A LEADING human rights advocate has denounced the newly re-elected Free National Movement leader, Dr Hubert Minnis, for condoning “illegal” tactics, betraying core principles and pandering to prejudice in his support for the Government’s immigration polices as a bid to attract votes.
In supporting the government’s new immigration “Gestapo tactics”, the FNM has abandoned its core principles in what amounts to a cheap vote-getting stunt, according to Fred Smith, QC.
Mr Smith, president of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA), charged that the “illegal, immoral and unconstitutional” raids and round-ups currently underway go against everything the FNM is supposed to stand for.
“Former leader Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield must be turning in his grave,” Mr Smith said in a statement released yesterday. “His FNM stood against victimisation, racism, xenophobia, hatred and discrimination. It stood for constitutionally protected freedoms, due process and the rule of law. Sadly, it seems today’s FNM leadership is more interested in pandering to the most base, bigoted and narrow-minded elements of this society in a cheap effort to attract more votes.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Dr Minnis said that while the party considers the preservation of human rights to be “a paramount concern” it nevertheless supports the government’s severe new policy, calling it “right” and in the long-term interest of the Bahamas. Dr Minnis said that while the FNM had been “apprised of some concerns”, with regard to enforcement methods, inquiries confirmed that immigration officers have conducted themselves “with the highest levels of professionalism and sensitivity”.
Denouncing these remarks, Mr Smith said that immigration officers must necessarily be acting illegally as the new policy itself violates the Constitution of the Bahamas, the supreme law of the land. The preamble of the Constitution, he noted, recognises that the preservation of freedom must be guaranteed by an abiding respect for Christian values and the rule of law.
Mr Smith said: “Chapter 3 of the constitution outlines the fundamental rights and freedoms. Article 15 declares that every person – and not just Bahamian citizens or those who entered legally, but every single person within this jurisdiction – is entitled to those rights and freedoms, and to the protection of the law, regardless of that individual’s race, gender or place of origin.
“Such a person also enjoys constitutional protection for the privacy of his home and property, as well as from deprivation of that property. Raids in the dead of night are therefore illegal. Roadblocks are illegal. Demolishing people’s homes is illegal. The Limitation Act dictates that people who take adverse possession of property for over 12 years are entitled to own the property.
He noted that Article 17 of the constitution declares that “no person shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. He said: “So, even if the law provided for raids or arbitrary detention, or mandated a show of identification to prove status, etc, those laws must still be enforced in a way that is not dehumanising or degrading. But in any event, as it stands today, a justification in law simply does not exist for what the Immigration Department is doing.
“People cannot just be stopped, detained and deported at the whim of the minister or director of immigration. For someone to be expelled, a deportation order must be signed and due process followed.”
Outlining due process according to the constitution, Smith said Article 19  provides that “any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed in the language he understands for the reasons for his arrest and detention and shall be entitled to legal representation”. “Then, the Constitution says, that person must be brought without undue delay before a court – not held in indefinite detention like at Guant�namo Bay.
“And there is no law that provides that anyone is required to prove their legal status in the Bahamas. That is because Article 21 says every person is presumed to be innocent until he is proved or pleaded guilty. This is another reason why arbitrary round-ups and checkpoints are illegal and unconstitutional.”
Mr Smith said these issues had already been dealt with by the courts in a series of cases he successfully argued in the 1980s. He said the authorities do have lawful means of detaining suspected illegal immigrants, but often fail to do so at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner.
“Article 19 of the constitution says no person shall be deprived of his personal liberty save as maybe authorised by law. No person shall be deprived of his liberty except to prevent unlawful entry into the Bahamas. So they have every right to detain immigrants at the border, but because they have consistently failed to do their job for decades, for a variety of reasons, they now want to use that as an excuse to trample on fundamental rights. That is completely unacceptable,” he said.
“Again, once upon a time, the FNM understood and respected all this, now it seems they have come down with a severe case of amnesia, brought on by political expediency. The GBHRA cries shame on the party for abandoning the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, supporting discrimination, abandoning due process and conspiring with the PLP to terrorise the Haitian and Bahamian population. Her Majesty’s Official Opposition should act as a foil to the government, not a mirror image.”