Barbados Country Profile


Key Statistics

Population: 288,725 thousand (Military Balance, 2014)

Capital: Bridgetown

Languages: English (official), Bajan (English-based creole language, widely spoken in informal settings)

Major Ethnic Groups: black 92.4%, white 2.7%, East Indian 1.3%, other 0.2%

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 15,701 (IMF 2015 World Economic Outlook)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 16,500 (IMF 2015 World Economic Outlook)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 610 (Military Balance 2014)

Small Arms: number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians is 9,000; defence forces are reported to have 1,400 firearms; number of law enforcement firearms is reported at 1,600 (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: n/a

Executive Summary

The small island state of Barbados is one of the safest countries in the region. Its homicide rate has fluctuated over the past decade, but it has managed to bring it under control in recent years with the total number of murders falling for three consecutive years. Though there are estimated to be a number of gang members active in the country, they are typically not involved in organised crime, like their counterparts in Jamaica, for example. It is also unclear to what extent they contribute to overall violence in the country.

Barbados’ police force has one of the best reputations in the region and is widely perceived to be free of corrupt elements and be respondent to civilian oversight mechanisms. The judicial system, while well regarded by citizens, suffers from a serious backlog of cases and is in need of modernisation to help it handle cases more efficiently. This is where most help should be focused.

The government has one of the lowest rates of corruption in the world meaning engagement with all levels is possible and that the government will likely be receptive to outside aid. 

Security and Justice Context

Violent crime in Barbados has fluctuated since 2000, peaking in 2006 when the country registered 35 homicides, giving it a rate of 12.7 murders per 100,000 people. Recently, the general trend points downward, with recorded murders falling year-on-year between 2010 and 2012 (See Annex 1.). The homicide rate for 2012 was 7.4 per 100,000[1] , making Barbados one of the least violent countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, making Barbados one of the least violent countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.


Fig. 1 Barbados Homicides 2000-2012

Despite the fall in homicides from 2011-2012, crime rose 2.4 percent between the two years. Robberies (including commercial robberies) and residential burglaries were the main contributors to this increase.

The island state serves as a transhipment point for US and Europe-bound cocaine, though the amount is relatively minor; between January and October 2011, for example, 64 kilograms of cocaine were seized. Marijuana is the primary illicit narcotic that moves through Barbadian territory, with the country also being a producer of the drug. In the same January to October 2011 time period, 5 tons of marijuana was seized, the majority at sea.

Barbados has little presence of transnational organised criminal groups.

There has been some disagreement in recent years over the extent of Barbados’ gang problem. In 2008, Barbados authorities estimated that there were 150 gangs active in the country with membership totalling 4,000. According to the United Nations Development Programme, this may be an overestimate, however. These groups are primarily engaged in the local drug trade, robberies, and protecting their local territory, or, “turf.”

Gangs have been found to recruit secondary school pupils, typically preying on economically and socially disaffected youth.

Unlike Jamaican or Trinidadian gangs, however, there is little evidence to suggest that Barbados has gangs engaged in transnational drugs or arms smuggling. Compared to Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the gang problem appears to be less of a threat to security, despite high estimates on gang membership. In the 2010 UNDP Citizen Security Survey, respondents expressed the lowest rate of fear of becoming a victim of a crime in Barbados, compared to six surveyed countries[2] .

Barbados is a transit point for the regional legal arms trade, though it is unclear if it has a significant role in illicit arms trafficking. The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP)[3] estimated that there are some 1.6 million illegal weapons circulating in the whole Caribbean. Legally imported guns in Barbados have in some cases gone missing and later been found to have been used in crimes in other countries[4] .

Firearms are used in approximately 40 percent of all murders in Barbados, compared to roughly 72 percent in Trinidad and Tobago, and roughly 75 percent in Jamaica.

The country is a source and transit point for international human trafficking. In 2009, its rating was downgraded by the US State Department from Tier 2 to Tier 2 Watch List, meaning Barbados does not comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and the government has failed to produce evidence that it is tackling the problem effectively. 

Perceptions of Insecurity[5]

There is little information on the overall perception of insecurity in Barbados. However, according to the 2010 UNDP Citizen Security Survey, the fear among Barbadians of having their house broken into, or being robbed at gunpoint is the lowest out of the seven populations surveyed. Only 8.4 percent of respondents said they had a fear of their house being burgled, and 5.2 percent feared being robbed at gunpoint.

