St. Kitts and Nevis

PR Political Rights 35 40
CL Civil Liberties 54 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. 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 2022

  • In the August elections, the opposition St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) won 6 of the 11 seats in the National Assembly and formed a government, replacing a multiparty ruling coalition.
  • Also in August, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) ruled that sections of the Offences against the Person Act (OPA) that prohibited same-sex relations were unconstitutional, striking them down.

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.

Terrance Drew of the SKNLP became prime minister in August 2022, succeeding Timothy Harris of the Team Unity coalition.

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, comprising 8 representatives from St. Kitts, 3 from Nevis, and 3 for senators appointed by the governor general. Two senators are selected on the advice of the prime minister and one on the advice of the opposition leader. All serve five-year terms.

The Team Unity coalition, which included the People’s Labour Party (PLP), Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), and People’s Action Movement (PAM), was defeated in the August 2022 elections by the SKNLP. The SKNLP won 6 seats, the CCM won 3, and the PLP and PAM each won 1. The Team Unity government fell after members of the coalition filed a no-confidence motion against then prime minister Harris in April, prompting him to dissolve the parliament in May. The polls were credible but suffered shortcomings including the absence of campaign finance legislation.

Nevis has its own local legislature, with five elected and three appointed members. The incumbent CCM won the December 2022 local elections, taking three elected seats. The Nevis Reformation Party took two.

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. In its August 2022 report, Organization of American States observers called on the government to redraw legislative constituencies to ensure better voter distribution; the country’s constituency boundaries were last changed in 1983.

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. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4

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. The SKNLP returned to power in the August 2022 polls.

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 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.

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? 3.003 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, representation in the National Assembly is poor. Only one woman won a seat in the August 2022 polls, though another four were appointed. Some 38 percent of seats in the cabinet formed after the elections were held by women. Discrimination, sexist rhetoric, and intimidation toward women and their families discourage many from engaging in the political environment.

The population of St. Kitts is primarily Afro-Caribbean and Anglican, but other ethnic and religious groups engage in the political process.

LGBT+ people are marginalized and discriminated against, affecting their ability to engage in frontline politics.

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 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 mostly implemented effectively. The Integrity in Public Life Act (IPLA) was adopted in 2013, establishing a code of conduct for public officials and financial disclosure guidelines. However, its implementation rules were not issued until 2018. In September 2022, Justice Minister Garth Wilkin said that the government would operationalize the IPLA and introduce anticorruption legislation.

In recent years, concerns have been raised about the country’s Citizenship by Investment and Residence by Investment programs. The government has introduced reforms to address criticism, including expanded background checks and enacting stricter escrow-account rules.

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, which was finally passed in 2018. The Freedom of Information Act had yet to be implemented by the end of 2022 due to inadequate resources, though Justice Minister Wilkin vowed to make that law operational in a September statement. Legal exemptions protect 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? 4.004 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. 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. Radio news coverage is relatively vibrant and pluralistic.

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 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. However, employers, if found guilty of union-based discrimination, are not compelled to rehire employees that had been fired.

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 ECSC, 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. 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.

The government claims that violent crime has been decreasing; there were 11 recorded homicides in 2022, down significantly from the 2011 high of 35. Prisons 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.

Until recently, same-sex relations between men were illegal and punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years under colonial-era laws. In August 2022, the ECSC ruled against two parts of the OPA that prohibited same-sex relations, saying that they violated the freedom of expression and right to privacy.

No law specifically prohibits workplace sexual harassment.

Rastafarians at times experience barriers to employment and other disadvantages due to discrimination.

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 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 private business activity, though there have been complaints about timely compensation for land confiscated via eminent domain and delays in registering property.

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. Domestic violence is criminalized but remains widespread. 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. The 2021 edition of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, the most recent edition to cover St. Kitts and Nevis, reported that the country served as a destination for human trafficking; victims arrived there through other Caribbean ports. Local human rights activists have alleged that human smugglers transit through the country regularly and have brought in sex workers and laborers.

In an October 2022 session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a social development minister reported that sex trafficking may have affected immigrant populations but that no official report on sex trafficking was available for the committee’s perusal.

On St. Kitts and Nevis

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  • Global Freedom Score

    89 100 free