Antigua and Barbuda Country Profile


Key Statistics

Population: 90,156

Capital: Saint John's

Languages: English (official), local dialects

Major Ethnic Groups: black 91%, mixed 4.4%, white, 1.7%, other 2.9% (2001 Census)

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 14,726 (IMF 2015 World Economic Outlook)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 19,855 (IMF 2015 World Economic Outlook)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Froces: 180 (Military Balance, 2014)

Police Force: 600 staff members (Interpol)

Small Arms:The estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Antigua & Barbuda is 6,000; defence forces reported to have 250 firearms; police forces reported to have 400 firearms (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: n/a

Executive Summary

After enjoying one of the lowest rates of violence in the region just a decade ago, Antigua and Barbuda has seen the number of recorded murders climb sharply. Though gangs are present in the country, they are primarily comprised of youths who engage in petty crime and are not believed to be involved in driving the country’s violence.

The dual-island state serves as a transit point in the international drugs trade and is home to criminal networks operating human trafficking rings. As a result of the country’s significant offshore financial centre, Antigua and Barbuda is also a key site for money laundering activities.

The judiciary suffers from inefficiency—criminal proceedings are often slow to move forward and create a case backlog—while corruption is also a minor concern. A severely overcrowded and outdated penitentiary system exacerbates the low level of public confidence in the justice sector. The police force does not suffer from widespread allegations of police abuse nor endemic corruption, though minor problems in these areas persist. Aiding the government to improve efficiency in the judiciary, move toward constructing a new prison, and ensuring the police force is both transparent and accountable, are all areas advised for engagement.

Security and Justice Context

Antigua and Barbuda enjoyed one of the lowest homicide rates in the region from 2000-2005, achieving a low of 3.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2005. However, this spiked dramatically in the following years, reaching a peak of 19.8 homicides per 100,000 in 2007 when 17 murders were recorded. The rate subsequently dropped though rose in both 2011 and 2012 (See Figure 1.) with the latest rate standing at 11.3 per 100,000.

Antigue Homicide Rate

Fig. 1 Antigua and Barabuda Homicide Rate 2000-2012

According to police figures, the overall number of crimes reported fell in 2012 by close to 6 percent compared to the previous year. Robbery was the most reported crime, accounting for around one third of all crimes, followed by burglary and theft. Rape and indecent assault account for as much as 20 percent of the country’s violent crime rate.

In 2008, officials in Antigua and Barbuda estimated that there were 15 active gangs in the country with between 264 and 570 members, many of whom are believed to be youths below the age of 17. The gangs are not highly organised and engage primarily in petty crime. What’s more, they are not thought to be among the primary drivers of violence; only one of the 28 murders committed from 2006-2007 was reported to be gang-related.

In the 2010 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Citizen Security Survey, 12.7 percent of Antiguans and Barbudans responded that their neighbourhood had experienced gang violence in the past year, below countries like Saint Lucia (20.2 percent) and Trinidad and Tobago (14.9 percent). Of the seven countries surveyed[1] , Antigua and Barbuda had the second best response rate for the question of criminal gangs being a problem in the respondent’s neighbourhood; 25.8 percent responded in the affirmative, the second lowest level behind only Barbados (12.7 percent).

The islands serve as a transit point in the international drugs trade, though their role is relatively minor compared to other Caribbean states such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. Antigua and Barbuda produces marijuana which is primarily for domestic consumption and not for export; according to the government, 70 percent of marijuana crops in the country are consumed locally.

There is little registered presence of transnational criminal groups in the country though the prime minister warned in 2012 that transnational crime posed a serious threat to the country.

Despite the fall in crime in 2012, the incidence of gun crime increased with 11 more shootings reported than in 2011. Of the 10 homicides in 2012, eight reportedly involved firearms. This rate (80 percent) places Antigua and Barbuda above regional neighbours such as Jamaica where guns are used in approximately 75 of murders, and Trinidad and Tobago where they are used in 72 percent. The global average is 42 percent.

The high rate of gun crime points to the presence of illegal firearms circulating in the country. In a two month period in late 2012, 30 unlicensed firearms were recovered by police, more than double the amount seized from January 2012 to early September that year. There are no official estimates available for the amount of illicit firearms in Antigua and Barbuda. The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP)[2] has estimated that there are some 1.6 million illegal weapons circulating in the whole Caribbean.

