Freedom in the World
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St. Kitts and Nevis
Freedom in the World Scores
St. Kitts and Nevis is one of the world’s smallest parliamentary democracies. The islands have a history of competitive and credible elections, and civil liberties are generally upheld. There are some concerns about government corruption and transparency, particularly in regard to the Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP). Authorities in recent years have struggled to address a rising crime rate.
Key Developments in 2017:
- Former Jamaica Defense Force head Stuart Saunders was controversially appointed as the country’s new national security adviser in July. Saunders had faced severe criticism for his actions during a 2010 police operation in Jamaica to capture a drug lord, which had left 74 people dead.
- In a March report, the US State Department noted that despite government efforts to improve safeguards for the country’s Citizenship by Investment Program (CIP), it was still characterized by “significant deficiencies in vetting candidates.”
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 36 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 10 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 4 / 4
The prime minister, usually the leader of the largest party in parliament, is head of government. They are normally appointed after legislative elections by the governor general, who represents the British monarch as head of state. The prime minister and governor general have historically been installed according to the country’s laws.
After the 2015 elections, Timothy Harris, leader of Team Unity—an umbrella organization of the two main opposition parties, the People’s Action Movement (PAM) and the People’s Labor Party (PLP) in St. Kitts, and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM) in Nevis—was appointed prime minister.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
There are 14 seats in the unicameral National Assembly—8 for representatives from Saint Kitts, 3 from Nevis, and 3 appointed by the governor general; all serve five-year terms. Team Unity won the 2015 parliamentary election, taking 7 of the 11 directly elected seats and unseating the Labor Party (SKNLP), which had been in government for two decades. The vote took place peacefully and was considered credible, but a number of shortcomings were observed. Opposition candidates and others criticized a lack of campaign finance legislation, and a monitoring mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) noted that the difference between state resources and SKNLP financing was not always clear. Some observers also noted that the government enjoyed disproportionate access to state-owned media for campaign purposes.
Local elections in Nevis were held in December 2017, resulting in a win for the incumbent CCM.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3 / 4
Electoral laws are generally fair, and are usually implemented impartially by the Electoral Commission. However, the lead-up to the 2015 elections saw an eleventh-hour dispute over boundary delineations, and concerns about the Electoral Commission’s independence. In January 2015, the SKNLP government introduced new electoral boundaries just a month before the polls. The changes were ultimately thrown out four days before the election by the Privy Council in London, the highest court of appeal for Saint Kitts and Nevis, after the opposition had challenged the changes. Separately, OAS observers had expressed concerns that an election calendar with key dates was not shared publically. And, a delay in reporting the results of the 2015 polls prompted questions about the independence of the Election Commission. In December 2017, the former supervisor of elections was arrested and charged with misconduct in connection with the delayed transmission of the 2015 results.
B.POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 16 / 16
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4 / 4
People have the right to organize in different political parties and to form new parties. For example, the PLP was established in 2013 by two former members of the SKNLP, and is now part of the Team Unity government.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4 / 4
Opposition candidates are able to campaign without restrictions or interference, and there are realistic opportunities for opposition parties to increase their support or gain power through elections. In 2015, the Team Unity coalition unseated the SKNLP, which had been in government for two decades.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 4 / 4
Candidates and voters are generally able to express their political choices without interference from actors not democratically accountable. However, in 2015, the OAS raised concerns about the lack of transparency of party and election campaign financing, and thus the potential for unidentified actors to influence politics.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 4 / 4
While women play an active role in political parties and as grassroots organizers, only one woman won a seat in the National Assembly in the 2015 elections. The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community is marginalized, and this impacts the ability of LGBT people to engage fully in political processes.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 10 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 4 / 4
The elected prime minister, cabinet, and national legislative representatives are able to freely determine the policies of the government.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 3 / 4
St. Kitts and Nevis’s anticorruption laws are for the most part are implemented effectively. However, the 2013 Integrity in Public Life Bill, which established a code of conduct for public officials and financial disclosure guidelines, was still not operational at the end of 2017.
