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)
In 2008, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas restructured his cabinet following the resignation of a top minister. Saint Kitts and Nevis also suffered from a spike in crime and took steps during the year to strengthen anticorruption, antiterrorism, and antitrafficking laws.
Saint Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain in 1983 but remains a member of the Commonwealth. Denzil Douglas of the ruling Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) has been prime minister since July 1995. In 2002 elections, the SKNLP won a stronger parliamentary majority, taking all eight Saint Kitts seats in the National Assembly and shutting out the opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM).
Douglas called early elections for October 2004, and his SKNLP won seven Saint Kitts seats, while the opposition PAM took the eighth. The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), a pro-independence party that headed Nevis’s local government, kept two seats, while the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP), which also historically has favored secession from Saint Kitts, retained one. In July 2006, the NRP defeated the CCM in elections for Nevis’s local assembly, taking three of the five seats. The NRP’s Joseph Parry was subsequently named the island’s third premier.
In August 2008, the minister of national security, immigration, and labor resigned following rumors in the press about a dispute with the prime minister. After the impasse, Douglas restructured the ministerial portfolios, taking under his responsibility the ministries of national security, foreign affairs, immigration, sustainable development, tourism, sport and culture and putting his deputy in charge of education, youth affairs, labor, social security, and information and technology. The goal was to take greater control over these policy areas, in order to formulate a coordinated response to the problem of crime in the country. Meanwhile, Saint Kitts and Nevis reaffirmed its close ties with Taiwan in January by opening its first Embassy in Taipei.
On the economic front, authorities in April eliminated a 15 to 25.5 percent consumption tax on food staples to counter rising food prices. Also during the year, the government promised to review the country’s minimum wage, won a US$ 6.2 million loan from the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank to fund child-development projects through student loans, and committed EC$50 million (around US$19 million) for a housing program.
Saint Kitts and Nevis is an electoral democracy. The 2004 elections were free and fair. The federal government consists of the prime minister, the cabinet, and the unicameral National Assembly. A governor-general represents Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as ceremonial head of state. Elected National Assembly members—eight from Saint Kitts and three from Nevis—serve five-year terms. Senators are appointed to the body, and their number may not exceed two-thirds of the elected members, with 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 two main parties are the CCM, which had long been the majority party there, and the NRP, which won a majority of seats in the Nevis Island Assembly in July 2006. Nevis’s assembly is composed of five elected and three appointed members, and the local government pays for all of its own services except for those involving police and foreign relations. Saint Kitts has no similar body.
The constitution grants Nevis the option to secede if two-thirds of the elected legislators in Nevis’s local assembly and two-thirds of Nevisian referendum voters approve. Though a 1998 referendum on independence failed, Nevisians continued to feel neglected by the central government.
In an effort to create greater transparency in political party financing, a constitutional amendment was approvedin 2005, requiring the disclosure of all campaign donors whose gifts exceeded a certain threshold. While concerns persisted that drug trafficking and money laundering may undermine the effectiveness of the police force and taint the judicial process, Saint Kitts and Nevis has generally implemented its anticorruption laws effectively. In January 2008, the cabinet proposed the Integrity in Public Life Act, which would require political party candidates, members of parliament, ministers, and senior civil servants to declare their assets. In June and July, lawmakers passed anti-money laundering regulations as well as an antiterrorism amendment act, designed to shore up money laundering and counter financing components of antiterrorism legislation. Saint Kitts and Nevis was not surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Constitutional guarantees of free expression are generally respected. The sole local television station is government owned, although it is managed by a Trinidadian company, and there are some restrictions on opposition access to the medium. The government radio station was privatized in 1997. There are four radio stations and two newspapers; one of them publishes daily and the other one weekly. Foreign media are available, and internet access is not restricted.
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 freedom 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 for the most part independent, and legal provisions for a fair and speedy trial are generally observed. The death penalty is recognized; according to Amnesty International, in 2008, Saint Kitts and Nevis carried out the first death penalty in the Western Hemisphere outside of the United States since 2003. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Saint Lucia, but under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad. Additionally, an appeal may be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.
The islands’ traditionally strong rule of law has been tested by an increase in drug-related crime and corruption, and the intimidation of witnesses and jurors is a problem. In 2008, there were 23 murders in Saint Kitts and Nevis, up from 16 the previous year, pushing the per capita murder rate to 46 per 100,000—the highest of the eight countries in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. The national prison is overcrowded, and conditions are poor. The repatriation of felons from the United States has contributed to law enforcement agencies’ sense that they are being overwhelmed.
Reports suggest that the country’s economic citizenship program, which allows the purchase of passports through real-estate investments worth a minimum of US$250,000 and a registration fee of US$35,000,has facilitated illegal immigration from China and other countries into the United States and Canada. In January 2005, the government enacted new work-permit rules for foreign nationals, requiring that the jobs in question be advertised to current citizens.
Violence against women is a problem on the islands. The Domestic Violence Act of 2000 criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties for abusers. The Department of Gender Affairs has offered counseling for abuse victims and conducted training on domestic and gender-based violence. There are no laws against sexual harassment. More girls than boys are enrolled in primary and secondary education. Legislation passed in November 2008 increased the age of consent for sexual activity from 16 to 18. In August, the parliament passed a bill that will allow Saint Kitts and Nevis to meet international standards for preventing human trafficking and punishing those responsible.