Police Impunity and Gender- Based Violence Highlighted In SVG Human Rights Report 2015

The country report on St Vincent and the Grenadines Human rights practices, published by the United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, highlighted the most serious human rights problems as gender-based violence and police impunity, in its 2015 report.

Other human rights problems included official corruption; lack of government transparency; discrimination; child abuse; and laws that discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

Government procedures exist to investigate violations, but few reports of violations were made according to the report.

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. No reports of politically motivated disappearances were recorded either.

The report stated that on rare occasion’s police officers shot and killed persons encountered in the line of duty. On October 3, police shot and killed an assailant who had opened fire in a public venue.

In June 2014 an on-duty police officer shot and killed a man. In April 2015 a coroner’s jury found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the officer.

Authorities held a coroner’s inquest to address a 2012 incident in which police shot and killed three Venezuelan men after the Vincentian Coast Guard intercepted their vessel. The coroner adjourned the inquest and issued summonses for witnesses from Venezuela. As of October 2015 authorities had received no response to either the service of the summonses or the availability of the witnesses, and the inquest remained open at year’s end.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) reported that police had used excessive force in the past. While no such instances were identified at year’s end, the SVGHRA reported that police conduct worsened in the past year.

Citizens alleging police abuse can file complaints with the Complaint Department within the police force or an independent government oversight committee. If a complaint is deemed to have merit, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) files charges. The government does not normally provide any public information about the disposition of such complaints, any disciplinary charges, or other actions taken, the report noted.

 Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: The SVGHRA reported prison problems such as endemic violence, understaffing, underpaid guards, uncontrolled weapons and drugs, increasing incidence of HIV/AIDS, and unhygienic conditions. The SVGHRA alleged that guards routinely beat prisoners to extract information regarding escapes, violence, and crime committed in the prison. Key problems included the inability to house juveniles in a separate facility and prison officer complicity in procuring contraband for prisoners.

Conditions were inadequate for juvenile offenders. Authorities held young offenders (16 to 21 years of age), 10 percent of the total male prison population, with adult convicted prisoners.

Administration: Courts often released nonviolent offenders on bond instead of sentencing them to prison terms. The conditions of the bond required good behavior on the part of the offender to avoid serving time in prison. While there was no official prison ombudsman, a prison board composed of a magistrate and a justice of the peace visited both prisons bimonthly. During the visits prisoners with complaints could speak directly to the board. In addition prisoners could file complaints by writing the court registrar.

Independent Monitoring: In addition to the prison board, the government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits took place during the year. Visits by a local nonprofit organization providing counseling services to prisoners took place weekly.

Improvements: The antiquated and unhygienic Fort Charlotte Prison for female prisoners closed during the year, and the female prisoners were moved to Her Majesty’s Prison.

Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to ensure freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, there continued to be accounts of the government impeding media criticism by monitoring political meetings, threatening to shut down programming that criticized the government, and withholding advertisement revenue from media outlets the government found distasteful.

In October the media reported the government used the investigative Special Branch of the police force to monitor levels of participation in a labor strike. The commissioner of police participated in a political rally in support of the incumbent government.

Violence and Harassment: Independent media reported harassment by political party members and citizens pressuring the media to identify their political persuasion. According to journalists this pressure was heightened in anticipation of the December 9 elections.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2013 authorities arrested opposition Senator Vynette Frederick and charged her with perjury, shortly after a magistrate dismissed less serious false swearing charges stemming from a defamation suit she had filed against Prime Minister Gonsalves. The perjury charges related to the same incident. Frederick appealed the case in May and in June requested adjournment to a later date.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 56 percent of citizens used the internet in 2014, the latest data available.

Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Rumors of high-level corruption persisted, but there were no cases during the year to substantiate these claims. The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption.

Corruption: Allegations of political handouts and other forms of low-level corruption in the time leading up to the 2010 election continued to plague both parties ahead of anticipated upcoming elections. Such bribes were historically a part of the country’s political culture. The government stated there was no need to have a national anticorruption agency. The law provides the DPP with the authority to prosecute the following offenses related to official corruption: extortion by public officers, public officers receiving property to show favor, false claims by officials, abuse of office, and false certification by public officers.

