Dominica | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2010

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Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of the Dominica Labour Party was elected to a second five-year term in December 2009; his party received 60 percent of the vote and 18 of 21 seats in parliament. Still, strong outcry from the opposition over alleged government corruption and electoral fraud undermined the prime minister’s chances of ending the political polarization that plagued his last term.

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, and formed 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’s replacement, Pierre Charles, died of heart failure in January 2004, and was succeeded by Roosevelt Skerrit, also of the DLP.
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.
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. Meanwhile, the DFP struggled to remain relevant and was not represented in the parliament.
In May 2009, Skerrit was forced to contend with the so-called “rubbish bin scandal,” which exploded into a national controversy when opposition UWP spokesman Edison James accused the government of importing 2,700 garbage bins from Pennsylvania at an unusually high cost of $102.19 per bin, more than four times their average retail price. Skerrit attempted to deflect opposition claims that the high price reflected government corruption and lack of transparency, but then failed to deliver a promised refund. The incident dealt a significant blow to Skerrit’s public image in the run-up to December elections.

In December, Skerrit and his DLP won both the popular vote (with 60 percent) and the majority of seats in the House of Assembly (18 of 21). Elections were deemed free and fair by observer teams from both the Organization of American States and a CARICOM mission, despite objections from opposition leaders. News agencies reported that the DLP had spent over $8 million on its campaign, and opposition candidates claimed that some of this money was spent on airline tickets for DLP supporters living abroad to return to the island to vote. Despite these allegations and others involving unfair access to television advertising, the reelection of Skerrit has been recognized worldwide.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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 34 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 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 2008, the government launched an official website designed to increase government transparency, although its impact to date has been limited.   
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 assert that the law infringes on their rights. The indigenous Kalinago population numbers less than 3,000 and has repeatedly complained of racial discrimination in Dominican law and practice. In 2009, Rastafarians claimed that members of their religion were discriminated against in hiring practices, and suggested that the nationwide ban on marijuana limited their religious expression. Academic freedom is respected.
The authorities uphold freedoms of assembly and association, and advocacy groups operate freely. Workers have the right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. Although unions are independent of the government and laws prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers, only 13 percent of the workforce is unionized.
The judiciary is independent, and the rule of law is enhanced by the courts’ subordination to the inter-island Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. In 2009, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit officially confirmed his government’s intention to accept the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal instead of the Privy Council in London, but was unable to finalize the decision by year’s end. The judicial system operated smoothly over the year, and its efficient handling of cases compared favorably with other islands in the region. However, staffing shortfalls in the judicial system remain a problem.  
The island’s only prison is overcrowded and has sanitation problems. In 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 Dominica police force became responsible for security after the military was disbanded in 1981, and operates professionally with few human rights complaints. Dominica in 2009 signed a deal with U.S. authorities to collaborate on eTrace, a paperless firearm tracking system designed to fight weapons trafficking and illegal gun possession in the Caribbean. While the homicide rate increased slightly in 2009, it remained one of the lowest in the region.
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.