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 response to a legal challenge brought by the Concerned Citizens Movement, the High Court ruled in March 2012 that there were irregularities in the 2011 Nevis Island Assembly elections. The newly elected Nevis premier dissolved the Nevis parliament in November and called for general elections. Meanwhile, the national government took steps during the year to reform and modernize the criminal justice system and to address the country’s significant debt problem.
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 1995. In the 2000 elections, the SKNLP won all eight Saint Kitts seats in the National Assembly, shutting out the opposition People’s Action Movement (PAM). In the 2004 elections, the SKNLP captured seven Saint Kitts seats, and the PAM took one seat. The pro-independence Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) retained two of Nevis’s three parliamentary seats, while the third went to the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP).
The January 2010 parliamentary elections were the first to take place under a new electoral law. International monitors found the elections to be generally free and fair, but noted the need for the electoral law to address several important issues, including campaign finance, media access, and civil society participation. Douglas won a fourth term as prime minister, as the SKNLP won six seats, and the PAM gained an additional Saint Kitts seat for a total of two. The CCM and NRP retained two and one Nevis seats, respectively.
In July 2011 elections for the Nevis Island Assembly (NIA), the NRP captured three seats and the CCM took two seats. However, the CCM challenged the results of the St. Johns seat, which they lost by only 14 votes, and accused the NRP of unlawfully disenfranchising more than 200 voters by removing them from the voter list prior to the election. In March 2012, the High Court declared the July 2011 election results for the St. Johns seat to be null and void; this decision was upheld by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Court of Appeal in August. The NIA was dissolved on November 8 in preparation for what the premier of Nevis determined would be new general elections, instead of a by-election.
The Douglas administration continued to focus on economic development, the reduction of public debt, and crime prevention in 2012. St. Kitts and Nevis has one of the highest debt-to-gross domestic product ratios (154 percent) in the world. In addition to tourism and offshore financial services, the government has promoted economic citizenship programs—attracting foreign direct investment in exchange for passports. The U.S. State Department has criticized this program as being ineffectively regulated, which may increase the risk of money laundering.
Saint Kitts and Nevis is an electoral democracy. 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. The governor-general appoints three senators and the attorney general under the advice of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.
The NIA 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, but a referendum on secession held in 1998 failed to gain the required approval of two-thirds of the electorate. Nevisians continue to express discontent over the central government’s neglect of the island.
Saint Kitts and Nevis has generally implemented its anticorruption laws effectively, though government officials are not required to disclose financial assets, and there is no freedom of information legislation. A Financial Intelligence Unit investigates financial crimes, such as money laundering and the financing of terrorism, but there is no independent body to address allegations of governmental corruption.
Constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression are generally respected. The prime minister voiced his support for Freedom of Information legislation in 2012, but a bill had yet to pass at year’s end. The government owns the sole local television station, to which the opposition faces some restrictions on access. In addition to both government and private radio stations, there is one privately owned daily newspaper, and political parties publish weekly newspapers. Internet access is not restricted.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected, and academic freedom is generally honored.
The right to form civic organizations is generally respected, as is freedom of assembly. Workers may legally form unions, though a union can engage in collective bargaining only if more than 50 percent of the company’s employees are union members. The right to strike, while not specified by law, is recognized and generally respected in practice.
The judiciary is largely independent, and legal provisions for a fair and speedy trial are generally observed. The highest court is the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Saint Lucia, but under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice. Additionally, an appeal may be made to the Privy Council in London.
The islands’ traditionally strong rule of law continues to be tested by the prevalence of drug-related crime and corruption. The government took steps to reform and modernize the criminal justice system in 2012 by introducing a number of bills to improve the jury system, initiate the use of DNA testing, revise legislation relating to sexual offenses, and codify the criminal law. The attorney general also announced plans to create a Criminal Division Court within the High Court. The national prison, however, remains severely overcrowded.
While domestic violence is criminalized, violence against women remains a serious problem. Only one woman serves in the National Assembly. Legal and social discrimination against sexual minorities persists; same-sex sexual conduct between men is criminalized with prison sentences of up to 10 years.