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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)
The most important development of 2004 was the continued impetus on the part of Nevis to secede from St. Kitts, after only 21 years of collective independence from the United Kingdom. National parliamentary elections in October returned Prime Minister Denzil Douglas to office for a third consecutive term.
European colonization of Nevis began in the seventeenth century with the arrival of English and French colonists. The English settled mostly on Nevis, while the French chose St. Kitts. Intermittent warfare led to changes in sovereignty, but the Treaty of Paris in 1783 awarded both islands to Britain. In 1967, together with Anguilla, they became a self-governing state in association with Great Britain; Anguilla seceded late that year and remains a British dependency. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19, 1983. St. Kitts has 31,000 inhabitants on 68 square miles, while Nevis has a population of 10,000 and an area of roughly 58 square miles.
Going into the March 6, 2000 elections, Prime Minister Douglas was able to tout his government's efforts at promoting resort construction in St. Kitts, combating crime, and raising public employees' salaries. Critics of the St. Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) claimed that the country had accumulated $192 million in debt and that the government had failed to reinvigorate the islands' sugar economy. The SKNLP 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 had hoped to oust the SKNLP by winning 3 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 SKNLP, which had previously held 7 seats.
In 2002, the 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.
Prime Minister Douglas called early elections for October 25, 2004 and his SKNLP won 7 seats, while the opposition PAM took the remaining seat on St. Kitts. Douglas's call for early elections was seen as an (successful) effort to ensure that he and the SKNLP would serve a third consecutive term in office. On Nevis, the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a major force behind Nevis's push for independence and led by the premier of the island's local assembly, Vance Amory, kept 2 seats, while the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) held onto 1.
Momentum began to gather in mid-2003 for Nevis to secede from St. Kitts, a process that cast a shadow over the twentieth anniversary of independence from Great Britain, which was celebrated on September 19 of that year. Nevis Premier Vance Amory, whose party dominates the local assembly, declared he would move toward a referendum on independence following his party's success in the October 2004 national elections, in which it consolidated its hold on two of Nevis's three seats to the National Assembly. Nevis is accorded the constitutional right to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators in its local assembly approve and two-thirds of Nevisian voters endorse secession in a referendum. Though a 1998 referendum on independence failed the required two-thirds majority, Nevisians continue to feel neglected. No Nevisian is a member of the governing cabinet, and the island is entitled to only 3 of 11 seats in the national legislature. There is little support for independence from the region or further afield.
Citizens are able to change their government democratically. The 2004 elections were generally deemed free and fair. The St. Kitts and Nevis national government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the 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 also 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. The country is a member of the Commonwealth with a governor general appointed by the Queen of England.
Drug trafficking and money laundering have corrupted the political system. St. Kitts and Nevis was not surveyed in the 2004 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. Television on St. Kitts is government owned, although managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some government restrictions on opposition access to it. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas has kept pledges to privatize radio, with the selling off of the government radio station. There are eight radio stations and two daily newspapers on the island. In addition, 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.
The free exercise of religion is constitutionally protected and academic freedom is generally honored.
The right to organize political parties, civic organizations, and labor unions is generally respected, as is the right of assembly. 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.
The judiciary is generally independent. 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. However, the traditionally strong rule of law has been tested by the increase in drug-related crime and corruption, and the intimidation of witnesses and jurors is a problem. The national prison is overcrowded, and conditions are abysmal. In July 1998, the government hanged a convicted murderer, ending a 13-year hiatus in executions and defying pressure from Britain and human rights groups to end the death penalty. The deportation of a number of felons from the United States under the U.S. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 has contributed to local law enforcement agencies in the region feeling overwhelmed.
Reports suggest that the country's economic citizenship program, which allows for the purchase of passports through real estate investments with a minimum of $250,000 and a registration fee of $35,000, has facilitated the illegal immigration of persons from China and other countries into the United States and Canada.
Violence against women is a problem. The Domestic Violence Act of 2000 criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties for abusers. The Department of Gender Affairs, a part of the Ministry for Social Development, Community, and Gender Affairs, has offered counseling for victims of abuse and conducted training on domestic and gender violence. There are no laws for sexual harassment.