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The most northern of the Windward Islands, Dominica lies in the Caribbean Sea. Since gaining independence in 1978, the country has operated as a multi-party parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth. The State has been persistently criticised for its juvenile justice system, which allows for children to be sentenced to life imprisonment and corporal punishment.
Dominica is the northernmost of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean Sea, south of Guadaloupe and north of Martinique. The country has a varied terrain, including the highest mountain in the eastern Caribbean and the second largest volcanic lake in the world. The capital city is Roseau.
Population and Language
The island is home to around 67,000 people, a figure that fell dramatically over the last 30 years as a result of emigration, but which has now stabilised. Dominica is the only country in the Caribbean to retain a pre-colonial population made up of around 3,000 native Caribs who largely reside on the east coast.
English is the country's official language, though French and Creole are also widely spoken as a result of the island's French history.
History and Politics
Dominica was first discovered by Europeans on Christopher Columbus' 1493 voyage, and named after the latin for its day of discovery (Sunday). The island was the last to be colonised by European settlers, however, largely as a result of the fierce resistance of the native population. French colonists started a community on the island in 1635, though the French later ceded the island to Great Britain, which established its own colony at the start of the 19th century. The move towards independence began to form into concrete steps from 1958, when the island became part of the West Indies Federation, followed by the grant of autonomy of internal affairs in 1967 and full independence as a republic within the Commonwealth in 1978.
In post-independence politics, following an initial short lived government, Mary Eugenia Charles of the Dominica Freedom Party became the key political figure and retained the premiership for fifteen years from 1980. The United Workers Party subsequently took control of Parliament but only retained power for a single five-year term until the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) took power for the first time in 2000. The DLP has retained power since, and won a sizeable majority of 18 out of 21 seats in the Parliament in the most recent elections of 2009. Roosevelt Skerrit of the DLP is the current Prime Minister, while President Nicholas Liverpool holds the largely ceremonial role of President.
Dominica has historically been highly reliant on agriculture, particularly bananas, which accounted for 18 per cent of GDP in 2005. The agricultural industry has suffered a series of setback, including natural disasters and the phased reduction in preferential access to the EU as a market for its goods. Tourism is also a vital component of the national economy, though unlike some of its neighbours, the island does not have an airport with the capacity to support large aircraft. As such, the tourist industry is comparatively lightly developed compared to many of Dominica's regional neighbours.
Dominica is part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, a nine-member international organisation which, when fully operational, will regulate vital economic functions of its members, including through the operation of a common market, a customs union, and common trade and monetary policy.
Media and Civil Society
The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, of which Dominica is a member, was rated 25 out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2011/12 World Press Freedom Index. This ranking indicated a rise of 32 places on the previous year, based on the “almost total lack of acts of violence or serious breaches of freedom of information”.
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Among the most serious violations of children's rights in Dominica are in relation to juvenile justice. Domestic law allows for judicially administered corporal punishment of boys in the form of “whipping” and persons under 18 may be sentenced to life imprisonment.
- UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
- BBC Caribbean, "One more for Skerrit" 22 December 2009
- See Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, "Official Website" for publications, news and treaties
- Reporters Without Borders, "World Report: Americas"
- CRIN, "Inhuman sentencing of children in Dominica" July 2010
- OHCHR, "Dominica Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Dominica Country Profile"
- BBC, "Dominica Country Profile" and "Timeline"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011/12"
- The World Bank, "Country Brief: The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States"