Violent crime was not considered among the top three problems facing the country’s citizens. Unemployment, the cost of food, and the cost of living all ranked higher.

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

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

The Supreme Court of Judicature is the country’s highest court and is split into the Court of Appeal and the High Court[6] . Below the Supreme Court are Magistrates’ Courts whose jurisdiction is limited geographically to the area they serve and which can only hand down sentences of up to five years.

Though appeals from Magistrates’ Courts and the High Court are heard by the Court of Appeal, final appellate jurisdiction on criminal matters rests with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)[7] , inaugurated in 2005 as the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)[8] .

The Office of the Attorney General[9] acts as the government’s legal advisor and is also part of the cabinet, serving as the Minister of Home Affairs. The principal prosecution authority is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and is independent from the government.

There is also an Ombudsman’s Office which hears public complaints against the government for alleged injustices.

The main concern within the country’s justice system is inefficiency in the courts. Problems with trial scheduling have meant situations where attorneys have been double booked in both the High Court and Magistrates’ Courts. As a consequence, cases are delayed. In August 2012, Barbados’ chief justice admitted that there were around 3,000 cases still waiting to go to trial. In addition, there were 99 cases in the High Court that were still pending from 1990.

The CCJ has criticised Barbados for delays in handing down decisions on cases.

In spite of the backlog, Barbados had the highest number of respondents (70.3 percent) who rated their criminal justice system as sufficient in the UNDP Citizen Security Survey.

Barbados has only one prison, HMP Dodds, which was opened in 2007 and has the capacity to hold 1,250 people. In November 2011, it was at 82.5 percent capacity.  It is managed by the Barbados Prison Service which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs. According to the US State Department, conditions in the prison generally met international standards. 

Security Institutions

The Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) is the primary body charged with providing law enforcement and comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs. As of 2009, the force had just over 1,000 members, the majority of who are unarmed. Those patrolling areas with a high incidence of crime carry firearms.

The RBPF has one of the better reputations in the region. Out of the 21 homicide cases in 2012, the police reportedly solved 18. The incidence of police abuse is low and public confidence in the force is higher than other countries in the Caribbean. In the UNDP Citizen Security Survey, 39 percent of respondents have confidence in the RBPF to control gang violence, the highest rate out of the seven countries surveyed. Barbados also had the highest number of respondents who believe the police force in their country respects citizens’ rights.

The US State Department notes that the government maintains effective mechanisms to punish abuse and corruption within the security forces and that in 2011 there were no reports of immunity.

Handling police oversight are the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA).

The Barbados Defence Force (BDF) is charged with protecting national security and can be called on to conduct joint patrols with the RBPF. The BDF is formally commanded by the governor general and directed by the prime minister. The force is relatively small, with approximately 626 active personnel.

Barbados is a part of the Regional Security System (RSS) which seeks to promote cooperation between its members[10] in the Eastern Caribbean in drug interdiction efforts and maritime policing, among other areas.

Barbados has a Medium Term Development Strategy (2010-2014) which, among other goals, aims to increase public education initiatives in schools on violence and drug use,  improve the capacity of the police, increase the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), create drug-specific courts for those arrested for drug abuse, and expand rehabilitation programmes in the prison system.

The country also has a long term National Strategic Plan for 2005-2025 which aims to cut key crime rates by 2025 and improve judicial efficiency by simplifying court procedures and modernising the justice system, among other targets. 

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

Barbados embarked on a judicial reform process in 2006 that aimed to clear the country’s backlog of cases, with one of the moves being to keep courts open longer and thus allowing them to hear more cases annually. However, these efforts have not progressed significantly. 

Chief Justice Marston Gibson has advocated using ADR more in order to speed up legal proceedings and decision times, stating in August 2012, “It is a matter of survival for [the legal] system.” A turn to this practice would avoid the litigation process, instead utilising practices such as mediation and arbitration.

Chief Justice Gibson has announced measures to tackle the case backlog, including: dismissing or discontinuing cases from between 1990 and October 2009 if attorneys and litigants handing them reply to case notices stating they can be removed from the backlog[11] ; increasing the number of times per week the Court of Appeal sits; and, providing recording technology in the Magistrates’ Courts to avoid having to take evidence in writing.

