In its 2015 edition of the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” released here last Wednesday, the US Department of State pointed to what it described as “a global governance crisis” in which it said the respect for the rule of law in some Caricom states is inadequate and this is exacerbated by a deficient judicial system and chronic corruption in some branches of Government, among other things.
In Haiti, the State Department said the most serious impediments to human rights involved weak democratic governance worsened by the dissolution of Parliament in January, when the terms of all deputies and two-thirds of the Senate expired.
The department said there was also insufficient respect for the rule of law, worsened by “a deficient judicial system and chronic corruption in all branches of Government.”
Other human rights problems in Haiti included “isolated allegations of arbitrary and unlawful killings by Government officials; allegations of use of force against suspects and protesters; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; prolonged pretrial detention; an inefficient, unreliable, and inconsistent judiciary; and governmental confiscation of private property without due process,” the report said.
Additionally, the State Department said there were reports of rape, violence and societal discrimination against women; child abuse; allegations of social marginalisation of vulnerable populations; and trafficking in persons.
Violence, including gender-based violence, and crime within the remaining internally displaced persons (IDP) camps remained a problem, the report said.
“Although the Government took steps to prosecute or punish government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses, credible reports persisted of officials engaging in corrupt practices, and civil society groups alleged that impunity was a problem,” the State Department said.
It said the most serious human rights problem in Suriname was the “unresolved trial” of President Desire Delano Bouterse and 22 co-defendants for the 1982 extra-judicial killings of 15 political opponents, “a trial that exemplifies deeper doubts about judicial independence in the country.”
Other human rights problems in Suriname included: Police brutality; poor conditions in detention centres; self-censorship by media organisations and journalists; widespread Government corruption; and violence and abuse against women and children.
The State Department also said other issues included trafficking in persons; continued lack of recognition of land rights for Maroons – the descendants of escaped slaves who fled to the hinterland, and Amerindians; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and other minorities; and child labour in the informal sector.
In Jamaica, the report said “an overburdened, under-resourced and dysfunctional judicial system, which obstructed access to justice for victims of crime and their families, and allegedly unlawful killings by Government security forces” were the most serious human rights issues.
According to the report, other human rights issues in Jamaica included inadequate prison and jail conditions; violence against and sexual abuse of children; and violence and discrimination against women, and against (LGBTI) persons.
The State Department said the Jamaican Government’s efforts resulted in charging a much larger number of police officers with abuses than the previous year.
But the report said a lack of willing witnesses and inefficiencies in the judiciary “continued to plague the justice system”, adding that trials continued to languish.
Stating that civilian authorities in Guyana, at times, did not maintain effective control over the security forces in 2015, the State Department said the most significant human rights problems were “arbitrary killings by the Government or its agents; allegations of Government corruption, including among police officials”, and laws that discriminate against women and LGBTI persons.
Other human rights problems in Guyana included lengthy pretrial detention.
“There was a lack of independent and transparent procedures for handling allegations of abuses by security force members,” the report said.
“Prosecutions, when pursued, were extremely lengthy, and convictions rare, leading to a widespread perception that security force members and Government officials enjoyed impunity,” it added.
In the Bahamas, the State Department said the most serious human rights problems were “mistreatment of irregular migrants, compounded by problems in processing them; an inefficient judicial system, resulting in trial delays and an increase in retaliatory crime against both witnesses and alleged perpetrators; and the perception of impunity on the part of law enforcement and immigration officials accused of using excessive force.”
Other human rights problems in the Bahamas, the report said, included substandard detention conditions; corruption; violence and discrimination against women; sexual abuse of children; and discrimination based on ethnic descent, sexual orientation, or HIV status.
The report said, however, that, in some cases, the Government took action against police officers and other officials accused of abuse of power.
For Belize, the State Department said the most important human rights abuses included the use of excessive force by security forces, especially the police; lengthy pretrial detention; and harassment and threats based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Other human rights problems included corruption by officials, domestic violence, discrimination against women, sexual abuse of children, trafficking in persons, and child labour.
“In some cases, the Government took steps to prosecute public officers who committed abuses, both administratively and through the courts, but there were few successful prosecutions,” the report said.
“While many lower-ranking officials faced disciplinary action and/or criminal charges for alleged abuses, higher-ranking officials were less likely to face punishment, resulting in a perception of impunity,” it added.
The State Department identified police mistreatment of suspects, detainees and prisoners; poor prison conditions and a slow judicial system; and violence and discrimination against women as the most serious human rights issues in Trinidad and Tobago.
It said other human rights problems in the twin-island republic involved high-profile cases of alleged bribery and corruption; inadequate services for vulnerable populations, such as children and persons with disabilities; and laws that discriminate against LGBTI persons.
“The Government took some steps to punish security force members and other officials charged with killings or other abuse, but there continued to be a perception of impunity based on the open-ended nature of many investigations and the generally slow pace of criminal judicial proceedings,” the report said.
It said other human rights problems included child abuse and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
In St Lucia, the report said the most serious human rights problems included long delays in investigating reports of unlawful police killings, abuse of suspects and prisoners by the police, and continued postponements of trials and sentencing.
Other human rights problems included violence against women, child abuse, and discrimination against persons based on their “real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” the report said.
“Although the Government took limited steps to prosecute officials and employees who committed abuses, the procedure for investigating police officers was lengthy, cumbersome, and often inconclusive,” it added.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the State Department said gender-based violence and police impunity were the most serious human rights problems.
The department said other human rights problems included official corruption; lack of Government transparency; discrimination; child abuse; and laws that discriminate against LGBTI persons.
Government procedures exist to investigate violations, but few reports of violations were made,” the department said.
In St Kitts and Nevis, the most serious human rights problems were poor prison conditions and discrimination and violence against women, the State Department said.
Other human rights problems, it said, included Government corruption, child abuse, and discrimination against the LGBTI community.
The report said the Timothy Harris Administration took steps to prosecute and convict officials who committed abuses, but added that “some cases remained unresolved”.
The most significant human rights abuses in Dominica, according to the State Department, included domestic and sexual violence against women and children.
Other human rights problems included laws that discriminated against LGBTI persons and discrimination against persons with disabilities, the department said.
It said the Dominica Government took steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, and that there were no known cases of impunity.
On the other hand, the most significant human rights abuses in Grenada included poor prison conditions, violence against women, child abuse, and laws against LGBTI persons, according to the report.
“Unprofessional conduct” by police, violence against women and discrimination against LGBTI individuals were the most serious human rights problems in Barbados, the report said.