According to the UNDP, criminal groups in Antigua and Barbuda are increasingly involving themselves in human trafficking, luring women from Jamaica, Guyana and Saint Lucia to the country with promises of well-paid work before forcing them to work as prostitutes. These groups reportedly operate with the complicity of immigration officers and senior officials who receive bribes.  

The US State Department stated in 2012 that Antigua and Barbuda did not fully comply with international standards to eliminate human trafficking, but noted that it is making efforts to do so[3] .

Antigua and Barbuda was designated by the US State Department in 2013 as being a “Country of Primary Concern” with regards to money laundering. The country’s significant offshore financial sector makes it highly susceptible to the laundering of illicit proceeds from drug trafficking and financial crimes, the State Department noted.

Perceptions of Insecurity

There is little information on the overall perception of insecurity in Antigua and Barbuda. According to the 2010 UNDP Citizen Security Survey, 22.4 percent of the country’s population fear their house will be broken into at night while 20.9 percent fear being robbed at gunpoint. These percentages are among the highest out of the seven populations surveyed, placing third in each instance.

However, violent crime was not considered among the three main problems facing the population; unemployment, the cost of living, and corruption were all considered the most pressing concerns.

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

As a result of its colonial history, Antigua and Barbuda’s judicial system is based in part on British common law practice. The judiciary is independent and the country operates an adversarial legal system.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court[4] (ECSC) administers the country’s judicial system and assigns two High Court judges and one Master[5] to reside in Antigua and Barbuda and hear cases from the country’s courts.

Antigua and Barbuda’s High Court sits in the capital St John’s on the island of Antigua. There are also five lower Magistrates’ Courts which have jurisdiction over lesser criminal and civil cases. Appeals going beyond the High Court can be sent to the ECSC Court of Appeal[6] . Although Antigua and Barbuda is a signatory to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), inaugurated in 2005 as the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)[7] , final appellate jurisdiction rests with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London, United Kingdom.

There are no military courts.

The attorney general is the government’s legal advisor and is a member of the cabinet, serving as the Minister for Legal Affairs. The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) handles criminal prosecutions.

The Office of the Ombudsman hears and investigates public complaints against the government for alleged injustices. However, observers note that the body lacks sufficient resources to effectively carry out its role.

According to the US State Department, the judiciary generally enforced the constitutional right to a fair public trial, while the US non-government organisation (NGO) Freedom House has noted that the courts now successfully assert independence after having been manipulated by the previous administration (prior to 2004). However, 44.3 percent of the country’s respondents in the 2010 UNDP Citizen Security Survey, stated the justice system was corrupt. In addition, the Magistrate’s Court in St John’s was suffering from a large backlog of cases toward the end of 2012, due largely to a temporary shortage of magistrates. This issue was addressed in early 2013 with the appointment of two permanent and three temporary magistrates to ease the burden.

Public confidence in the criminal justice system is low; in the 2012 UNDP Citizen Security Survey, 37.8 percent of Antigua and Barbuda respondents answered that they rated the capacity of the criminal justice system as sufficient.

The country has only one prison, Her Majesty’s Prison, which suffers from severe overcrowding.  As of December 2012, the occupancy rate stood at 240.7 percent with over half of the inmates being prisoners on remand or pre-trial detainees. According to the US State Department, one of the drivers of overcrowding is a law that limits the ability of magistrates to grant bail to a number of those accused of committing a crime. Exacerbating the problem are inadequate facilities -- the prison was built in 1735 and suffers from poor ventilation and a lack of sufficient toilet facilities -- and reports of prisoner abuse.

The prison is overseen by the Superintendent of Prisons who is housed under the Ministry of Legal Affairs. In 2012, the Superintendent stated that the prison was in need of 23 more officers in order to deal with the increasing number of inmates. He also announced that the amount of time spent by pre-trial detainees and prisoners on remand in the facility can in some cases reach two years.

Security Institutions

The Royal Antigua and Barbuda Police Force (RABPF) is the primary body responsible for domestic law enforcement and numbers around 600 personnel. It is housed under the Ministry of National Security and Labour.

Corruption in the force, particularly in the form of accepting bribes, is a concern though corruption overall does not appear to be endemic. According to the US State Department, there have been cases in which police officers used excessive force, particularly when discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation. Police abuse against people in their custody[8] has also been reported though this does not appear to be a widespread problem.

