Freedom in the World
St. Kitts and Nevis
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
St. Kitts and Nevis's civil liberties rating improved from 2 to 1 due to a consolidation of the rule of law.
In 2005, Saint Kitts took controversial steps to scale down involvement in the sugar industry in anticipation of changing global trade rules that threatened this sector. Opposition leaders responded by calling for public protests and demonstrations against the reforms. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's third consecutive term in office was complicated by efforts in Nevis to secede from Saint Kitts. Meanwhile, the country's traditionally strong rule of law continued to be consolidated during the year.
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 Saint 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 Saint Kitts and Nevis attained full independence on September 19, 1983.
In the run-up to the March 6, 2000, elections, incumbent Prime Minister Denzil Douglas was able to tout his government's efforts at promoting resort construction in Saint Kitts, combating crime, and raising public employees' salaries. Critics of the ruling Saint 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 eight seats on Saint 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 three seats in Saint 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 seven seats.
In 2002, the Financial Action Task Force removed the twin island federation from its list of jurisdictions that were "non-cooperative" in the fight against money laundering and other financial crimes.
Douglas called early elections for October 25, 2004, and his SKNLP won 7 seats, while the opposition PAM took the remaining seat on Saint Kitts. Douglas's call for early elections was seen as a 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 on to 1. In January 2005, the Saint Kitts and Nevis government accepted an offer from the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat to reform the country's electoral system.
Momentum began to gather in mid-2003 for Nevis to secede from Saint 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 Amory, whose party dominates the local assembly, declared that he would move toward a referendum on independence following his party's success in the October 2004 national elections. 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 continued 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. However, the issue is still pending without resolution.
In March 2005, Prime Minister Douglas announced that Saint Kitts and Nevis would cease to produce sugar for export. The islands' 300-year-old sugar industry was unprofitable for some years and faced even steeper losses from pending changes in Europe's sugar import regime. Some in the opposition PAM called on workers to take up machetes and march against the sugar industry closure, but sizable severance payments to former sugar laborers succeeded in mollifying many sugar reform opponents.
Citizens of Saint Kitts and Nevis can change their government democratically. The 2004 elections were generally deemed free and fair. The Saint Kitts and Nevis national government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. Elected Assembly members-eight from Saint Kitts and three from Nevis-serve five-year terms. Senators are appointed, and their number may not exceed two-thirds of the elected members-one chosen by the leader of the parliamentary opposition for every two chosen by the prime minister. Saint Kitts's main political parties are the SKNLP and the PAM. On Nevis, the CCM and the NRP dominate. 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. Saint Kitts has no similar body. The country is a member of the Commonwealth with a governor-general appointed by the Queen of England. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas's government has supported constitutional reform to ensure greater equity in representation, revise electoral boundaries, and improve voter registration procedures.
In an effort to ensure greater transparency in political party financing, a constitutional amendment was approved requiring the disclosure of all campaign donors whose gifts exceed a certain threshold. However, drug trafficking and money laundering have had a corrupting influence on the political system by undermining the effectiveness of the police force and tainting the judicial process. Saint Kitts and Nevis was not surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. Television on Saint Kitts is government owned, although it is managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some government restrictions on opposition access to it. Prime Minister 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 civic organizations and labor unions is generally respected, as is the right of assembly. The main labor union, the Saint Kitts Trades and Labour Union, is associated with the ruling SKNLP. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice.
The judiciary is generally independent, and legal provisions for a fair and speedy trial are generally observed. The highest court is the West Indies Supreme Court in Saint 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 islands' traditionally strong rule of law, which continued to be consolidated during the year, has been tested by an 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. 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 a feeling of being overwhelmed among local law enforcement agencies.
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. In January, the government enacted new work permits for foreign nationals mandating that their jobs must be advertised to current citizens. The move was seen as targeting the influx of Guyanese seeking work in Saint Kitts and Nevis.
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 against sexual harassment. More girls than boys have access to primary and secondary education. Two of seventeen members of parliament are women.