Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The Dominica Labour Party (DLP) of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit governed competently in 2008, while the opposition United Workers Party attempted to recover from the disarray that followed the July resignation of party leader Earl Williams.
Dominica gained independence from Britain in 1978. 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. He was replaced by Pierre Charles, his communications and works minister. In January 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 and lost public support as it implemented austerity measures. Increased global competition hit the agriculturally based economy especially hard, and the imposition of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) stabilization and adjustmentprogramproved highly unpopular. Despite those difficulties, the DLP confirmed its mandate by easily winning an April 2004 by-election. Also that month, China promised $122 million in aid in return for Dominica’s revocation of its recognition of Taiwan.
Skerrit and the DLP secured 12 seats in the 2005 elections, ensuring a majority even without the support of the DFP. Former prime minister Edison James, leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), initially accepted the results but later claimed that five of the DLP seats were obtained through fraud. In 2007, he resigned as opposition leader and was replaced by Earl Williams, an attorney and UWP stalwart. However, Williams resigned in July 2008 amid credible allegations of financial wrongdoing. UWP deputy leader Ronald Green filled the leadership vacuum in August. Meanwhile, the DFP struggled to remain relevant and was not represented in the parliament.
In 2008, the IMF praised Dominica’s sound economic policies as a necessary bulwark against the expected global slowdown. In January, Dominica became the first country of the English-speaking Caribbean to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the leftist regional bloc led by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
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.
The three main political parties are the ruling DLP, the opposition UWP, and the once-robust DFP, which ruled from 1980 to 1995 but no longer has a seat in the parliament.
Dominica was ranked 33 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
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. In May 2008, press freedom groups criticized stricter broadcasting regulations proposed by the government and called for the passage of a freedom of information law. In August 2008, the government launched an official website designed to increase government transparency.
Freedom of religion is recognized. While a majority of the population is Roman Catholic, some Protestant churches have been established. Certain religious and cultural minorities feel that the law infringes on their rights. In 2007, Rastafarians demanded the repeal of a 1974 measure that outlaws their religion, and the Kalinago indigenous tribe called for the legalization of polygamy, saying it was part of their culture. Academic freedom is respected.
The authorities uphold freedoms of assembly and association, and advocacy groups operate freely. Throughout 2008, the political opposition mobilized occasional anticorruption protests in response to the government’s perceived failings. Workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. Although 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. In 2008, Dominica postponed a decision on whether to accept the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal instead of the Privy Council in London. The judicial system operated smoothly over the year, and its efficient handling of cases compared favorably with other islands in the region. Understaffing continues to lead to a large backlog of cases, however.
The island’s only prison is overcrowded and has sanitation problems. In the fall of 2005, the government announced plans to build a separate youth detention center, but the project has not yet been completed. Dominica in 2006 signed a prisoner transfer agreement with Britain that would allow convicted criminals to serve out their sentences in their countries of origin.
The police force became responsible for security after the military was disbanded in 1981. In 2008, Dominica continued to work with its neighbors to strengthen the police and build on the previous year’s national anticrime policy, aiming to maintain the country’s low-crime status. Despite these efforts, eight homicides were reported in 2008, an increase over the three homicides reported during the previous year. In the late 1990s, the police created the Internal Affairs Department to investigate public complaints against the police and provide officers with counseling. The force operated professionally in 2008, and there were few human rights complaints.
Steady economic growth has been managed in an equitable fashion, making Dominica less prone to the extreme variations of wealth that exist elsewhere in the Caribbean. In May 2008, the labor minister announced an increase in the minimum wage, the first of its kind in 20 years.
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, and 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.