representatives are able to freely determine the policies of the government.

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

St. Kitts and Nevis’s anticorruption laws are for the most part implemented effectively. However, while the Integrity in Public Life Act, which established a code of conduct for public officials and financial disclosure guidelines, was adopted in 2013, its implementation rules were not issued until July 2018.

In recent years, concerns, including from the US State Department, have been raised about the country’s Citizenship by Investment and Residence by Investment Programs. To address some of these concerns, the St. Kitts government introduced several reforms, including expanded background checks and enacting stricter escrow-account rules. However, concerns remain. In May 2019, two members of the European Parliament sought to have the country’s visa-free program with the European Union rescinded because of allegedly “questionable” individuals gaining passports under its Citizenship by Investment program. Among them, they said, were several people implicated in high-level financial scandals in other countries.

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

The government generally operates with transparency, though it long lacked a freedom of information law. The Freedom of Information Act was finally passed in May 2018, but it has yet to be implemented due to inadequate resourcing. Further, the law offers exemptions protecting information related to national security, court proceedings, trade secrets, intellectual property rights, and international relations.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 3.003 4.004

Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed, and the government generally respects press freedom in practice. However, the state owns the sole local television station, and the opposition faces some restrictions on access to it, particularly around elections. Defamation is a criminal offense that can potentially carry a prison sentence. Some journalists reportedly self-censor in order to avoid pressure from government officials.

In May 2019, journalists were reportedly barred from court proceedings against a businessman, Alkivaides “Alki” David, who was accused of illegally importing thousands of marijuana seeds and plants.

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

Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice.

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

The government generally respects academic freedom.

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

There are no significant constraints on individuals’ ability to express their personal views regarding political or other sensitive topics.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

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

Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Demonstrations on various topics routinely proceed without incident.

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) generally operate without restrictions.

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

While workers may legally form unions, employers are not bound to recognize them. A union can engage in collective bargaining only if more than 50 percent of the company’s employees are members. Antiunion discrimination is prohibited, and the right to strike, while not protected by law, is generally respected in practice.

F Rule of Law

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

The judiciary is largely independent. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, but under certain circumstances there is a right of appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice and the Privy Council in London.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

Defendants are guaranteed a range of due process rights, which are mostly respected in practice; legal provisions for a fair trial are generally observed. Arbitrary arrests are prohibited, and security forces generally operate professionally. However, extended pretrial detention is a problem, with some detainees remaining in custody for more than two years before facing trial or having their cases dismissed.

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

While the country is free of war and other such threats to physical security, the government in recent years has struggled to contain a high rate of violent crime, which is linked primarily to criminal groups fighting for territory and control of the domestic drug trade. In 2018, a total of 23 homicides were recorded—which, in a country of some 50,000 people, left St. Kitts and Nevis with one of the world’s highest homicide rates on a per-capita basis. In an effort to address the problem, the St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force was given police powers for a period of six months in August of that year, and troops from the Barbados-based Regional Security System were deployed to the country in October. The government meanwhile instituted a “Peace Initiative,” whereby members of criminal groups were encouraged to move out of crime and into legal activities. In mid-December 2019, the government said that homicides had fallen by 48 percent over the past 12 months, with crime more generally down by 27 percent.

Prison conditions remain overcrowded.

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

The law protects individuals against discrimination on various grounds, including race, sex, and religion, and these provisions are generally upheld. However, sexual orientation and gender identity are not similarly protected, and societal discrimination against LGBT+ people is pervasive. Under colonial-era laws, same-sex sexual conduct between men is illegal and punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years. No law specifically prohibits workplace sexual harassment.

Rastafarians can face barriers to employment and other disadvantages as a consequence of their beliefs.

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

There are no significant restrictions on freedom of movement in St. Kitts and Nevis, and individuals are able to freely change their place of residence, employment, and education.

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? 3.003 4.004

The legal framework generally supports property rights and private business activity, though there have been complaints about timely compensation for land confiscated through eminent domain laws.

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

There are few restrictions on individual freedoms pertaining to personal status issues, though same-sex marriage is not recognized. While domestic violence is criminalized, it remains a widespread problem in practice, and spousal rape is not specifically prohibited by law.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3.003 4.004

The law provides safeguards against exploitative working conditions, though lack of resources reportedly affects enforcement.

On St. Kitts and Nevis

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  • Global Freedom Score

    89 100 free