The Grenada Revolution Online

U.S. State Department Report 1979 - Grenada

[NOTE] The report below was issued 4 February 1980 with the title "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1979" - Pages 322-326 in the section below concern Grenada. The Report was submitted to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. Senate.]


The island state of Grenada won its independence from Great Britain in 1974 and its government took the form of a parliamentary system based on the British model. The first Prime Minister, Eric Gairy, was a former labor leader who was accused by his opponents of personal corruption, rigging the 1976 elections, and physically intimidating the political opposition through the use of violence by a force of police 'auxiliaries' personally loyal to him.

In March 1979 the leaders of a former opposition party, the New jewel Movement (NJM), staged a nearly bloodless coup d'etat. The new Government was greeted with widespread acceptance despite criticism of the extra constitutional nature of the coup itself.

In its first several months the new People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) suspended the 1974 Constitution and detained a number of former government officials, policemen, opposition political leaders and private citizens. The Government also formed a People's Revolutionary Army and closed the sole privately-owned newspaper.

The Government has promised elections, but has not set a date. The Government has declared that a new Constitution is now in preparation, and will be placed before the voters for approval by a national referendum. Meanwhile, Government policy seeks to involve people directly in local decisions by facilitating the formation of village-level committees devoted to such tasks as public works.

The level of official corruption appears to have been sharply reduced, and the Government has taken steps to meet basic human needs within the parameters of a poor economy. The Government has, for example, reduced fees for secondary schools and instituted a school milk program.

1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Torture

The 1974 Constitution which guaranteed protection from inhuman treatment expressly prohibited torture. While there were credible reports of incidents of torture under the former government, there has been no evidence that the current government either condones or employs torture.

b. Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

A Royal Commission of Inquiry was set up in 1973 to examine the "breakdown of law and order and police brutality in Grenada" produced findings critical of Gairy, then Premier and later Prime Minister

The prison system in Grenada provides adequate health, dietary, and sanitary conditions. Visits by family members are usually allowed. However, visits by family members with political detainees were generally not allowed during 1979. Members of the press and a committee of the Caribbean Conference of Churches visited the prison once shortly after the March revolution to observe conditions.

c. Arbitrary Arrest or Imprisonment

Incidents of arbitrary arrest are believed to have occurred under the former government. The periods of arrest were brief and the aim was probably political harassment; legal remedies were available through appeal to an independent judiciary. At present, the constitution is suspended and the new People's Law provides for a preventive detention tribunal; detention without trial has thus become institutionalized. The People's Law provides that persons whose actions are likely to endanger "public safety or public order or to subvert or otherwise sabotage the People's Revolutionary Government" are subject to detention without formal charge. The present government has conducted roundups of persons suspected of counter-revolutionary activity. Very few of those persons detained under the People's Law dealing with National Security have had charges brought against them. Between March and December, 1979 there was an average of about seventy persons being held under the preventive detention tribunal system. (Grenada's population is about 100,000.) Most of those detained were members of or associated with the former government. The present government justifies the detention of most persons confined under the new law by claiming that they are potential allies of the former Prime Minister, whom they believe capable or organizing and executing a counter coup. Critics of the PRG allege that government claims of a counter coup are designed to justify arrests of opposition political leaders.

The law allows for review of the detainee's case by a three-member tribunal at two-month intervals. The tribunal's recommendations are secret and submitted only to the Minister of National Security (at present the Prime Minister) for final review.

Detainees are not allowed legal counsel during proceedings before the tribunal, and hearings may be conducted in the detainee's absence. Detention is legally defined as "legal custody" and no detention under the People's Law may be called into question in any court, effectively denying the right of habeas corpus.

d. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The newly-established preventive detention tribunal to deal with national security offenses has the effect of delaying indefinitely a citizen's access to fair public trial. The traditional legal system, based on British common law, continues to operate for non-security related offenses. Normal legal remedies are available in such cases, and the judiciary is fair and independent. A Grenadian Supreme Court was created to replace the West Indies Associated States Court of Appeals as Grenada's highest court of appeal.

e. Invasion of the Home

The 1974 Constitution prohibited arbitrary search. There were, nevertheless, alleged incidents of search without warrant under the former government. The present government gives powers of arrest and search to members of its newly established People's Revolutionary Army, as well as to the regular police. Searches done under the umbrella of "National Security" require no warrant and have probably been used to harass and stifle political opposition. Warrantless searches are usually conducted in conjunction with arrests of presumed political opponents of the Government.