Police are held accountable by Antiguan and Barbudan authorities and allegations of misconduct are investigated. However, the US State Department has noted that this process can be slow.

In the 2010 UNDP Citizen Security Survey, 55.9 percent of respondents in Antigua and Barbuda stated that they believed the police were competent. This ranked the Antiguan and Barbudan police force behind Jamaica, Barbados and Suriname. 

In addition to the police force there is the Office of National Drug and Money Laundering Control Policy (ONDCP) which coordinates counter-narcotics and anti-money laundering operations and subsequent prosecutorial efforts.

The Royal Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (RABDF) is also housed under the Ministry of National Security and Labour and is comprised of around 250 personnel split between the army and Coast Guard. The military’s primary responsibility is external defence, though it has been involved in conducting stop-and-search operations at roadblocks alongside police officers. The Coast Guard conducts drug interdiction operations but, according to the US State Department, lacks the capacity to fully carry these out.

Antigua and Barbuda is a part of the Regional Security System (RSS) which seeks to promote cooperation between its members[9] in the Eastern Caribbean in drug interdiction efforts and maritime policing, among other areas.

A four-year crime fighting plan, drawn up by the police force, the department of immigration and the ONDCP, was begun in November 2012 and will run up until 2016. While crime reduction, prevention and management are all reported to be key components of the plan, few details were released by the authorities of exactly how these goals will be achieved.

The prime minister announced in January 2012 that the country would develop a five-year Medium-Term Development and Strategic Plan with the help of the Caribbean Development Bank. However, by mid-2014 the plan had still not been developed.

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

The country’s prison runs a number of rehabilitation programmes that aim to provide inmates with skills they can utilise once they have completed their sentences. These include a craft shop, carpentry, a tailor shop and electronic repair, among other areas. In October 2011 this was supplemented by a programme run by the NGO Optimist Club which provided inmates with formal education prior to being released[10] .

In December 2012, a 12-acre prison farm[11] was commissioned by the government. The facility—which will see inmates produce fruit and vegetables—is expected to house those nearing the completion of their sentence and who are not deemed to be a security threat. The produce will feed the farm’s inmates and surpluses will be used to feed inmates in Her Majesty’s Prison, helping to cut government costs. 

Antigua and Barbuda’s minister for national security and labour stated that the site of the prison farm will ideally serve as the site for a new correctional facility in the near future. At the time of writing, the World Resource Foundation, an organisation that partners governments and private enterprise together for projects, had announced that they had been commissioned by the government to construct a new prison in Antigua and Barbuda that will be able to house 600 inmates. However, it was unclear what the timeframe was for the project.

Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a US government-funded program, the United States has provided assistance in the implementation of a modern criminal code and a code of conduct for prosecutors. Several programs in this regard are being implemented, including law enforcement capacity building. Antigua has received materials and funding to increase law enforcement capacity, including: investigative software for the Financial Intelligence Unit; strengthening of the juvenile justice system; training and equipment for homicide/serious felony investigations and prisons/corrections management; training for the ONCDP and the RAPD.

Security Sector Reform and Initiatives

In recent years, as part of its response to the rising rate of crime, the RABPF has placed an emphasis on developing its community policing programme. The initiative aims to forge stronger ties between communities and police units in them so that they are able to work together on crime reduction. The police are also engaged in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) programme which was launched in 2011 and provides educational talks to school students on avoiding gangs, violence and drugs. Talks are also given by current and former inmates, and members of the church. 

In response to the increasing rate of gun crime in 2012 and into the beginning of 2013, the police have stepped up stop-and-search operations throughout the country, including an increase in the use of roadblocks.

The scope of the ONDCP was expanded in 2012 with the passing of the Office of National Drug & Money Laundering Control Policy (Amendment) Act 2012 which means the institution now covers the crimes of human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and firearms offences as well as drug trafficking and money laundering.

Through the CBSI the government of Antigua and Barbuda has received help in training the country’s police and ONDCP personnel, and educational support and workforce development for at-risk youth, along with aid for other areas. The CBSI has also provided counter-narcotics equipment, notably two interceptor vessels for the Coast Guard, delivered in November 2012.

