Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Country Profile

11/02/2015

Key Statistics

Population: 109,400 thousand (World Bank, 2013)

Capital: Kingstown

Languages: English, French patois

Major Ethnic Groups: black 66%, mixed 19%, East Indian 6%, European 4%, Carib Amerindian 2%, other 3%

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 7,097 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 13,259 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: no official armed force. Two paramilitary forces comprised of approximately 100 individuals are in charge of internal security.

Small Arms: specific numbers of firearms in the country are not available (Gun Policy, 2015) 

Military Expenditure: n/a

Executive Summary

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (hereafter St. Vincent and the Grenadines), a small country in the Eastern Caribbean with a population of just over 100,000, has seen its murder rate climb in the last decade like many of its neighbours. The country serves as a transhipment point for drug traffickers, though there is no registered presence of any transnational criminal organisations. In addition, gangs are active on the island; however, their involvement in violent crime appears to be low.

The country's judicial system suffers from a case backlog and understaffing and there have been allegations of drug-related corruption and misconduct on the part of the country’s police force, meaning efforts should be made to strengthen institutional capacity in both the justice and security sectors. Among measures that can be taken are helping with the creation of a new National Prosecution Service and ensuring that the police enforce strict vetting procedures, and remains accountable and transparent.

There is opportunity for reform in the country’s prison system. Although the government has taken steps to reduce overcrowding and improve conditions through the building of a new facility, recidivism among the country’s convicts is very high, suggesting more could be done to implement rehabilitation programmes before convicts are released.

Security and Justice Context

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ homicide rate in 2012 was estimated to be 25.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, a more than two-fold increase on the 11.1 per 100,000 registered in 2001 (see Figure 1). The figure for 2012 was, however, down from the decade high of 33 per 100,000 in 2007 when 36 murders were recorded.

stvincent1

Fig. 1 St. Vincent and the Grenadines Homicide Rate 2000-2012

While the rise in homicides is a concern, violent crime on the whole in the country is low. Petty crimes such as theft and burglary, however, are an issue.

Like other countries in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Vincent and the Grenadines serves as a transhipment point for drug traffickers moving illicit narcotics from South America and the Caribbean. The majority of drugs moved through the country’s territory are marijuana; in 2011, officials seized 10.2 tonnes of cannabis compared to 39 kilograms of cocaine. Despite its role as a drug transit country, there is little to no evidence of major drug trafficking organisations having a presence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The country is also a producer of marijuana which is grown predominantly for domestic use or exported to nearby countries. In 2011, authorities eradicated 70 acres of marijuana plantations.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has low levels of gang activity and violence, especially compared to other countries in the region. Around a quarter of the country's police sub-stations report having a gang problem, and the total number of gang members in the country is less than 200. Less than a quarter of all prisoners and detainees awaiting trial in St. Vincent and the Grenadines interviewed by the Organisation of American States' Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission said they had ever been involved in a gang. 

In 2009, the only year for which United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) data was available for the country, 30 percent of homicides involved a firearm. This rate is substantially lower than other Caribbean countries, notably Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, which all have rates above 70 percent.

No official estimates are available for the amount of illicit firearms in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP)[1] has estimated that there are some 1.6 million illegal weapons circulating in the whole Caribbean.

The country serves as a transit and source point in the international trafficking of people and in 2012 the US State Department stated that St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not fully comply with international standards to eliminate human trafficking. However, it noted that it is making efforts to do so and awarded it a Tier 2 rating[2] .

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is vulnerable to money laundering, but government efforts to counter financial crimes have been robust. The country’s Financial Intelligence Unit is a model in the region, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was the first country in the Eastern Caribbean to use asset forfeiture in a criminal prosecution.

Perceptions of Insecurity

There is no available data on perceptions of insecurity among St. Vincent and the Grenadines citizens.

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

As a result of its colonial history, St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ legal system is based on English common law. Under the law and in practice, the judiciary is independent and trials are fair and public.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court[3] (ECSC) administers the country’s judicial system and assigns one High Court judges to reside in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and hear cases from the country’s courts.

The country has no local government, and is divided into six parishes that are run by the central government.  There are 11 lower courts divided among three magisterial districts that have both criminal and civil jurisdiction, as well as a family court. The Lower Judiciary comprises the Magistrates' Courts and the Family Courts. Above these sits the country’s Supreme Court.

