EDITOR, The Tribune.
The comments of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell have become so unhinged and extremist of late that it is difficult not to find the spectacle amusing.
At the end of the day, however, it is no laughing matter. In his continued attempts to label members of the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) as disloyal to The Bahamas and guilty of defaming law enforcement officers, the minister is playing a very dangerous game.
Such unbalanced and misleading public comments are bound to spark unwarranted anger and hostility towards human rights defenders, placing them at the very least in fear for their safety and perhaps even in real physical danger.
Mitchell is to be reminded that his government has already been cautioned in the international arena for seeking to threaten, intimidate and stigmatise human rights defenders. In March at a high-profile hearing before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), the government’s delegation was repeatedly warned to cease and desist from using unsavoury tactics to try and silence those who seek to offer criticisms of its policies.
The context was a petition brought by the GBRHA alleging human rights abuses against migrants to The Bahamas. Several commissioners brought up the reports of threats against the petitioners by agents of the government, including IACHR president Rosa-Marie Antoine.
“At this commission, we make it clear that our rules and our whole ethos will not tolerate any reprisals or acts of intimidation against any petitioner or any persons who appear before us,” the president said.
IACHR country rapporteur for The Bahamas Tracy Robinson added that the commission is “always concerned when there are allegations of either threats or stigmatization of defenders and we ask the state to pay close attention to the allegations made.”
The GBHRA also met with IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, who assigned a special monitor to closely observe the situation and catalogue all threats and cases of stigmatisation of activists in The Bahamas, with a view to including them in the IACHR annual country report.
The prime minister and other senior members of the PLP are therefore duly reminded that the world is watching. And, as Mitchell himself said in his own recent appearance before the IACHR, “reputation is everything”.
Agents of the government have continuously sought to portray the efforts of the GBHRA and other human rights defenders to promote individual rights and the rule of law as some strange plot to damage the international reputation of the country.
We hereby give the PLP administration fair warning: In allowing Mitchell to continue his petty, dangerous and warmongering tirades against human rights defenders – and his attempts to set the police on whoever he feels has offended him – it is the government that is tarnishing the good name of The Bahamas abroad, not the activist community.
FRED SMITH, QC,
August 27, 2015.