Barbados | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2005

2005 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In 2004, Barbados faced conflicts with Trinidad and Tobago over maritime borders and fishing rights, and this small island country continued to suffer from crime linked to narcotics trafficking throughout the Caribbean region.

Barbados gained its independence in 1966 and is a member of the British Commonwealth. By 1994, after a recession, the economy appeared to be improving, but unemployment still stood at nearly 25 percent. Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford's popularity suffered, and he was increasingly criticized for his authoritarian style of government. He lost a no-confidence vote in parliament when four backbenchers from the opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP) and one independent legislator who had quit the DLP joined nine Barbados Labor Party (BLP) legislators. David Thompson, the young finance minister, replaced Sandiford.

In the 1994 elections, the BLP won 19 seats; the DLP won 8 seats; and the New Democratic Party (NDP), a splinter of the DLP established in 1989, gained 1 seat. Prime Minister Owen Seymour Arthur, an economist elected in 1993 to head the BLP, promised to build "a modern, technologically dynamic economy," create jobs, and restore investor confidence. The BLP retained power in 1999 by winning 26 parliamentary seats, leaving Arthur firmly in control of the country.

In the May 23, 2003, elections, the BLP won 23 seats in the House of Assembly, ratifying Arthur's administration. Meanwhile, the DLP was strengthened under the uncontested leadership of Clyde Mascoll. In June, the Public Accounts Committee's independent oversight of government accounts was enhanced, giving the DLP the ability to better monitor official expenditures.

In 2004, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago became embroiled in a bitter struggle over their maritime boundary and associated fishing rights. Barbados has decided to submit the issue to binding arbitration by the United Nations. The dispute arose out of the 1990 Maritime Delimitation Treaty that Trinidad and Tobago singed with Venezuela.

Barbados has not escaped the increase in crime experienced by much of the Caribbean region. Joint patrols of the Royal Barbados Police Force and the all-volunteer Barbados Defence Force have been initiated to patrol the island as violent crimes, many linked to narcotics trafficking, have been on the rise. Narcotics seizures have increased and there is evidence that drug crime is better organized, primarily in the form of patronage, than in the past.

The Arthur government has made efforts to reduce dependence on tourism - a sector which was badly hurt after the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States - and sugar production through diversification into the financial and computer services industries.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Barbados can change their government democratically. The 30-member House of Assembly is elected for a five-year term; the governor-general appoints the 21 members of the Senate: 12 on the advice of the prime minister, 2 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and the remaining 7 at the discretion of the governor-general. The prime minister is the leader of the political party with a majority in the House. Power has alternated between two centrist parties - the DLP and the BLP. The May 2003 parliamentary elections were free and fair.

Political parties are free to organize. In addition to the parties holding parliamentary seats, there are other political organizations, including the small, left wing Workers' Party of Barbados.

Barbados was ranked 21 out of 146 countries surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of expression is fully respected. Public opinion expressed through the news media, which are free of censorship and government control, has a powerful influence on policy. Newspapers are privately owned, and there are two major dailies. Four private and two government radio stations operate. The single television station, operated by the government-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, presents a wide range of political viewpoints. There is free access to the Internet.

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Academic freedom is fully respected.

The right to organize civic organizations and labor unions is respected. There are two major labor unions and various smaller ones are active.

The judicial system is independent, and the Supreme Court includes a high court and a court of appeals. Lower-court officials are appointed on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission. The prison system is overcrowded and outdated, with more than 800 inmates held in a building built for 350. There are separate facilities for female prisoners and children. The government allows private groups to visit prisons. Although the authorities have made significant efforts to discharge prison personnel alleged to have beaten inmates, their prosecution has not made significant progress.

In October 2002, Attorney-General Mia Mottley announced that a National Commission on Law and Order would be established to reduce lawlessness. The Commission published a Plan on Justice, Peace and Security in June 2004 that included sixty-eight recommendations on constitutional support for social institutions, governance and civil society, cultural values, law enforcement, and criminal courts, among others. Mottley strongly voiced reservations about the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, claiming that it did not sufficiently regulate private sector corruption; Barbados signed the convention in April 2001, but has not yet ratified, accepted or acceded to it.

The high crime rate, fueled by an increase in drug abuse and narcotics trafficking, has given rise to human rights concerns. The number of murders has remained constant, and a constitutional change allows convicts to be hanged as soon as possible after their appeals are exhausted. There are occasional reports and complaints of excessive force used by the Royal Barbados Police Force to extract confessions, along with reports that police do not always seek warrants before searching homes. The Caribbean Human Rights Network was disbanded because of a lack of funds.

Barbados has refused to agree to the immunity of U.S. military personnel from proceedings in the International Criminal Court. The United States responded by suspending military education programs and military equipment sales. The impasse has dampened efforts to control drug trafficking in the region. Barbados is likely to continue to remain a strong supporter of Trinidad and Tobago, whose former president helped to set up the court.

Women make up roughly half of the workforce. A domestic violence law was passed in 1992 to give police and judges greater power to protect women. Violence against and abuse of women and children continue to be major social problems.