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There were no specific laws that restrict the participation of women or minorities in government or the political parties. Women comprised slightly more than half of all registered voters in the country, and the voters elected 7 women to the 36-seat House of Representatives on October 7, up from 6 women in the previous Parliament. There were 9 women in the 31-member Senate and 8 women in the 25-member Cabinet.
Both major political parties reached out to ethnic minority voters, and ethnic minorities occupied significant positions in government. Senator Howard Chin Lee, PNM member and Minister of National Security, and Gerald Yetming, Member of Parliament from the UNC, were both ethnic Chinese. Chinese were the third largest distinct ethnic group, representing approximately 1 percent of the population.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights.
A number of human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials generally were cooperative, the Government responded strongly to Amnesty International’s criticism of prison conditions and due process. An independent Ombudsman received complaints relating to governmental administrative issues and investigated complaints of human rights abuse. The Ombudsman could make recommendations but did not have authority to force government offices to take action.
In 1998 the Government sought to curtail appeals by death row inmates to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the U.N. Human Rights Committee. The Government’s moves were prompted by a Privy Council ruling that failure to execute a condemned prisoner within 5 years of sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. To meet this 5-year deadline, the Government sought to impose time limits on the IACHR and the U.N. Committee to ensure that applications before these bodies were completed within 8 months. In 1999 the Government withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights following a required 1-year notice.
However, the Privy Council subsequently ruled that by ratifying a treaty that provides for individual access to an international body, the Government made that process part of the domestic criminal justice system, thereby extending the scope of the due process clause of the Constitution, and that executing a prisoner with such an appeal pending would constitute a violation of due process.
In June the Inter-American Court of Human Rights cited the Government for violating the American Convention on Human Rights by executing inmates who had unresolved appeals pending before the IACHR and ordered the Government to pay more than $2.9 million to the families and attorneys of several death row inmates. The Government contested the Court’s findings, saying that the executions in question had been carried out in accordance with applicable law.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status.
The Government generally respected in practice the constitutional provisions for fundamental human rights and freedoms for all without discrimination based on race, origin, color, religion, or sex.
Physical abuse of women continued to be a significant problem. There was increased media coverage of domestic abuse cases and signs of a shift in public opinion, which previously had held that such cases were a private matter, and the Government improved aid for victims. Murder, rape, and other crimes against women were reported frequently, but it was believed that many sexual crimes were unreported. The establishment of a community police division improved police responsiveness to reports of domestic abuse, but some police officers were reportedly unsympathetic or reluctant to pursue such cases, resulting in underreporting of crimes of violence against women. The Police Service reported 565 complaints of spousal abuse through October, but the actual incidence of such abuse was considered to be much higher. Two government ministries, operating independently, directed the NGOs that ran most of the country’s social programs addressing domestic violence, including five shelters for battered women.
Rape, spousal abuse, and spousal rape were criminal offenses. A rape crisis center offered counseling for rape victims and perpetrators on a voluntary basis. Since 1996 the Government operated a 24-hour domestic violence hot line, which received calls and referred victims to shelters, counseling, or other assistance. The hot line was for victims of rape, domestic violence, or other violence against women and received approximately 1,650 calls during the year.
Prostitution is illegal, and the authorities brought charges of soliciting for the purpose of prostitution against 19 persons during the year. Of those, 18 were female and 1 male.
The law does not prohibit sexual harassment, and it was a problem.
Many women held positions in business, the professions, and government. Nevertheless, men still tended to hold most senior positions. There was no law or regulation requiring equal pay for equal work.
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