Freedom in the World
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Antigua and Barbuda
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Tensions between the ruling United Progressive Party (UPP) and the opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) continued to build throughout 2013 as Antigua and Barbuda prepared for general elections scheduled for March 2014. The ALP accused the UPP of engaging in unlawful acts to influence the elections, and challenged the constitutionality of numerous government initiatives before the High Court, including the alleged gerrymandering of boundaries, de-registration of voters, and unconstitutional amendments to the law governing the Electoral Commission.
On January 28, 2013, the World Trade Organization granted Antigua authorization to circumvent U.S. intellectual property laws in order to recoup lost revenue by selling up to US$21 million in online music, movies, games, and software without having to pay copyright fees as the result of a long-standing trade dispute with the United States over Antigua’s online gambling sites. The remote gaming industry had been Antigua’s second largest employer until the United States prohibited its citizens from accessing Antigua’s gambling sites.
Political Rights: 31 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12
The 1981 constitution establishes a parliamentary system, with a governor general representing the British monarch as ceremonial head of state. The bicameral Parliament is composed of the 17-seat House of Representatives (16 seats for Antigua, 1 for Barbuda), to which members are elected for five-year terms, and an appointed 17-seat Senate. Antigua and Barbuda’s prime minister is typically the leader of the majority party or coalition that emerges from the legislative elections.
In the 2004 elections, the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), led by Baldwin Spencer, defeated Prime Minister Lester Bird and the ruling Antigua Labour Party (ALP). The 2009 parliamentary elections returned Spencer and the UPP to power with 9 seats in the 17-seat lower house; the ALP took 7 seats, while the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) retained the single seat representing Barbuda. While the elections were deemed fair and competitive by the Organization of American States, a March 2010 High Court ruling invalidated the election of Spencer and others due to electoral irregularities. The Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeals, however, overturned the verdict in October 2010.
In May 2013, the Eastern Caribbean Court declared null and void amendments made by Prime Minister Spencer in December 2011 to the Representation of the People Act; the amendments had altered the procedures and composition of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) and removed power from the Supervisor of Elections. The ALP had challenged the amendments as unconstitutional in 2012. In August, the UPP-led government passed new legislation to reinstate the changes, though a November decision by the High Court declared the amendments unconstitutional.
In December 2013, the High Court ruled that proposed changes to 15 electoral boundaries in advance of the 2014 elections were constitutional and permissible. The changes had been challenged by the ALP, which denounced them as gerrymandering and an attempt to engineer an electoral victory for the UPP.
The ALP also challenged the constitutionality of 2010 amendments to the nation’s electoral laws that would have required voters to re-register for the 2014 elections. Re-registration began in September, and was fraught with obstacles, including power outages, long lines, and computer failures, and needed to be extended for a fifth week.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 13 / 16
Political parties can organize freely and there is a significant opposition vote and representation in the government. The victory of Baldwin Spencer and the UPP in 2004 marked the end of a political dynasty led by the Bird family that lasted over half a century. In November 2012 party elections, Lester Bird lost his position as ALP leader to Gaston Browne, representing the first time in 66 years that the party will not be led by a member of the Bird family.
C. Functioning of Government: 7 / 12
On February 13, 2013, four government-appointed senators voted with the opposition to defeat the Spencer administration’s plan to implement its Citizenship by Investment Program. Two of the senators were dismissed for not supporting the policies of their own party, a move Spencer defended as being in accordance with the Westminster system of parliamentary governance. The other two senators offered to resign, though Spencer ultimately allowed them to retain their positions. The Citizenship by Investment Program, which allows investors to directly acquire citizenship and passports by donating money to a charity or by purchasing real estate, became law on April 11.
Antigua continued throughout 2013 to refuse to comply with the United States’ request for the extradition of American investor R. Allen Stanford, who was convicted of fraud by a U.S. court in 2012. Stanford had been sentenced to 110 years in prison for running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme in which clients were encouraged to invest in certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank of Antigua with false promises of security and high returns. In February 2013, a group of defrauded investors sued the government of Antigua and Barbuda, claiming that top officials were aware of Stanford’s scheme and benefited from it. While the government has since taken steps to reform the country’s financial regulatory environment, no Antiguan officials connected to the Stanford case have been brought to trial. Leroy King, former chief executive of Antigua’s Financial Services Regulatory Commission (FSRC), faces multiple charges in the United States of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering related to his alleged involvement in Stanford’s scheme.
Civil Liberties: 49 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16
Antigua and Barbuda generally respects freedom of the press. However, defamation remains a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison, and politicians often file libel suits against opposing party members. Prime Minister Spencer committed to repealing defamation and libel laws in April 2013, and the attorney general announced in November that a bill to decriminalize the practices might be introduced in early 2014.
On March 3, 2013, a journalist for the online news website Caribarena was reportedly shot at after covering a West Indies cricket match. The website’s management reported receiving verbal threats several days earlier, allegedly by an unidentified ALP official, related to the website’s ongoing investigation of a government agreement with a Japanese debt settlement company. A series of alleged cyberattacks shut down the website in July, and the editors fled the country following harassment of their families and the vandalization of their homes. Media outlets are concentrated among a small number of firms affiliated with either the current government or its predecessor. There are no restrictions on access to the internet.
The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 9 / 12
Freedom of association and assembly are guaranteed under the Constitution, and the government generally respects these rights in practice. Nongovernmental organizations are active but inadequately funded and often influenced by the government. Demonstrators are occasionally subject to police harassment. Labor unions can organize freely and bargain collectively. The Industrial Court mediates labor disputes.
F. Rule of Law: 13 / 16
The country’s legal system is based on English common law. In recent years, the Antiguan courts have increasingly asserted independence through controversial decisions against the government.
Crime continues to be a problem. The government has responded with increased community policing, the reintroduction of roadblocks, and stiffer fines for firearms violations. An increase in gun-related crimes and the shooting death of a woman at her workplace in February 2013 prompted the Minister of National Security to announce government plans to begin to actively enforce the death penalty for the first time since 1991. The country’s prison is at 247 percent occupancy, and conditions are very poor. The abuse of inmates has been reported, though visits by independent human rights groups are permitted. The government issued a call for proposals for the design and construction of a new prison in May 2013, and was reviewing proposals at year’s end.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16
The 2005 Equal Opportunity Act bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, political affinity, or place of origin. However, societal discrimination and violence against women remain problems. Women hold only 10 percent of the elected seats of the House of Representatives. Same-sex sexual activity remains criminalized under a 1995 law, and there have been cases of excessive force and discrimination of people based on sexual orientation at the hands of the police. Antigua and Barbuda serves as both a destination and transit country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for the purposes of forced labor and prostitution.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year