In October 2014 officials fined Tamara Gibson-Marks, former registrar of the High Court, $10,500 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD) ($3,900), after she pleaded guilty to charges of theft and abuse of authority while serving in public office. The DPP dropped a third corruption charge related to false certification by public officers after Gibson-Marks plead guilty to the other two charges.

Members of the public called for the resignation of the commissioner of police when he attended a political rally in plain clothes and showed support for the prime minister’s party. The media and the public questioned his ability to perform official duties objectively when he was expressing a political view so publicly. The individual was a political appointee whose mandatory retirement was extended so he could continue to serve as commissioner of police.

Financial Disclosure: There are no financial disclosure laws for public officials.

Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to information. Human rights organizations considered the mechanism for gaining access deficient and assisted individuals in obtaining information. There was a narrow list of exceptions outlining the grounds for nondisclosure but no specific timeline for the relevant authority to disclose or respond. There are no criminal or administrative sanctions for not providing a response, and there is no appeal mechanism for review of a disclosure denial. There were public outreach activities via radio call-in shows encouraging use of the access process.

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the government generally enforced the law when victims came forward. Sentences for rape begin at 10 years’ imprisonment and depend on the magnitude of the offense and the age of the victim. Judges rarely imposed the maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Authorities referred allegations of rape or any abuse against women to the police. Police were generally responsive to these complaints, but fear of reprisal may have deterred some victims from seeking assistance. Police and human rights groups reported that perpetrators commonly made payoffs to victims of rape or sexual assault in exchange for victims not pressing charges. Although no special unit is devoted to these types of crimes, authorities had specially trained some officers to handle them.

Civil society groups reported that rape and violence against women remained a serious and pervasive problem. The law does not criminalize domestic violence specifically, but it provides protection for victims. Authorities could bring charges in cases involving domestic violence under assault, battery, or other similar laws, but police were often reluctant to follow up on domestic violence cases. As a result, perpetrators of such crimes against women often enjoyed impunity. The Division of Gender Affairs offered different programs to assist women and children. Counseling was available through a church-run organization. The Ministry of National Mobilization operated a crisis center for survivors of domestic violence; however, the shelter was reported to be unstaffed and access for victims was limited.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although authorities could prosecute it under other laws, which local human rights groups and women’s organizations considered ineffective.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights to family, nationality, and inheritance as men, although in practice many women were marginalized due to financial dependence. Women received an equitable share of property following separation or divorce. The law requires equal pay for equal work, and authorities generally enforced it.

 Children

Child Abuse: The law provides a limited legal framework for the protection of children. The Family Services Division of the social development ministry monitored and protected the welfare of children. The division referred all reports of child abuse to the police for action and provided assistance in cases where children applied for protection orders with the family court. Reports of unlawful sexual intercourse with children under 15 remained a problem, and these reports were linked to transactional sex with minors.

Such cases were often difficult to prosecute, since witnesses were reluctant to testify and discussion of these types of abuse could be considered taboo. Despite these challenges, the DPP successfully prosecuted a number of cases. The government enacted legislation in 2013 to provide special protections for child witnesses, including a protective order preventing the defendant from personally cross-examining the victim, providing evidence from a remote location, and video-recorded testimony.

 As of October it was too early to determine whether this legislation improved the judicial process for child victims and their families pursuing criminal prosecution because it had not been tested. Government and NGO interlocutors indicated that child abuse, including neglect and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, and incest were significant problems, although statistics were not available.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Some male and female teenagers engaged in prostitution and transactional sex. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. The penalty for causing prostitution of a woman 15 or older is 14 years’ imprisonment. The penalty for causing prostitution of a girl under 15 is seven years. The law prohibits statutory rape with special provisions for those less than 13 years of age. The penalty for statutory rape of a girl over 13 but less than 16 is five years imprisonment; for girls under age 13, it is life imprisonment. NGO and government sources reported that some mothers of girls might pressure their children to have sexual relations with older men as a way to supplement family income. The law does not specifically prohibit child pornography.