Freedom in the World
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St. Kitts and Nevis
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In midyear, the United States and the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force removed the twin-island federation from the list of jurisdictions that were uncooperative in the fight against money laundering and other financial crimes. In late October the government of Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of the St. Kitts Labor Party (SKLP) submitted the Organized Crime (Prevention and Control) Bill along with the AntiTerrorism Bill of 2002. While the latter will bring the federation in compliance with international agreements, the former is a response to increased crime and lawlessness and provides measures to prevent organized crime, address obstruction of justice, prevent corruption, and establish a Criminals Recovery Fund. Some tension continues to emerge over the role of Nevis in the federation, with sporadic calls for independence being heard. In response, Prime Minister Douglas has indicated an interest in providing greater autonomy for Nevis. The government noted that quality-of-life indicators were steady or showing improvement over the course of the year.
The St. Kitts and Nevis national government is composed of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the bicameral National Assembly. Elected assembly members, eight from St. Kitts and three from Nevis, serve five-year terms. Senators, not to exceed two-thirds of the elected members, are appointed, one by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two by the prime minister. Nevis has a local assembly, composed of five elected and three appointed members, and pays for all of its own services except for those involving police and foreign relations. St. Kitts has no similar body. Nevis is accorded the constitutional right to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators approve and two-thirds of voters endorse, secession through a referendum.
Going into the March 6, 2000, elections, Douglas was able to tout his government's efforts at promoting resort construction in St. Kitts, combating crime, and raising public employees' salaries. The SKLP's critics claimed that the country had accumulated $192 million in debt and had failed to reinvigorate the islands' sugar economy. The SKLP won a stronger parliamentary majority in elections, taking all 8 seats on St. Kitts, out of the 11-member National Assembly. Opposition leader Kennedy Simmonds's People's Action Movement (PAM), which hoped to oust the SKLP by winning the three seats in St. Kitts and forming a coalition with the winners of seats in Nevis, instead lost its only seat on the island to the SKLP, which had previously held seven seats.
Citizens are able to change their government democratically. The 2000 elections were free and fair. Constitutional guarantees regarding free expression, the free exercise of religion, and the right to organize political parties, labor unions, and civic organizations are generally respected. Nevertheless, drugs and money laundering have corrupted the political system.
The judiciary is generally independent. However, in March 1996 when an earlier drug and murder scandal came to trial, the public prosecutors office failed to send a representative to present the case. The charges were dropped, which raised suspicions of a government conspiracy. The highest court is the West Indies Supreme Court in St. Lucia, which includes a court of appeals and a high court. Under certain circumstances there is a right of appeal to the Privy Council in London.
The traditionally strong rule of law has been tested by the increase in drug-related crime and corruption. In 1995, it appeared that the police had become divided along political lines between the two main political parties. In June 1997, despite concerns of its cost to a country of some 40,000 people, parliament passed a bill designed to create a 50-member Special Services Unit, which receives light infantry training, to wage war on heavily armed drug traffickers. The intimidation of witnesses and jurors is a problem. The national prison is overcrowded, and conditions are abysmal. In July 1998, the government hung a convicted murderer, ending a 13-year hiatus in executions and defying pressure from Britain and human rights groups to end the death penalty.
A number of felons deported from the United States under the U.S. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 have helped to make local law enforcement agencies in the region feel overwhelmed. In St. Kitts, in 1998 the druglord Charles "Little Nut" Miller, threatened to kill U.S. students at St. Kitts's Ross University if he were extradited to the United States. A magistrate had twice blocked Miller's extradition, but it was approved by the high court after police stopped and searched his car, finding two firearms, ammunition, and a small amount of marijuana.
Television and radio on St. Kitts are government owned, although managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some governmental restrictions on opposition access to them. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas has pledged to privatize the St. Kitts media. Each major political party publishes a weekly or fortnightly newspaper. Opposition publications freely criticize the government, and international media are available. There is free access to the Internet. Academic freedom is generally honored.
The main labor union, the St. Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKLP. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice. Violence against women is a problem, and there is no domestic legislation prohibiting it. Reports suggest that the country's economic citizenship program, which allows for the purchase of passports through investments ranging from $200,000 to $285,000, has facilitated the illegal immigration of persons from China and other countries into the United States and Canada.