Freedom in the World
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In 2006 Barbados remained the top country in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of human development. Crime was reduced to its lowest level in nearly two decades, although the overburdened penal system suffered from a backlog of cases. Prompted by frustration with the two-party system, the Clement Payne Movement established a new political party, the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP), as an opposition force favoring trade union rights and greater state intervention in the economy.
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 Labour Party (BLP) won 19 seats; the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) captured 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 had signed with Venezuela. Barbados 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 Centre for Dispute Resolution in London, and the case eventually went before the UN-supported Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague. The final verdict, delivered in April 2006, was seen as a victory for both parties, because it recognized the rights of Barbadian fisherman to fish in Trinidadian waters but rejected a claim by Barbados to exclusive maritime access.
On a separate note, Barbados decided not to join the Venezuela-backed regional energy pact known as PetroCaribe, which offered Caribbean countries a guarantee that they would receive Venezuelan oil on favorable terms of financing. The Barbadian government expressed concern that the ensuing debt would become unsustainable.
Barbados has been more successful than other Caribbean countries in combating violent crime; in 2006, Barbados’s crime rate remained at historically low levels. Joint patrols of the Royal Barbados Police Force and the all-volunteer Barbados Defence Force have been successful in containing the rise of violent crime, often linked to narcotics trafficking, which had begun to emerge as a major concern. The country had largely recovered from the fallout from a March 2005 prison riot, in which the island’s largest penitentiary was set on fire, that lasted for three days. The Barbadian government had called on 120 security personnel from its Caribbean neighbors to help restore order and evacuate the aging, badly overcrowded prison. A new facility, designed to house 1,250 inmates, was due to be completed by early 2007, slightly later than originally projected.
Barbados is an electoral democracy. 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. In 2006, the Clement Payne Movement established a new political party known as the People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) as an opposition force favoring trade union rights and greater state intervention in the economy. The party’s leader, David Comissiong, claimed that the current two-party system dominated by the DLP and BLP did not adequately address the full spectrum of the population’s needs. The PEP got off to an inauspicious start when its founding members clashed over the new party’s direction. The party, which lacks a constitution, regular meetings, or concrete committees, seems unlikely to be a durable force in Barbadian politics.
Barbados was ranked 24 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 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 2005, members of Barbados’s 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 2005 prison riot. Academic freedom is fully respected.
Barbados’ legal framework provides important guarantees for freedom of assembly, which is widely 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. 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 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. Barbados is considering judicial reform that would reduce overcrowding by keeping courts open longer to hear more cases per year. Implementation was stalled due to the lack of available judges. 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. Some recommendations, such as the retention of corporal punishment in schools, provoked fierce debate, but few new policies were established.
The country’s 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 over the last several years, and an execution has not been administered in more than two decades, but juries are getting tough on crime by sentencing violent criminals to death. Meanwhile, a constitutional change under discussion would allow convicts to be hanged as soon as possible after their appeals are exhausted. In an effort to restore the death penalty against two convicts who had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment by the Barbados High Court in 2002, in 2005 the government appealed the case to the newly formed regional Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which Barbados has ratified as its highest appellate court. In November 2006, the CCJ dismissed the government’s case and rejected efforts to impose the death penalty on the convicts.
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 into Barbados, which prompted claims of discrimination and a government inquiry. No formal measures have been taken and Guyanese migration to Barbados remained a source of tension in 2006.
The 2006 UN Human Development Report gave Barbados the 31st highest ranking in the world for economic and social development, which was the best score in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report measured life expectancy, educational attainment, per capita income, and other important indicators. Women comprise roughly half of the country’s 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.