Appealsgoing beyond the Supreme Court can be sent to the ECSC Court of Appeal[4] .Although St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a signatory to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), inaugurated in 2005 as the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)[5] , final appellate jurisdiction rests with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in London, United Kingdom.

The country has no military and thus no military courts.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs houses the Attorney General's Chambers and is tasked with providing legal advice to the government and updating the country's laws. The attorney general serves in a cabinet position as the Minister of Legal Affairs. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is in charge of initiating and undertaking criminal prosecutions.

A proposed amendment to the constitution went to a public vote in 2009 though did not receive the two-thirds majority required to be adopted. The 2009 constitution mandated the creation of an Ombudsman, a position that still does not exist in the country.

The judicial system suffers from long delays in preliminary inquiries for serious crimes, and there is currently a backlog of cases in the magistrate's court in the capital Kingstown. Delays are typically attributed to staff shortages in the judiciary. In addition, there are reports of witnesses refusing to cooperate out of fear of retaliation.

According to the US-based non-government organisation (NGO) Freedom House, domestic NGOs have criticised the government for exerting influence over the courts, thus ignoring the judiciary’s constitutional right to operate independently.

In 2011, the country’s prison system was operating at around 200 percent its official capacity and conditions were poor. Steps have since been taken to address this, however, notably the building of a new facility, the Belle Isle Correctional Facility, in 2009. In 2012, authorities began transferring prisoners to Belle Isle in order to reduce overcrowding in the prison in Kingstown which remained operational.

Health and safety issues in the prisons prior to the opening of Belle Isle led to a much higher rate of HIV/AIDS among inmates (4.1 percent) than among the general population. Corruption among prison staff allowed prisoners to obtain drugs and weapons, and there are many reports of abuses of prisoners by guards. Conditions are also poor at facilities for juvenile offenders. Independent human rights observers are permitted to visit prisons. 

According to the US State Department, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has an extremely high recidivism rate for convicts (as much as 75 percent) due to lack of economic prospects for former prisoners.

The prison system is overseen by the Ministry of National Security, Air and Sea Port Development.

Security Institutions

The Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force (RSVGPF) is comprised of around 850 personnel and comes under the authority of the Minister of National Security, a post held by the Prime Minister. The forces include a Special Services Unit, a Rapid Response Unit, a Drug Squad, and a Coast Guard.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) has noted an increase in reports of police abuse and misconduct and criticised the RSVGPF for the use of excessive force. In addition, Freedom House notes that there have been allegations of drug-related corruption within the police force, though there have not been any high-level court cases involving police corruption.

Citizen complaints of police misconduct are handled by the police force's complaints department, although the government does not provide records about how many complaints are received or what action has been taken. There is also an oversight committee that investigates police misconduct. However, as previously noted, St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not have an ombudsman and human rights groups in the country continue to call for the establishment of one to properly investigate civilian complaints about police abuse.

The country's Financial Intelligence Unit is noted as being very effective, working closely with other institutions such as the Coast Guard to identify traffickers and stop money laundering.

The country does not have regular military forces, relying on the Regional Security System, headquartered in Barbados, for national defence.[6]

At the time of writing, the government was still finalising its 2011-2025 National Social and Economic Development Plan (NESDP). The NESDP will serve as the primary guide for economic and social development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and will outline the country’s long-term strategies and vision. Among other areas, the plan will focus on good governance, though no information was publicly available at the time of writing as to what targets the government will set for the justice and security sectors.

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

In 2011, St. Vincent and the Grenadines adopted a Code for Prosecutors to strengthen the country's prosecution processes, having developed the code with the help of the British High Commission. The code helps standardise and modernise the prosecuting process, and establishes technical and ethical guidelines for prosecutors to follow.

Also in 2011,the Supreme Court and Family Courts took steps to address witness intimidation by installing a video-link facility for vulnerable and child witnesses to testify.

In 2012, the country implemented a law making it mandatory for interviews of defendants accused of serious offenses such as homicide and human trafficking to be electronically recorded, in an effort to improve permanent and accurate record keeping.

