Freedom in the World
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In 2005, the small island country of Barbados struggled to contain drug-related crime and sought to reinvigorate the use of the death penalty, which is legal, although an execution has not been administered since 1984. Despite these difficulties, a UN Development Program study ranked Barbados the top country in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of human development. A March riot in the country's largest prison highlighted growing security problems in this otherwise well-governed country.
Barbados gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966 and is a member of the Commonwealth. In the 1994 legislative elections, the governing Barbados Labor Party (BLP) won 19 seats; the opposition Democratic Labor Party (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 of 28 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, which was strengthened under the uncontested leadership of Clyde Mascoll, claimed the remaining 7 seats in the expanded 30-seat parliament. In June 2003, the Public Accounts Committee's independent oversight of government accounts was enhanced, which gave 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. The dispute arose out of the 1990 Maritime Delimitation Treaty that Trinidad and Tobago signed with Venezuela. Barbados has decided to submit the issue to binding arbitration by the United Nations. In October 2005, the two countries began arguments in their maritime dispute case before the nongovernmental Arbitration Tribunal of the International Dispute Resolution Center in London, although the government of Trinidad and Tobago has questioned whether this forum has the authority to decide the matter.
Barbados has suffered from an increase in crime experienced by much of the Caribbean region. Joint patrols of the Royal Barbados Police Force and the all-vol-unteer 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; during a two-month period in the summer of 2005, Barbadian law enforcement seized more than US$6 million in drugs. The country is also struggling to control its burgeoning prison population. In March, a prison riot, in which the island's largest penitentiary was set on fire, lasted for three days. The Barbadian government called on 120 security personnel from its Caribbean neighbors to help restore order and evacuate the aging, badly overcrowded prison.
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.
Political parties are free to organize. Historically, power has alternated between two centrist parties-the DLP and the BLP. In addition to the parties holding parliamentary seats, other political organizations include the small, left-wing Worker's Party of Barbados.
Barbados was ranked 24 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 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, including the two major dailies, are privately owned. 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, which is widely respected for mainstream religious practices. In April, members of Barbados' small Rastafarian community complained that a new measure allowing prison authorities to cut the hair of high-risk prisoners infringed upon their religious custom of wearing long hair in dreadlocks. Prison authorities overruled this complaint, citing the need for stricter security precautions following the March prison riot. Academic freedom is fully respected.
The right to organize civic organizations and labor unions is respected. Two major labor unions, as well as 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 housed in a building built for 350. However, separate facilities are provided for female prisoners and children, and 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 68 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 would allow 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 has disbanded because of a lack of funds. Meanwhile, with the support of political parties, juries are getting tough on crime by sentencing violent criminals to death, although an execution has not been administered in more than two decades. In an effort to restore the death penalty against two convicts who had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment by the Barbados High Court, the government appealed the case to the newly formed regional Caribbean Court of Justice, which Barbados has ratified as its highest appellate court. Barbados is also considering judicial reform that would reduce overcrowding by keeping courts open longer to hear more cases per year.
Barbados has refused to sign a bilateral agreement granting U.S. military personnel immunity 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. In July 2005, dozens of Guyanese were denied entry to Barbados, which prompted claims of discrimination and a government inquiry.
Women make up roughly half of the workforce. A domestic violence law passed in 1992 gives police and judges greater power to protect women. Violence against and abuse of women and children continue to be serious social concerns. The 2005 UN Human Development Report gave Barbados the 30th highest ranking in the world for economic and social development, which was the best score in Latin America and the Caribbean.