2. Governmental Policies Relating to the Fulfillment of Such Vital Needs as Food, Shelter, Health Care and Education:

The economy of Grenada has traditionally been sustained by agriculture. Cacao, bananas, and nutmeg are the main cash crops. The present government has designed its economic strategy around the development of agro-industries, a fisheries industry, and tourism. While control over certain imported commodities has increased, the private industrial, commercial and banking sectors have been left mostly undisturbed. The single significant exception if the recent takeover by the Government of a bottling plant after a management-worker dispute lasting nearly 40 days. It is estimated that 32-40 percent of the labor force of 35,000 are without jobs.

The housing situation in Grenada appears to have deteriorated steadily during the 1970's. The new government has given priority to the construction of new low-cost housing and has sought the assistance of both traditional and non-traditional donors.

The general education level is high. The literacy rate is over 85%, which is the percentage of the population completing three or more years of schooling. Elementary education is free. Secondary education is subsidized by the Government, but is not completely free. Classroom space appears adequate and the Government has included the improvement of existing educational facilities among its priorities. 3. Respect for Civil and Political Liberties, including:

a. Freedom of Speech, Press, Religion, and Assembly

These freedoms were guaranteed in the 1974 Constitution. While religious freedom has been well respected in practice, there had been violations of the others from time to time under the former government; in recent months there have been indications that freedom of speech, press, and assembly are threatened. The privately owned newspaper Torchlight was closed by government decree, after a series of government attacks describing it as a "vehicle of destabilization" and a threat to national security. The Deputy Prime Minister said the newspaper will be reopened under a new form of management structure after having been "democratized." The remaining news media in Grenada have traditionally been under government ownership.

Prominent opposition political leaders have not been allowed freedom to criticize the Government publicly or to rally public support. One leader twice attempted to hold political rallies; hecklers disrupted both meetings. The Deputy Prime Minister expressed the opinion that as long as no violence is used, people have a 'democratic right" to make it clear they do not want to listen. With a single minor exception, there have been no anti-government demonstrations in the seven months since the revolution.

Another prominent opposition politician was detained by the People's Revolutionary Army shortly after his return to Grenada. The Government has said he will be charged with conspiracy to overthrow the Government and to assassinate the regime's leadership. The Government discourages public or private criticism on the grounds it is "counter-revolutionary".

b. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel and Emigration

There is no restriction on freedom to travel within the country, except for entry to zones restricted on national security grounds. Apart from the long-standing requirement to give evidence that national taxes are paid before departing the country, foreign travel and emigration are also freely permitted.

c. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The 1974 Constitution has been suspended. The Government has pledged a return to constitutional rule at an early opportunity and has indicated that a new constitution will be produced only after the people have been consulted, probably through a referendum rather than a constituent assembly. An enumeration of voters, promised within a few weeks of the coup, still has not begun. Men and women 18 and over have the right to vote. While acknowledging that the revolutionary government is "committed to elections," the Prime Minister has said that "elections are not the key question" and has not set a date for them.

Men and women have equal legal and political rights. In practice women hold a number of positions at high government levels, although they remain underrepresented in both the public and private sectors. There is no racial discrimination. The labor movement in Grenada has been an active factor in the political scene since former Prime Minister Gairy used it as his political base. Unions were in the forefront of the opposition to Gairy before his downfall. However, some unions now appear to be facing pressures from the People's Revolutionary Government. There are reports that in November, 1979, PRG officials attempted to stop a meeting of a democratic trade union organization, and made several public statements condemning certain labor officials for "destabilization". Despite these pressures, unions still have certain legal protections under the new government and are still able to organize.

4. Government Attitude and Record Regarding International and non-governmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights:

Soon after the March, 1979 revolution, a delegation from the Caribbean Conference of Churches visited the main prison in Grenada at the Government's invitation. There was no report by the group of any human rights abuses. There have been no subsequent visits by similar groups, although a press report has suggested the Caribbean Human Rights Committee may ask to examine the continued detention, without charge or trial, of persons in Grenada. Grenada ratified the American Convention on Human Rights under the previous government.

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