By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
WASHINGTON, DC - The Bahamas’ high-profile hearing on the human rights of migrants last week was of “tremendous” importance to international human rights law, according to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Chair Rose-Marie Antoine.
Ms Antoine said that it was critical that the hearing, and the commission’s voice, be taken “extremely seriously” as its jurisprudence often set the precedent for the United Nations. She spoke to The Tribune on the sidelines of Friday’s hearing, where commissioners pointed to several precedents in international law that mandated that the detention of migrants should be a measure of last resort.
“It is an extremely important issue,” she said. “These are issues that are grounded in international human rights law, not just the concern of The Bahamas, but there are cases from the Inter-American court and the United Nations very often follows our own precedence and jurisprudence.
“We inform the United Nations. They told us that when we went to the Dominican Republic, when we went there we were the first to go. The United Nations committee on refugees followed our work, jurisprudence and our lead on these issues. So these issues are of tremendous importance in international human rights law for all nations.”
The Dominican Republic withdrew membership from the IACHR in November last year following its judgment to rescind the citizenship of children of undocumented migrants who have registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929. The IACHR is an autonomous judicial institution that forms the human rights protection system of the Organization of American States (OAS).
On Friday, the four-member IACHR panel of human rights experts sought answers on matters concerning raids, deportations and the related due process; overcrowding at the detention facility; access to the facility for consular support, legal aid, and human rights monitoring; allegations of physical and verbal abuse; identification of non-nationals by officials; the detention of migrant children; and the issue of statelessness.
The government has agreed to submit a formal written position to the questions; however, Ms Antoine explained that the position would not be made public unless there was another petition.
The panel consisted of Ms Antoine and commissioners Tracy Robinson, Felipe González and José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez. The hearing follows the IACHR’s decision to issue precautionary measures over alleged conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre last month. The government has regarded the commission’s report to be “prejudicial”, adding that several claims therein were “overstated and inaccurate”.
At Friday’s hearing, Mr González explained that the petition by human rights groups was separate from the commission’s advisory and request for monitoring.
On the sidelines, Ms Antoine explained that the government had not been forthcoming with documentation but noted that the delays were understandable because officials were not familiar with the system. She added that she was notified that a large amount of documentation had been delivered in the days before the hearing.
Before the commission, Damian Gomez, State Minister for Legal Affairs, confirmed that Head of Mission Chet Neymour was now authorised to accept communications from the commission.
He hoped the assignment would “cure” future bureaucratic problems related to communication with the commission, and address problems already encountered.
Ms Antoine told The Tribune it was not unusual for the region to undercut the significance of human rights issues. “This is one of the oldest tribunals in the hemisphere,” she said. “It is very highly respected and people take the commission’s voice extremely seriously.
“I know Caricom. I’m from a Caricom country so I know that sometimes we tend to think when it comes to human rights that there are no violations in our part of the world, and that’s part of the reason why maybe the average person may not realise the significance. But it is indeed a very high profile commission and very significant that we have hearings.”