MINISTER of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell in the House of Assembly.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
HUMAN Rights group Amnesty International has defended the objectivity of its 2015 report following government criticism that claims of abuse were not fully investigated.
The group said on Friday it was concerned by comments made by Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, who claimed the organisation appeared to have uncritically accepted allegations of abuse.
The 2015 report raised concerns about “excessive force” and “killings” at the hands of police officers as it highlighted problems in this country’s criminal justice and immigration systems. Amnesty said some circumstances of deaths at the hands of police could be seen as “extrajudicial executions”.
Pointing to its international record and independence, Amnesty said it repeatedly requested information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration but received no response.
“Amnesty International aims to ensure the highest level of objectivity, independence and veracity in its reporting about the state of human rights in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and the rest of the world,” a statement from the orgnaisation read.
“We have repeatedly sought the government’s view and explanation regarding serious allegations of human rights violations happening in recent months, in order to ensure that the official perspective is taken into account in our reporting, yet we have yet to receive a response from the government in the Bahamas.
It added: “Amnesty International remains open to a continuous dialogue with the Bahamian government, and particularly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, to discuss how best to advance the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.”
Mr Mitchell said the report was under government review in a statement last week. However, he pointed out that one of the claims in the report sounded like the “usual pablum spun by the detractors of the Immigration Department”. He was referring to an incident in Eleuthera that involved 27-year-old Jean-Mary Justilien being shot by an officer during an immigration exercise in early June last year. Mr Justilien, a Haitian, was taken into custody on suspicion of assaulting a police officer and an immigration officer as they executed their duties. He was later cleared of the charges, but was deported.
In a statement sent to The Tribune, Amnesty said it contacted the government last year on March 17 to request more information about immigration reforms being designed and implemented by the country. A second attempt was made October 22 to both the Ministry of Environment and Housing and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration asking for further information about the Gamble Heights shanty town removal.
In December, Amnesty issued an urgent action on behalf of Mr Justilien, who was at risk of arbitrary deportation. The action was directed to both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration and the Office of the Prime Minister, but did not receive any response.
Amnesty continued: “Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion and are funded mainly by our membership and public donations.”
The 2015 report’s release comes against the backdrop of questions again being raised about detention practices of the Bahamian government, with controversy erupting after two Cuban prisoners were recently released on a judge’s order after being unlawfully detained for three years.