Grenada | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2007

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Grenada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted its long-awaited report to Parliament in 2006, recommending new trials for the “Grenada 17,” who had been convicted for the 1983 assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Meanwhile, tensions between Prime Minister Keith Mitchell and the opposition National Democratic Congress party deepened over government investment practices and other issues.

Grenada, a Commonwealth member that gained independence from Britain in 1974, includes the islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Maurice Bishop’s Marxist New Jewel Movement seized power in 1979, creating a People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG). In 1983, Bishop was murdered by New Jewel hard-liners Bernard Coard and Hudson Austin, who took control of the country. However, a joint U.S.-Caribbean military intervention quickly removed the PRG and set the country on a path toward new elections. In 1986, Coard and 18 others were sentenced to death; subsequently, 2 of the 19 were pardoned, and the rest—who became known as the Grenada 17—had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has ruled Grenada since 1995, when his New National Party (NNP) won a bare majority of eight seats in the 15-seat House of Representatives. In January 1999, Mitchell called elections 18 months early after the resignation of Foreign Minister Raphael Fletcher left the NNP with a minority of seven seats. Voters then awarded the ruling party a clean sweep of all 15 seats.

In the run-up to the November 2003 elections, the Mitchell government was accused of garnering voter support by giving public workers retroactive payments. The opposition also reported discrepancies in voter lists. Nevertheless, the elections were deemed to be generally free and fair. The NNP captured eight seats, while the National Democratic Congress (NDC), headed by Tillman Thomas, won seven seats.

Relations between the Mitchell government and the parliamentary opposition remained contentious in 2006, with frequent allegations of wrongdoing. An inquiry continued into accusations that Mitchell had accepted US$500,000 from German-born Eric E. Resteiner in exchange for Resteiner’s appointment as trade counselor for Grenada in 1999. Mitchell maintained that the money had been approved by the cabinet and was for legitimate expenses related to trade promotion. In February 2005, Grenadian authorities had begun investigations into the possibility of fraud in the Agricultural Emergency Rehabilitation Program after farmers complained that they had not received payments. The NDC in January 2006 threatened mass protests and accused the ruling party of attempting to prevent its elected members from assuming their seats in Parliament, but the lawmakers later took up their posts without incident.

Separately, Grenada continued to struggle with the legacy of the 1983 coup. In March 2004, the Grenada high court found the sentences given to 14 members of the Grenada 17 to be unconstitutional. The government then appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and won a reversal of the lower court’s decision. In February 2006, the Mitchell government amended prison rules in an effort to prevent the early release of the Grenada 17, and in June, the Privy Council in London rejected a petition to release three of the prisoners. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission—which was formally inaugurated in September 2001 and has a mandate to investigate violence that occurred between the mid-1970s and the late 1980s—experienced delays and disputes that hampered its inquiry and stalled the release of its final report. In June 2006, the commission finally published its findings, which included a recommendation that the Grenada 17 receive new trials. Amnesty International in 2003 had designated the 17 as political prisoners after concluding that the original trial was unfair and that the prisoners’ subsequent appeals had been manipulated for political reasons.

In 2006, Grenada pressed ahead with its recovery from Hurricane Ivan, which struck the island in September 2004 and caused nearly $900 million in damage, more than twice the country’s annual gross domestic product. Agriculture and tourism were upended, and unemployment jumped to 20 percent. However, the country resumed a modest 5 percent growth rate in 2006, driven in part by new construction and other preparations for the 2007 World Cricket Cup.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Grenada is an electoral democracy. The 2003 parliamentary elections were considered generally free and fair, despite some allegations of voter-list manipulation. The bicameral Parliament consists of the directly elected, 15-seat House of Representatives, whose members serve five-year terms, and the 13-seat Senate, to which the prime minister appoints 10 senators and the opposition leader names 3. The prime minister is typically the leader of the majority party in the House of Representatives and is appointed by the governor general, who represents the British monarchy. Grenada’s main political parties are the ruling NNP, the opposition NDC, the Grenada United Labor Party (GULP), and the People’s Labor Movement (PLM).

Corruption remains a contentious political issue in Grenada, and the country compares unfavorably with several other island nations in the English-speaking Caribbean. Grenada was ranked 66 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The right to free expression is generally respected. The media, including three weekly newspapers and several other publications, are independent and freely criticize the government. However, in November 2005, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell sought to liquidate the assets of the newspaper Grenada Today after winning a substantial judgment in a libel suit that he brought after the paper published an article critical of his policies on investment in the country. Some activists feared that the case would have a chilling effect on freedom of the press. In addition to the print media, Grenada is home to a variety of broadcasters. A private corporation, with a minority stake owned by the government, operates the principal radio and television stations. There are also nine privately owned radio stations, one privately owned television station, and a privately owned cable company. Access to the internet is unrestricted.

Citizens of Grenada generally enjoy the free exercise of religious beliefs, and there are no official restrictions on academic freedom.

Constitutional guarantees regarding freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Grenada has a robust civil society that participates actively in domestic and international discussions, although limited resources hamper its effectiveness.

Workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Numerous independent labor unions represent an estimated 20 to 25 percent of the workforce. All unions belong to the Grenada Trades Union Council (GTUC). A 1993 law gave the government the right to establish tribunals empowered to make “binding and final” rulings when a labor dispute is considered to be of vital interest to the state; the GTUC claimed that the law was an infringement on the right to strike.

The authority of Grenada’s independent and prestigious judiciary is generally respected by the 782-member Royal Grenada Police Force. There are no military courts. In 1991, Grenada rejoined the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States court system, with the right of appeal to the Privy Council in London. In April 2005, the Caribbean Court of Justice was inaugurated in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, replacing the Privy Council. Detainees and defendants are guaranteed a range of legal rights, which the government respects in practice. However, a lack of judges and facilities has led to a backlog of six months to one year for cases involving serious offenses. In addition, the highly publicized case of the Grenada 17 has been repeatedly criticized for its perceived political manipulation by the government. Amnesty International has called for an independent judicial review of the convictions, having classified the 17 as political prisoners.

In June 2005, Mitchell released a report on the actions of the Royal Grenada Police Force in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Police officers were accused of looting and criticized for their inability to restore order; several top police officials were asked to resign. In April 2006, the government launched a nationwide crime-reduction initiative that included measures to prevent the abuse of power.

Grenada’s prison conditions are poor, but they meet minimum international standards and the government allows visits by human rights monitors. Hurricane Ivan caused severe damage to the country’s only prison, and a new facility is expected to remedy some of the shortcomings of the old one. Flogging is still legal but rarely used, primarily as a punishment for sex crimes and theft. In June 2006, the government opened a military-style delinquency camp for juveniles convicted of minor offenses.

Grenada has no significant problems involving discrimination against minorities. Women are represented in the government, though there are more in the ministries than in Parliament. Women generally earn less than men for equal work. Domestic violence against women is common, and most instances of abuse go unreported or are settled out of court.