There is currently an effort underway to implement a national prosecution service. Several other Commonwealth countries in the Eastern Caribbean have implemented National Prosecution Services, most recently Dominica and St. Kitts and Nevis. The argument for the establishment of an NPS is that it eliminates the current practice in which, at the magisterial level police both investigate and prosecute criminal offenses. Advocates of the NPS say that prosecutorial decision-making should be placed in the hands of an independent, impartial agency. Some have also have argued that it is unconstitutional for the DPP not to control the proceedings currently conducted by police prosecutors. Furthermore, creation of the NPS would help in streamlining prosecution proceedings and improve efficiency and inter-agency cooperation.

This initiative is being developed with the help of the United States through its Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) aid programme.

Security Sector Reforms and Initiatives

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is drafting a National Drug Plan, with assistance from the Organisation of American States. In recent years, the government has established a new forensic drug laboratory to expedite drug-related prosecutions and the police established a Rapid Response Unit (RRU) to target drug and firearms offenses.

Under the CBSI the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has received counter-narcotics equipment, professional development and training for St. Vincent and the Grenadines' security forces, and help implementing workforce programmes for at-risk youth.

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

The House of Assembly of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a unicameral parliament. The Governor General appoints the House's six senators, while the people elect 15 members. Parliament is constitutionally independent of the executive and has the powers to make and pass laws. The Public Accounts Committee is a standing committee tasked with overseeing and investigating government activities.

Security and Justice Opportunities

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has traditionally been very open to cooperation both with its fellow Caribbean nations and with international partners. The country has close ties with the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In the 2012 edition of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), St. Vincent and the Grenadines ranked 36th out of 176 countries, giving it the fourth best ranking in the Caribbean. While media allegations of official corruption are not uncommon, corruption is not endemic and there is a reasonably safe environment for engagement on security and justice reform issues.

Justice Sector Opportunities

The creation of the Prosecutors’ Code should help improve the efficiency of the judicial system to ensure that legal professionals act uniformly and based on a set of codified standards. There is an opportunity to assist the government in the implementation of the National Prosecution Service which will go some way to improving efficiency further. Efforts could also be made to devise a plan with the government to address the issue of under-staffing in the legal sector, something which appears to be one of the key contributors to the case backlog.

The opening of a new correctional facility in 2012 is a positive move to address the overcrowding and poor conditions problem in the penitentiary system. The high recidivism rates for convicts due to lack of economic opportunity is troubling, though, and there is opportunity for engagement on rehabilitation and training programmes for the incarcerated and recently released prisoners to help reintegrate them into society and forestall further criminal activity. 

Security Sector Opportunities

The primary area for reform is in transparency and oversight of complaints of misconduct by police. While there is a police complaints department and a government oversight committee, the government has not provided any information on the disposition of citizen complaints and there is no civilian oversight mechanism such as an ombudsman. There is opportunity for engagement on these issues, particularly with the SVGHRA, who has recently charged that the government does not adequately investigate abuse by police.

In recent years, the country's economic difficulties have undercut St. Vincent and the Grenadines' law enforcement capacity. A possible way to bolster the police force against drug-related and other forms of corruption would be to implement more comprehensive vetting programmes and draft a national law enforcement strategic plan.

Civil Society Actors for Engagement

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Human Rights Association (SVGHRA) is the county’s only prominent human rights NGO. SVGRHA advocates for the protection of human rights and also provides legal assistance to indigent victims of human rights violations.

Resources

Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2012–St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” August 2012

Hill, S,“Gang Homicide in the Caribbean: Setting the Research Agenda,” Symposium on Gangs and Gang Violence in the Caribbean, February 2012 (Presentation at the American University, Washington D.C.)

Katz, C.M,“Understanding Gangs, Gang Members, and Gang Control in the Caribbean,”Symposium on Gangs and Gang Violence in the Caribbean," February 2012 (Presentation at the American University, Washington D.C.)

Organisation of American States, "Report on Citizen Security in the Americas 2012," May 2012

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

Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2012,” December 2012

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

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 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2013

Endnotes

[1] 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. 

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

[3] 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.

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

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

[6]  The Regional Security System is an international agreement for the collective defense and security of the eastern Caribbean. The seven member nations are St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia.

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.
Organisation

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.

Organisation