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Antigua and Barbuda
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2002 the embattled administration of Prime Minister Lester Bird survived popular street protests staged by the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) in an effort to force the resignation of the government. In a further indication of the endemic corruption of state institutions, a Royal Commission of Inquiry concluded that there were serious instances of fraud in the medical-benefits program. The prime minister's brother, Vere Bird, continued to serve as minister of agriculture despite an arms-trafficking inquiry that concluded he should be barred from government service. In October the government promised to introduce new anticorruption legislation to Parliament. Top officials, including the prime minister, were cleared by a commission of inquiry after being accused by a female minor of drug and sex offenses.
Antigua and Barbuda, a member of the Commonwealth, gained independence in 1981. The 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary democracy: a bicameral legislature is composed of the 17-member House of Representatives (16 seats go to Antigua, 1 to Barbuda) in which members serve 5-year terms, and an appointed senate. Eleven senators are appointed by the prime minister, 4 by the parliamentary opposition leader, 1 by the Barbuda Council, and 1 by the governor-general.
In 1994, Vere Bird stepped down as prime minister in favor of his son Lester. In the run-up to the 1994 election, three opposition parties united to form the UPP, which campaigned on a social-democratic platform emphasizing rule of law and good governance. Parliamentary seats held by the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) fell from 15 in 1989 to 11, while the number of the UPP rose from 1 to 5. After assuming office, Lester Bird promised a less corrupt, more efficient government. Yet the government continued to be dogged by scandals and in 1995, the prime minister's brother, Ivor, received only a fine after having been convicted of cocaine smuggling. In the March 1999 elections, the ALP won 12 parliamentary seats and the UPP 4, providing Bird with a strong vote of confidence for policies that have made the nation one of the region's most prosperous.
The constitution provides for democratic changes in government. Political parties, labor unions, and civic organizations can organize freely. However, the ruling party's monopoly on patronage makes it difficult for opposition parties to attract membership and financial support. The government has been planning to reform the electoral system by establishing an Independent Electoral Commission to review electoral law and redraw constituency boundaries, create a new voter registry, and introduce voter identification cards; however, the relevant legislation has not yet been introduced.
The government introduced anticorruption and integrity legislation in parliament in October 2002. If the bills are approved, public officials would be required to make an annual declaration of assets, with failure to comply becoming a punishable offence. The Integrity in Public Life Act 2002 and the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002, which are being submitted as part of Organization of American States and United Nations anticorruption treaties signed by the country, will help establish provisions for regulating and guaranteeing good governance. The administration and enforcement of the acts would fall to an independent commission. The legislation also aims to define corruption.
The country's legal system is based on English common law. The ruling party has manipulated the nominally independent judicial system, which has been powerless to address corruption in the executive branch. The islands' security forces are composed of the police and the small Antigua and Barbuda Defense Forces. The police generally respect human rights; basic police-reporting statistics, however, are confidential. The country's prison is in primitive condition and has been criticized for the abuse of inmates, though visits are permitted by independent human rights groups.
The ALP government and the Bird family continue to control television, cable, and radio outlets. The prime minister filed a $3 million lawsuit against the Observer media group and opposition leader Baldwin Spencer for "libelous fabrications" in conjunction with the drug and sex offense accusations made against him and members of the government. Opposition parties complain of receiving limited coverage from, and having little opportunity to present their views on, the government-controlled electronic media. The Declaration of Chapultepec on press freedoms was signed in September 2002. Freedom of religion is respected.
Social discrimination and violence against women are problems. The governmental Directorate of Women's Affairs has sought to increase awareness of women's legal rights. Child abuse is also a problem, and despite numerous statements, the government has done little to protect children's rights in practice.
A resolution to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention Concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value was presented to Parliament in late 2002. The Industrial Court mediates labor disputes, but public sector unions tend to be under the sway of the ruling party. Demonstrators are occasionally subject to police harassment.