Freedom in the World
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Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2006, the Dominica Labor Party of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit remained the country’s dominant political force while opposition parties experienced leadership shake-ups. The growing tourism and construction industries fueled an economic expansion that reversed recent trends of decline.
Dominica has been internally self-governing since 1967 and became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1978, when it achieved independence from Britain. The centrist Dominica Labour Party (DLP) swept to victory for the first time in 20 years in the January 2000 parliamentary elections, winning 10 of the 21 elected seats and forming a coalition with the right-wing Dominica Freedom Party (DFP). DLP leader Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas was named prime minister, but died of a heart attack in October 2000. Douglas was replaced by Pierre Charles, his communications and works minister. On January 6, 2004, Charles, 49, collapsed and died of heart failure. He was succeeded by Roosevelt Skerrit, also of the DLP, who had been serving as education and youth affairs minister.
Skerrit’s government inherited tremendous financial troubles, compounded by a loss of his party’s popular support due to the implementation of austerity measures; increased global competition hit the agriculturally based economy especially hard and the imposition of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) stabilization and adjustment program proved highly unpopular. The program obliged the government to reduce its workforce of more than 4,000 people, and remaining employees faced an overall 5 percent cut in wages. In addition, the population as a whole was affected by an increase in the sales tax, from 3 percent to 7.5 percent. Despite those difficulties, in April 2004, the DLP won a by-election by a landslide, confirming public support for the government. In addition, on April 10, China promised $122 million in aid in return for Dominica’s revocation of its recognition of Taiwan.
Skerrit and the DLP handily triumphed in the 2005 elections, winning 12 Parliament seats; the results ensured a DLP majority even without the support of the DFP. Former Prime Minister Edison James, leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), initially accepted his second successive electoral defeat, but later claimed that five of the DLP seats were obtained through fraud. Other political parties attempted to reposition themselves to become more competitive. In 2006, members of the DFP demanded and won the resignation of their leader, Charles Savarin. In addition, the former leader of the DLP, Dr. William “Para” Riviere, announced the formation of a new party, the People’s Democratic Movement, which would plan to compete in the 2010 general elections.
In 2006, Dominica deepened its ties with Venezuela by signing an accord to receive 1,000 barrels per day of discounted oil shipments, part of a regional oil pact known as PetroCaribe. The island also strengthened its bilateral trade with China, which rose to more than $45 million by August, an increase by one-third over the same period in 2005. Meanwhile, Dominica’s economy experienced a construction and tourism boom that offset the recent downturn in the agricultural sector.
Dominica is an electoral democracy. The government is headed by a prime minister, and the unicameral House of Assembly consists of 30 members serving five-year terms. Twenty-one members are elected, and nine senators are appointed—five by the prime minister and four by the opposition leader. The president is elected by the House of Assembly for a five-year term; the prime minister is appointed by the president. Currently, President Nicholas Liverpool serves as chief of state, while Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit manages the daily affairs of the government.
The three major political parties are the DLP, which is currently in power; the UWP; and the once-robust DFP, which ruled from 1980 to 1995, but no longer has a seat in Parliament and voted to remove its leader in 2006.
According to the 2006 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, corruption is a moderate problem in Dominica. It was ranked 53 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index. In June 2006, the government created a national policy on crime prevention and control in order to help maintain the country’s position as a low-crime island.
The press is free, and there is no censorship or government intrusion. Four private newspapers and an equal number of political party journals publish without interference. Although the main radio station is state owned, there is also an independent station. Citizens have unimpeded access to cable television and regional radio broadcasts, as well as to the internet.
Freedom of religion is recognized. While a majority of the population is Roman Catholic, some Protestant churches have been established. Academic freedom is respected.
Advocacy groups are free to operate and include the Association of Disabled People, the Dominican National Council of Women, and a women and children’s self-help organization. Workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. Though unions are independent of the government and laws prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers, less than 10 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law is enhanced by the courts’ subordination to the interisland Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. However, the judicial system is understaffed, leading to a large backlog of cases. The only prison on Dominica, Stock Farm Prison in Roseau, is overcrowded and has sanitation problems. It has a capacity of less than 200 inmates, but the population swelled to 316 by March 2006, delaying efforts to create separate housing for juvenile offenders. In the fall of 2005, the government had announced plans to build a separate youth detention center, with expanded treatment for drug addiction and mental illness among convicted minors. Prison visits by independent human rights monitors are permitted. In September 2005, police and prison officials stopped an attempted jailbreak at Stock Farm Prison, but four inmates escaped. In May 2006, Dominica signed a prisoner transfer agreement with Britain that would allow convicted criminals to serve out their sentences in their countries of origin.
The Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force (CDPF) became responsible for security after the Dominica Defense Force (DDF) was disbanded in 1981. The DDF had been implicated in an attempted coup by supporters of former prime minister Patrick John, who was convicted in 1986 for his role and given a 12-year prison sentence. He was released by executive order in 1990, became active in the trade union movement, and lost as a DLP candidate in the 1995 election.
Occasional instances of excessive use of force by police are among the few reported human rights complaints. In 1997, the commissioner and deputy commissioner of police were forced to retire as a result of recommendations by a commission of inquiry that investigated allegations of mismanagement, corruption, and police brutality. Under new leadership, the police created the Internal Affairs Department late that year to investigate public complaints against the police and to provide officers with counseling. There were continuing allegations of corruption relating to document falsification. Narcotics traffickers use the country as a transshipment point.
There is little open discrimination against women, but domestic violence cases remain routine. The Protection against Domestic Violence Act allows abused persons, usually women, to appear before a judge and request a protective order without seeking legal counsel. There are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work for men and women in private sector jobs. Inheritance laws do not fully recognize women’s rights. When a husband dies without a will, the wife cannot inherit their property, though she may continue to inhabit their home.