Recently, concerns have been raised over St. Kitts and Nevis’s CIP program, which allows foreigners to gain citizenship through an economic investment in the country. In a March 2017 report, the US State Department noted that despite government efforts to improve the program’s safeguards, it was still characterized by “significant deficiencies in vetting candidates,” a problem that could facilitate money laundering within the country or permit the presence of people who threaten national security.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3 / 4
The government of St. Kitts and Nevis generally operates with transparency, though the country still lacks freedom of information legislation. Both SKNLP and Team Unity governments have stated that freedom of information legislation is a priority, but as of the end of 2017 no legislation had been passed. The Financial Intelligence Unit investigates financial crimes, but these reports are not publically available.
In the fall of 2017, in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the government announced that it would temporarily reduce the amount required for participation in the CIP, and would link the investment program to a national hurricane relief fund. Inconsistent government statements about the nature of the temporary program prompted some confusion and media criticism.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 53 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 15 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 3 / 4
Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed, and the government generally respects press freedom in practice. However, the government owns the sole local television station, and the opposition faces some restrictions on access to it, particularly around elections. Defamation is a criminal offence that can potentially carry a prison sentence. Some journalists reportedly self-censor in order to avoid pressure from government officials.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4 / 4
Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice. However, Rastafarians face employment and other forms of discrimination on the basis of their beliefs.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4 / 4
The government generally respects academic freedom.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4 / 4
Individuals are free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 12 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 4 / 4
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, and generally respected in practice. Several demonstrations took place peacefully in 2017, including a Labor Day march hosted by the SKNLP, and a protest at which participants called on the government to address claims that a Chinese national accused of embezzling millions of dollars from a Chinese firm was being shielded by local authorities.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4 / 4
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without restrictions.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 4 / 4
While workers may legally form unions, employers are not bound to recognize them. 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 protected by law, is generally respected in practice.
F. RULE OF LAW: 13 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 4 / 4
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, but under certain circumstances, there is a right of appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, and the Privy Council in London.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3 / 4
Defendants are guaranteed a range of legal rights, which are mostly respected in practice. Arbitrary arrests are prohibited and security forces generally operate professionally. However, extended pretrial detention is a problem, with some detainees remaining in custody for more than two years before facing trial—or seeing the charges against them dropped.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3 / 4
While the islands are free from war and insurgencies, the government in recent years has struggled to contain increasing crime and homicides. Against these concerns, in July 2017, former Jamaica Defense Force head Stuart Saunders was controversially appointed as the country’s new national security advisor. Saunders had been accused in a Commission of Enquiry report of “dereliction of duty and incompetence” in connection with his involvement in the violent 2010 police operation in Jamaica to capture drug lord Christopher “Dudas” Coke, in which 74 people were killed. The report had further recommended that Saunders not be employed in security operations.
Separately, there were two police shootings in 2016 and both officers implicated were awaiting trial in 2017. Prison conditions remain overcrowded.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3 / 4
Societal discrimination against LGBT people is pervasive, and same-sex sexual conduct between men is illegal and punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years. No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, which has been reported in workplaces.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 13 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4 / 4
Individuals in St. Kitts and Nevis generally enjoy freedom of movement and are free to change their place of residence, employment, and education.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or non-state actors? 3 / 4
St. Kitts and Nevis is open to investment and both national and foreign investors are free to operate in the country, with the government actively sourcing foreign investment under its CIP program. However, eminent domain laws allow the government to seize private property and businesses, and the government does not always provide adequate and timely compensation.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 3 / 4
While domestic violence is criminalized, violence against women remains a widespread problem. Spousal rape is not prohibited by law. Child abuse and neglect is also a serious issue.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 3 / 4
Despite its high income status, poverty is an issue and represents a serious barrier to socioeconomic mobility for many people. Youth unemployment is high. Many people rely heavily on remittances for income.