The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary democracy with vibrant media and civil society sectors. However, organized crime contributes to high levels of violence, and corruption among public officials remains a challenge. Discrimination against LGBT+ people and violence against women persist, and human trafficking is a significant concern.
- The January elections for Tobago’s House of Assembly (THA) ended in a tie, with the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) each winning six seats. The national PNM-led government attempted to break the deadlock by enlarging the body via legislation. The PDP won a THA majority in a December rerun.
- The opposition United National Congress (UNC) attempted to impeach President Paula-Mae Weekes in October over the apparent withdrawal or suppression of a list of candidates for the post of police commissioner. The motion to impeach failed that month.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president, the largely ceremonial head of state, is elected to a five-year term by a majority in the combined houses of Parliament. Paula-Mae Weekes, an independent former judge, was elected unopposed in January 2018 and took office that March.
The prime minister, who serves as head of government and is typically the leader of the majority party in Parliament, is appointed by the president. Keith Rowley became prime minister in 2015, after that year’s parliamentary elections resulted in a victory for his party, the center-right PNM. Rowley retained his position after the PNM won the general elections in 2020.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Parliament consists of the directly elected 41-member House of Representatives and the 31-member Senate, with members of both houses serving five-year terms. Of the 31 senators, 16 are appointed on the advice of the prime minister, 6 are appointed on the advice of the opposition leader, and 9 are appointed at the president’s discretion based on merit.
In the 2020 parliamentary elections, the incumbent PNM won 49 percent of the vote, securing 22 seats. The UNC took 47 percent of the vote and 19 seats.
The semiautonomous island of Tobago has its own THA, with 15 members elected directly, 3 appointed on the advice of the chief secretary (the island’s head of government), and 1 appointed on the advice of the minority leader. In the January 2021 elections, the PNM and the PDP, a local proindependence party, each won 6 seats, making for the first tie in the body’s history; there were 12 elected members at that time. Subsequent efforts to elect a presiding officer or reach a power-sharing agreement failed. The Rowley government legislated to increase the number of directly elected THA seats to 15; a bill passed in March, while a related Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) report that addressed the new configuration passed in September. In a December rerun, the PDP won 14 seats and the PNM won 1, though the EBC received recount requests in 2 districts.
|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 largely fair. The EBC organizes elections and is generally trusted by the public to fulfill its mandate impartially. However, electoral reforms suggested by 2015 observer missions apparently went unimplemented ahead of the 2020 elections.
The Rowley government legislated to break the THA deadlock after the January 2021 elections by increasing the number of directly elected seats. The UNC opposed the government’s efforts, calling for the use of existing methods to address the issue.
|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?||3.003 4.004|
Several political parties operate in Trinidad and Tobago. While the PNM dominated the political landscape in the decades following independence, it has weakened in recent years; the national political arena is now largely divided between the PNM and the UNC, while the December 2021 elections in Tobago marked an end to the PNM’s long-running dominance there.
Various factors, including the country’s first-past-the-post voting system, have made it difficult for less established parties to gain seats in Parliament.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Rival parties consistently transfer power peacefully, with multiple changes in government through elections since the 1980s.
|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?||3.003 4.004|
People’s political choices are generally free from external pressure. However, observers have raised concerns about lack of transparency in campaign financing, which may enable improper influence and disadvantage opposition parties.
|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 ethnic groups enjoy full political rights, and political parties are technically multiethnic, though the PNM is favored by Afro-Trinidadians and the UNC is affiliated with Indo-Trinidadians.
Women’s political participation has increased somewhat in recent years, though they remain generally underrepresented. The speaker of the House of Representatives and 10 of the body’s 41 members are women. In 2018, Paula-Mae Weekes became the first woman to be elected president. In January 2021, Tracy Davidson-Celestine of the PNM became the first female party leader in Tobago.
Discrimination against LGBT+ people is widespread, affecting their ability to fully engage in political and electoral processes.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Freely elected executive and legislative officeholders generally determine and implement government policies without undue interference.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption remains a pervasive problem, especially within the police force and among high-ranking government officials and immigration officers. Several pieces of anticorruption legislation exist but are generally poorly enforced.
In 2019, former attorney general Anand Ramlogan and former senator Gerald Ramdeen, both of the UNC, were arrested on suspicion of money laundering; Ramlogan was accused of routing kickbacks and legal fees to outside lawyers during his tenure, while Ramdeen was accused of receiving some of the funds. The case remained open at the end of 2021.
Other cases of official corruption and mismanagement were revealed during 2021. In February, a government report identified corruption and financial mismanagement within the Water and Sewerage Authority. The government also investigated the possibly corrupt issuances of firearm licenses during the year.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
Public officials are required to disclose their assets, income, and liabilities, but penalties against those who fail to comply are limited. The Integrity Commission, which is tasked with overseeing these financial disclosures, has been criticized for being ineffective.
The public has the right to access government documents by law, although numerous public institutions are exempt. Furthermore, there is no enforcement of a provision that requires the government to respond to information requests within 30 days. A 2015 law regulating public procurements was implemented in late 2020, but with significant exemptions.