In 2011, the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) adopted the Declaration on Small Arms and Light Weapons, a regional initiative aimed at reducing gun crime in the region and improving regional cooperation in the field of arms trafficking.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

Antigua and Barbuda’s parliament is divided into two chambers; the lower House of Representatives with 19 members (17 of whom are elected), and the upper Senate with 17 appointed members. The legislature is constitutionally independent and has the power to provide oversight and pass laws. Parliamentary elections were held in June  2014. The election was overwhelmingly won by Gaston Browne of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party. The Commonwealth Observer Mission, who observed the election, said a number of issues had been seen throughout the process, but there was more of an orderly process in comparison to the 2009 electoral process[12] .

Security and Justice Opportunities

Unlike other countries in the region, Antigua and Barbuda does not appear to suffer from gang-related violence. However, the country can no longer claim the success of being one of the least violent in the region as represented by its climbing murder rate in recent years. Efforts to ensure this is brought back down to previously low level are therefore crucial.

There is no data available for the perception of corruption within Antigua and Barbuda. According to the US State Department, though there are occasional reports of governmental corruption, the administration generally enforced laws providing criminal penalties for official misconduct. 

Justice Sector Opportunities

Arguably the most pressing concern within the justice sector is the need for a modern prison facility. The steps currently being made to increase prisoner rehabilitation programmes and introduce a new prison farm for soon to be released inmates are welcome. Efforts could be made to ensure these programmes are properly implemented and that the reported project to build a new prison moves forward.

As part of the CBSI, the United States is helping the government with the implementation of a more modern criminal code. This could go some way to reducing the incidence of judges sentencing people for relatively minor offences, something which is placing a burden on the already overstretched penitentiary system. Ways to support this measure could be explored. 

In December 2012, the DPP cited the need for at least one additional criminal judge in the High Court to deal with an increasing caseload. What’s more, the slow speed at which certain cases are processed needs addressing. Therefore, helping to train legal professionals to improve efficiency in pre-trial proceedings, as well as introduce measures to deal with the shortage of judges should be looked into. 

Security Sector Opportunities 

Corruption and police abuse do not appear to be high-level concerns, as they are in other countries in the region. However, as the US State Department has highlighted, investigations and proceedings against officers accused of misconduct can be slow. Helping to improve the capacity of the force to effectively conduct internal investigations and improve overall accountability is therefore an opportunity for engagement.

The force’s emphasis on cultivating better community ties, including its involvement in the DARE programme, is a promising move, particularly in light of the relatively low level of public confidence in the RABPF.

Civil Society Actors to Engage With

NGOs and civil society groups in Antigua and Barbuda are primarily focused on environmental and gender issues. The Directorate of Gender Affairs is one of the more prominent NGOs, promoting women’s rights and providing safe areas for abused women 

The Optimist Club based in St John’s is one of the key organisations to engage with given its involvement in prisoner rehabilitation programmes and its promotion of youth education programmes and non-violence initiatives.

According to Freedom House, while there are a number of active NGOs, many are inadequately funded and vulnerable to influence from the government.


Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2013 – Antigua and Barbuda,” March 2013

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012

United Nations Development Programme, “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security,” February 2012

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Homicide Statistics 2012,” Data set retrieved from

U.S. Department of State, “2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012,” June 2012 

U.S. Department of State, “2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 2: Money Laundering and Financial Crimes,” March 2013


[1] The seven countries were Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

[2] The ACCP has a membership of 24 Caribbean nations and is designed to facilitate cooperation between the region’s police forces and help with the development of officers’ technical skills and professionalism. 

[3] The country received a Tier 2 ranking. Tier 1 is the best possible ranking, with the lowest being Tier 2 Watch List, and Tier 3.

[4] The ECSC is the superior court for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members. This includes six independent states and three British Overseas Territories. The ECSC is headquartered in Saint Lucia.

[5] A Master of the High Court exercises the authority and jurisdiction a judge.

[6] The Court of Appeal moves about the OECS when it is required.

[7]CARICOM is an organisation comprised of 15 nations and aims to promote economic integration and cooperation between its member states.

[8] In July 2012 a young man was apprehended by the police and allegedly beaten with the butt of a gun by a police offer. An investigation was subsequently ordered into the incident.

[9] The 1996 treaty creating the RSS was signed by Saint Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada, Barbados, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

[10] Tutoring was provided by fellow inmates who had completed secondary and tertiary education, though professional teachers were also encouraged to volunteer.

[11] The project received funding from the British government.

[12] 'The Commonwealth observes general election in Antigua and Barbuda',

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.