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During the year, there were two cases of first asylum. The authorities detained Sierra Leonean Alie Marah in prison for 15 months as an illegal immigrant. When Marah requested asylum, the Government released him to the NGO. The Government denied asylum to the second claimant, a Cuban national.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government.
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic elections, held on the basis of universal suffrage. The Constitution extends the right to vote to citizens as well as to legal residents at least 18 years of age who are citizens of other Commonwealth countries. Parliamentary elections were held at intervals not to exceed 5 years, and elections for the Tobago House of Assembly occurred every 4 years. The most recent general election was held on October 7, and observers found it to be generally free and fair.
The two major political parties were the People’s National Movement and the United National Congress. The PNM was primarily but not exclusively Afro-Trinidadian; the UNC was primarily but not exclusively Indo-Trinidadian. General elections held on December 10, 2001, resulted in an evenly divided Parliament, with both major parties winning 18 seats in the 36-member House of Representatives. Both parties agreed to allow President A.N.R. Robinson to break the deadlock by appointing the Prime Minister. When the President appointed PNM leader Patrick Manning, the UNC called the decision unconstitutional and refused to participate in an agreement on the appointment of a Parliamentary Speaker, among other things. With the Parliament unable to form a majority, Manning called new elections for October 7. In spite of inflammatory campaigning by both parties, those elections proceeded peacefully and resulted in an uncontested 20 to 16 majority for the PNM. Following the elections, the authorities charged the campaign manager for one newly elected PNM parliamentarian with interfering with a ballot box. There were other, unsubstantiated, complaints of interference at some polling stations.
There were no specific laws that restrict the participation of women or minorities in government or the political parties. Women comprised slightly more than half of all registered voters in the country, and the voters elected 7 women to the 36-seat House of Representatives on October 7, up from 6 women in the previous Parliament. There were 9 women in the 31-member Senate and 8 women in the 25-member Cabinet.
Both major political parties reached out to ethnic minority voters, and ethnic minorities occupied significant positions in government. Senator Howard Chin Lee, PNM member and Minister of National Security, and Gerald Yetming, Member of Parliament from the UNC, were both ethnic Chinese. Chinese were the third largest distinct ethnic group, representing approximately 1 percent of the population.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights.
A number of human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials generally were cooperative, the Government responded strongly to Amnesty International’s criticism of prison conditions and due process. An independent Ombudsman received complaints relating to governmental administrative issues and investigated complaints of human rights abuse. The Ombudsman could make recommendations but did not have authority to force government offices to take action.
In 1998 the Government sought to curtail appeals by death row inmates to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the U.N. Human Rights Committee. The Government’s moves were prompted by a Privy Council ruling that failure to execute a condemned prisoner within 5 years of sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. To meet this 5-year deadline, the Government sought to impose time limits on the IACHR and the U.N. Committee to ensure that applications before these bodies were completed within 8 months. In 1999 the Government withdrew from the American Convention on Human Rights following a required 1-year notice.
However, the Privy Council subsequently ruled that by ratifying a treaty that provides for individual access to an international body, the Government made that process part of the domestic criminal justice system, thereby extending the scope of the due process clause of the Constitution, and that executing a prisoner with such an appeal pending would constitute a violation of due process.
In June the Inter-American Court of Human Rights cited the Government for violating the American Convention on Human Rights by executing inmates who had unresolved appeals pending before the IACHR and ordered the Government to pay more than $2.9 million to the families and attorneys of several death row inmates. The Government contested the Court’s findings, saying that the executions in question had been carried out in accordance with applicable law.
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