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. Authorities in recent years have seen some success in addressing a high rate of violent crime. LGBT+ people face discrimination and are politically marginalized.
- General elections held in June resulted in a landslide victory for the governing Team Unity—a coalition of three-parties—despite low turnout at 58 percent, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government and the opposition agreed that campaign regulations should be adjusted to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The state-owned ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation provided equal broadcasting time to the registered political parties and any nominated independent candidate.
- In July, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court upheld the St. Kitts High Court convictions of Lindsay Grant and Jonel Powell, members of Team Unity in the National Assembly. The two were at the center of a 2017 corruption case alleging that both men misappropriated $460,000 from a client. Opposition leader Denzil Douglas has called for their resignations.
|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 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 2020 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 reappointed as prime minister.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
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 2020 parliamentary elections with 9 of the 11 directly elected seats. The vote took place peacefully and was considered credible, though turnout was low at 58 percent, largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) sent a small election monitoring mission, and a coalition of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also observed the polls. The invitation for the Organization of American States (OAS) was revoked due to concerns over COVID-19 quarantine protocols. Several shortcomings, which had been highlighted in previous election observer missions, were not addressed, including an absence of campaign finance legislation. The NGO coalition’s final report noted several “administrative and organizational deficiencies.”
Despite these shortcomings, the government and the opposition agreed that the state of emergency declared to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be used consistently regarding campaign regulation. However, there was at least one occasion when Team Unity, with the support of the police, prevented a St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) campaign motorcade entering the capital, Basseterre. The state-owned ZIZ Broadcasting Corporation provided equal broadcasting time to the registered political parties and any nominated independent candidate.
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.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
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. In the build up to the 2020 elections, electoral boundaries were again an issue of contention, but the St. Kitts and Nevis High Court threw out an attempt to revise them. One concern was a discrepancy in constituency size of several thousand voters between districts on Nevis.
|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?
There are no major constraints on the right to organize in different political parties and to form new parties.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
Opposition candidates are generally able to campaign without restrictions or interference.
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 won 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.
|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?
Candidates and voters can make political choices without undue interference. However, concerns have been raised about the lack of transparency of party and campaign financing, which could enable improper forms of political influence.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
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, representation in the National Assembly is poor. The population of St. Kitts is primarily Afro-Caribbean and Anglican, but other ethnic and religious groups do engage in the political process.
In 2015 there was one woman elected as a representative; in 2020 there were none, and only one woman in the Nevis Island Assembly was appointed. Discrimination, sexist rhetoric, and intimidation toward them and their families discourage many women from engaging in the political environment. LGBT+ people are marginalized and discriminated against, affecting their ability to engage in frontline politics.
Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because no women were elected as representatives, reflecting the increasing marginalization of women and LGBT+ people from political life.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
The elected prime minister, cabinet, and national legislative representatives freely determine the policies of the government.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
St. Kitts and Nevis’s anticorruption laws are mostly implemented effectively. However, while the Integrity in Public Life Act was adopted in 2013, establishing a code of conduct for public officials and financial disclosure guidelines, its implementation rules were not issued until July 2018 and have not yet taken root. For example, Lindsay Grant and Jonel Powell, both Team Unity members of the National Assembly, have been the center of a 2017 case alleging that both men misappropriated $460,000 from a client. In July 2020, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court upheld the St. Kitts High Court convictions of Powell and Grant. Opposition leader Denzil Douglas has called for their resignations.
In recent years, concerns, including from the US State Department, have been raised about the country’s Citizenship by Investment (CBI) and Residence by Investment Programs. In 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 the CBI program. To address some of these concerns, the St. Kitts government introduced reforms, including expanded background checks and enacting stricter escrow-account rules. However, according to the 2020 CBI Index produced by Professional Wealth Management magazine, a publication from the Financial Times, St. Kitts has one of the least corrupt programs.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
The government generally operates with transparency, though it long lacked a freedom of information law, which was finally passed in May 2018. The Freedom of Information Act has yet to be implemented due to inadequate resources. Further, the law offers exemptions protecting information related to national security, court proceedings, trade secrets, intellectual property rights, and international relations.
|Are there free and independent media?
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. 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.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because the media environment has stabilized in recent years.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
The government generally respects academic freedom.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
There are no significant constraints on individuals’ ability to express their personal views regarding political or other sensitive topics.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected in practice. Demonstrations on various topics routinely proceed without incident.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
NGOs generally operate without restrictions.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
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. However, employers, if found guilty of union-based discrimination, are not compelled to rehire employees that had been fired.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
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.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
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.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
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 50,000 people, means that St. Kitts and Nevis had one of the world’s highest homicide rates per-capita. The government has attempted to address the problem through various means, including a “Peace Initiative,” whereby members of criminal groups were encouraged to move out of crime and into legal activities. Police have employed stop-and-search methods extensively. In 2019, Tactical Units of The Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force carried out just over 17,000 stop-and-search exercises. 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. This downward trend continued during 2020.
Prison conditions remain overcrowded.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
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 relations between men are illegal and punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years. No law specifically prohibits workplace sexual harassment.
Rastafarians at times experience barriers to employment and other disadvantages due to discrimination.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
There are no significant restrictions on freedom of movement in St. Kitts and Nevis, and individuals freely change their place of residence, employment, and education.
|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 private business activity, though there have been complaints about timely compensation for land confiscated through eminent domain laws. In the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business rankings, St Kitts placed 139th, the second lowest in the Caribbean. Enforcing contracts was the highest scoring category, registering property the lowest.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
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.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
The law provides safeguards against exploitative working conditions, though lack of resources reportedly affects enforcement. The most recent US State Department Trafficking in Persons report from 2019 notes that, while there were no confirmed reports of trafficking during the year, local human rights activists alleged that human smugglers transit through the country regularly, and had in the past brought in sex workers and laborers.
On St. Kitts and Nevis
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