President Weekes came under criticism over the apparent withdrawal or suppression of a list of candidates for the post of police commissioner in August 2021. UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar moved for President Weekes’s impeachment in October, but the motion failed that month.
|Are there free and independent media?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed and generally upheld in practice. Media outlets are privately owned and vigorously pluralistic. However, those regarded as most favorable to the government receive the bulk of state advertising. Under the 2013 Defamation and Libel Act, “malicious defamatory libel known to be false” is punishable by up to two years in prison as well as a fine, but prosecutions are uncommon.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and generally honored. Some restrictions are placed on foreign missionaries; up to 35 per registered religious group are allowed in the country at one time, and they cannot stay longer than three consecutive years.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally upheld.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals are free to express their opinions in private conversations. The government has historically refrained from monitoring online communications; however, the national police launched a Social Media Monitoring Unit charged with monitoring social networks to detect evidence of child pornography, prostitution, and human trafficking, in 2019.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respects this right. COVID-19 measures, which placed limits on the size and length of public gatherings, were imposed during 2021.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Civil society is robust, with a range of domestic and international groups operating freely.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Labor unions are well organized and politically active, though union membership has declined in recent years. Strikes are legal and occur frequently. The law contains a provision allowing the labor minister to petition the courts to end any strike deemed detrimental to national interests. Walkouts by workers considered essential, including hospital staff, firefighters, and telecommunication workers, are punishable by up to three years in prison and fines.
In December 2021, the government announced that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public-sector employees would be implemented in January 2022. Public-sector labor groups voiced their opposition to the mandate.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
The judicial branch is generally independent but is subject to some political pressure and corruption.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Due process rights are constitutionally provided for but are not always upheld. Rising crime rates and institutional weakness have produced a severe backlog in the court system. Corruption in the police force, which is often linked to the illegal drugs trade, is endemic, and inefficiencies have resulted in the dismissal of some criminal cases. Intimidation of witnesses and jurors has been reported by judicial officials.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
The government has struggled to address criminal violence, which is mostly linked to organized crime and drug trafficking. The US State Department issued a travel advisory for Trinidad and Tobago during 2021, urging “increased caution due to crime, terrorism, and kidnapping.” In April, Parliament passed a law meant to combat criminal gang activity.
The national police reported 448 murders in 2021, while 396 were reported in 2020.
Police have been criticized for excessive use of force.
Trinidadians have reportedly sought to join the Islamic State (IS) militant group in recent years.
Death penalties are mandatory in murder cases, though no executions were carried out in 2021. In November, the London-based Privy Council heard a case on the penalty’s constitutionality from a man who had received a death sentence in 2011; its ruling was pending at year’s end.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Despite legal protections against discrimination on various grounds, racial disparities persist, with Indo-Trinidadians accounting for a disproportionate share of the country’s economic elite. Women continue to face discrimination in employment and compensation.
Human rights groups have criticized the government’s unwillingness to address discrimination and violence against LGBT+ people. However, in 2018, the High Court ruled that the provisions of the Sexual Offences Act that criminalized same-sex relations were unconstitutional. The government vowed to appeal that ruling to the Privy Council; the case remains pending.
Immigration law does not adequately protect refugees, and Trinidad specifically lacks a system to process asylum claims. As many as 40,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers and refugees have entered the country in recent years, but authorities regularly seek to detain and deport these individuals as illegal immigrants, including those who registered their status with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Local courts have intervened to block deportations. Officials have espoused derogatory rhetoric when discussing refugees. There are regular reports of Venezuelans drowning en route to Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidadians were among those held by Kurdish forces in the Al-Hol camp in Syria, after the IS lost its territorial holdings there in 2019. Some 24 women and 70 children reportedly remained in Syrian camps as of July 2021. Family members of 12 Al-Hol detainees sought judicial review to force their repatriation, but the High Court ruled that the government could not be compelled to facilitate their return in April.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Trinidadians and Tobagonians do not face significant constraints on freedom of movement or on their ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education.
|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|
While the government actively supports both domestic and foreign investment in the country, corruption and weak state institutions can make it more difficult to start and operate businesses.
|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|
Most individual rights with respect to personal status issues like marriage and divorce are protected by law. The 2017 Marriage Act raised the legal marriage age to 18, officially making child marriage illegal.
Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, and domestic violence is addressed by specific legislation. However, enforcement of these provisions remains inadequate. Other forms of gender-based violence occur; 47 women and girls were murdered in the first 11 months 2020, while a majority of missing persons at the time were women. A bill decriminalizing pepper spray was passed by the Senate in May 2021 and by the House of Representatives in June.
Abortion is illegal in most cases, and there is reportedly little public awareness of legal exemptions for abortions to save a woman’s life or preserve her physical or mental health. A woman can be imprisoned for up to four years for obtaining an illegal abortion.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
The law provides basic protections against exploitative working conditions, though these do not apply or are poorly enforced for informal and household workers in particular. While the government has stepped up efforts to combat human trafficking, convictions have been lacking, and funding for services to trafficking survivors has been cut. Venezuelan women are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking.
The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2021 noted that a group of police officials and officials in other parts of government were suspected of involvement in trafficking, though no criminal investigation was launched against the latter group.
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