The National Council on Substance Abuse[12] (NCSA) stated in January 2013 that it was moving forward with plans to create a court for drug-related crimes. This would remove pushing offenders to the penal system and instead send them to treatment programmes. No timeframe for the court’s creation had been announced at the time of writing.

Security Sector Reform and Initiatives

No sweeping reform measures have been undertaken for the RBPF or BDF. However, under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a US government-funded program, Barbados has received help in training the country’s security forces, aid in the form of counternarcotics equipment, and aid for workforce training programmes for at-risk youth, thus helping reduce the likelihood they will turn to crime.

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.

The government launched a National Task Force for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons in April 2012, a 13-member body headed by the attorney general. The body is designed to develop and oversee strategies to combat human trafficking. 

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

The Barbados Parliament is split into two chambers: the (lower) House of Assembly which is elected, and the (upper) Senate which is appointed. Parliament has the constitutional power to provide oversight and pass laws, and is generally regarded as providing a strong system of checks and balances on the government. The fact that the Senate (comprised of 21 members as opposed to the House’s 30) is appointed, though, raises some concerns over whether the legislature indeed has complete independence. 

Security and Justice Opportunities

Barbados registered the highest score among Latin American and Caribbean countries in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, and ranked 15th in the world overall, ahead of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

The country has done well to control its crime rate while other nearby countries have suffered from increased levels of violence. The low prevalence of corruption means there is a strong opportunity for engagement with all government ministries to tackle reform efforts. 

Justice Sector Opportunities 

The most pressing concern in Barbados’ justice sector is the serious backlog of cases. It has been estimated that at the current rate of case clearance, it would take 18 years to remove the backlog, even if no new cases were taken on. Efforts should be made to help modernise the courts system since outdated technology—for example, having to record court evidence in writing rather than audibly—appears to be a stumbling block to processing cases faster. Engaging with the country’s chief justice on this issue is advised since he has been a proponent of reform in this manner.

Providing aid for the creation of new courts and hiring of more judges could also help speed up proceedings. Along these lines, supporting the creation of the special court for drug-related crimes (as is being worked on by the NCSA) is advised to alleviate pressure on the overburdened judicial system.

Security Sector Opportunities

The police are widely considered to be one of the least corrupt and more efficient forces in the Caribbean. No major reform initiatives are necessarily needed. Therefore, efforts should be focused on ensuring the force is transparent and remains accountable to civilian oversight. 

At the beginning of 2013, the idea of increasing community policing initiatives was being proposed by some officials—including the attorney general—though this was very much in its early stages. The breakdown in the relationship between police and citizens was cited as a driving factor for this. If this proposal moves forward, this should be aided. 

Civil Society Actors to Engage With

Barbados does not have a particularly high number of non-government organisations (NGOs) dedicated to justice and security. The Drug Education and Counselling Services helps tackle drug problems in communities through education initiatives. It has also worked in the past to educate families on the risks of disaffected youth being recruited by gangs.

For more information on Barbadian NGOs, the Barbados Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (BANGO) should be consulted.[13]


Centre for International Trade and Security – University of Georgia, Institute for Security Studies, and Project Ploughshares, “Import and Transit Considerations in an Arms Trade Treaty,” March 2012

Government of Barbados, “The National Strategic Plan of Barbados: 2005-2025,” June 2005 (Draft)

Government of Barbados, “Medium Term Development Strategy of Barbados: 2010-2014,” December 2009 (Draft)

Organisation of American States, “Report on Citizen Security in the Americas,” July 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 

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

United Nations Development Program, “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012,” 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


[1] This estimate is arrived at using the CIA World Factbook’s July 2012 population estimate for Barbados.

[2] The other six countries are Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana, Suriname, Saint Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda.

[3] 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. 

[4] A murder in Trinidad and Tobago in 2011 involved a weapon that had been manufactured in Italy and shipped to Barbados.

[5] There is no data from Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project.

[6] The High Court has three divisions: Civil, Criminal and Family.

[7] Barbados is one of three countries whose final appellate jurisdiction rests with the CCJ. Guyana and Belize are the other two.

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

[9] This Office of the Attorney General is its own ministry.

[10] 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.

[11] There is also the possibility cases can be discontinued or dismissed if the courts receive no reply from the attorney or litigator concerned.

[12] NCSA comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs

[13] More information on their website:

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.