Carmichael Road Detention Centre
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE US State Department maintained its spotlight on inefficiencies in the country’s “extremely backlogged” judicial system, mistreatment of migrants, and perceptions of impunity held by enforcement officials in its 2015 Human Rights Practices report.
For more than a decade, the report has maintained criticisms over lengthy trials and pretrial detention, harsh prison conditions, violence against women and children and discrimination based on ethnic descent.
The report, released yesterday, read: “The most serious human rights problems were mistreatment of irregular migrants (compounded by problems in processing them); an inefficient judicial system, resulting in trial delays and an increase in retaliatory crime against both witnesses and alleged perpetrators; and the perception of impunity on the part of law enforcement and immigration officials accused of using excessive force.”
It continued: “Other human rights problems included substandard detention conditions; corruption; violence and discrimination against women; sexual abuse of children; and discrimination based on ethnic descent, sexual orientation, or HIV status.”
The report noted that the government had taken some action against police officers and other officials accused of abuse of power.
The prison and Carmichael Road Detention Centre (CRDC) conditions failed to meet international standards in some areas, and overcrowding was again cited as a major problem that contributed to harsh conditions at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services. The report noted that there was no independent authority to investigate credible allegations of inhumane conditions lodged by inmates and staff. It also pointed out that the government had made little progress in its case against five Royal Bahamas Defense Force (BDF) marines who in 2013 allegedly beat five Cuban detainees with batons and pipes at the CRDC. The report stated that the government’s response was that the case was still “before the courts”.
While the report acknowledged that the government generally respected the constitutional right for freedom of speech and press, it pointed out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly threatened to revoke the permanent status of a critic of the government. The report furthered that civil rights groups reported the government used threats of prosecution in a way that had a “chilling effect” on free speech.
“In response to criticism of the government’s new immigration policy that took effect in November 2014,” the report read, “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded citizens that the Bahamas Nationality Act allows the minister for nationality to revoke citizenship from a person who ‘has shown himself by act or speech to be disloyal or disaffected towards The Bahamas’.
“In August, the ministry publicly threatened to revoke the permanent residency status of a critic of the government.”
It continued: “The government did not use libel or slander laws to silence critics but employed threats of prosecution in a way that civil rights groups reported had a chilling effect on free speech. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responding to criticism of the CRDC conditions by a civil rights organisation, called on the police commissioner to investigate the group for criminal libel.”
On the matter of the constitutional right to freedom of assembly and association, the report noted “credible” allegations made by civil rights groups protesting the government’s immigration enforcement policy. It was alleged that some government officials sought to constrain their freedom of speech and association rights by publicly labelling the groups as traitors and then refusing to conduct adequate investigations or provide police protection from threats.
The report is referring to the heated war-of-words between Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell with lawyer Fred Smith, QC, and the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association over its immigration policy.
On the matter of statelessness, the report stated that the government did not effectively implement laws and policies to provide certain habitual residents the opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner and on a non-discriminatory basis. As of October, it stated, the government claimed it had approved 60 belonger permits but was unable to verify whether any had been issued.
The State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices cover internationally recognised individual, civil, political, and worker’s rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first report covered the year 1976.