Still-Existing Concerns for Human Rights in Barbados

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BRIDGETOWN — South of Florida, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic is the tiny island of Barbados. Barbados is seen as a vacation paradise and every year, tourists flock to Barbados. However, those living in Barbados face concerns that accompany their day-to-day routines. While life in Barbados is fairly smooth, there are still weighty concerns for some areas of human rights in Barbados.

The main concerns for human rights in Barbados include unprofessional conduct by the police, violence against women and discrimination against the LGBT population. Discrimination against the disabled is another pressing area of concern.

Police in Barbados beat suspects to elicit confessions. These coerced confessions frequently lead suspects to recant their confessions at trial. When these suspects recant their confessions, the cases against them crumble; often, the suspect’s “confession” was the only evidence against the suspect.

There is a fear of the police as a whole. For example, witnesses refuse to testify in court against police officers. While there is no systemic pattern of police abuse, stories concerning acts of coercion or corruption by the police go unreported because people are afraid to report such stories. Despite the underreporting of police corruption or acts of brutality, some anecdotes have come to light.

Two such anecdotes are the stories of Adrian Mottley and Jamar Headly. Mottley and Headly turned themselves in after their robbery of an arcade. After their voluntary confession, Mottley and Headly experienced brutality at the hands of the police. Police wrapped Mottley in a plastic sheet head to toe before beating him. Headly was hit on the head with a blunt object when he was taken into custody.

Both were beaten until they confessed their participation a variety of robberies in which neither man had participated. When a lawyer finally reached the station, Mottley was foaming at the mouth. Headly’s lawyer wasn’t allowed to see him. Mottley received medical care only after his lawyer repeatedly asked for it. However, both men were denied independent medical care and eventually, charged with aggravated robbery.

Such anecdotes demonstrate that the police exert a considerable amount of power over suspects and in turn, the criminal justice system. Fortunately, most detainees do not experience prolonged abuse.

Much like acts of violence by the police go unreported, so do incidents of rape. Victims fail to report assaults because they are afraid of further violence, retribution and social stigma. Furthermore, there is no forensic nursing to assist rape victims.

In some cases, assailants pay off rape survivors not to press charges. In Barbados, there is a considerable amount of sexual assault against the elderly. These assaults are also underreported.

Still, arrests with regards to sex-related offenses take place. In 2010, 112 people who had allegedly committed sex-related offenses were arrested. The maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment; the government has criminalized spousal rape as well.

The government does not limit itself to criminalizing rape and domestic violence. The government of Barbados has actively taken steps to help victims of rape and domestic violence. In 2014, the government funded a shelter for battered women. The opening of this shelter has encouraged other organizations to help victims of assault and domestic violence. For instance, the Ministry of Family, in coordination with the United Nations and the Partnership for Peace, attempts to target the perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse and assault victims find it difficult to become financially independent. Women are not paid as much as their male counterparts in similar professions. Women have no legal recourse; by law, they are left unprotected with regards to their lower salaries. Women fear sexual harassment at the workplace. Again, women are left without legal recourse: the law does not address sexual harassment. Women fear that by reporting instances of sexual harassment, they will be subject to retribution like termination of their employment. This fear of reporting naturally leads to an underreporting of sexual harassment.

The Bureau of Gender Affairs in Barbados notes that it is difficult to track discrimination and assaults against women because there is no mechanism to do so. Coupled with underreporting by victims of assault or sexual harassment, the human rights issue of violence against women is a pressing concern in Barbados.

Gender and sexual minorities (GSM) and the disabled face great difficulties in Barbados. Same-sex relations in Barbados are criminalized. The GSM population is also unprotected by anti-discriminatory legislation. When the GSM population experiences discrimination or violence in the course of everyday life, there is no legal recourse for them.

From childhood, those who are disabled face additional school fees and deep social stigma when attending schools. In adulthood, those disabled face severe difficulties while attempting to find jobs, making it nearly impossible to obtain economic independence. Transportation and access to public facilities remain largely undeveloped for those disabled: there are no ramps, railings, parking or bathroom adjustments.

Human rights in Barbados have a long way to progress. Still, human rights in Barbados are showing progress, especially with regards to the government’s steps on violence against women. In the past decade, strides have been made by the government to rectify some human rights concerns.

Smriti B Krishnan
Photo: Flickr

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