By Frederick Smith, QC
When people hear the term “ethnic cleansing” they tend to think of notorious historical genocides – mass exterminations of people under the most graphic and shocking of circumstances. References to “concentration camps” usually evoke images like the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz, the huge death toll of the Soviet Gulags, mass graves in the former Yugoslavia.
Most Bahamians would dismiss the idea their own society could be in any way connected with these terrible nightmares of the past. However uncomfortable it may be to admit, the truth is at the beginning of 2018, the impulses and motivations that give rise to and condone ethnic cleansing are very much alive and well in The Bahamas.
The term “ethnic cleansing,” according to the United Nations, refers to any systematic forced removal of individuals from a society or territory, based on their ethnic or religious identity. Although violence and murder are tools that can be used to achieve this, “forced migration” is actually a much more common weapon against those considered a threat because they are perceived as different. Likewise, a concentration camp is any guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc, especially those being held for extended periods without being charged with any crime.
According to these objective standards, there can be no doubt The Bahamas has for decades been committed to a systematic programme of ethnic cleansing against people of Haitian descent and currently uses at least one concentration camp to achieve this aim.
This has nothing to do with enforcing the Immigration Act or defending our borders. This is about successive FNM and PLP governments undertaking an organised campaign of widespread, institutionalised and violent efforts to remove individuals of Haitian descent who have a right to be here under the constitution. This is about a clandestine strategy to achieve forced migration.
I speak particularly of individuals born here to Haitian parents who are entitled to be registered as citizens upon application after their 18th birthday. Tens of thousands have done so in accordance with the law. Many have also done so after their 19th birthday; whilst many have not applied at all given the Government does not educate nor promote the Constitutional entitlement in Creole or at all. Thousands who have applied have heard nothing back from Immigration officials for years, sometimes decades. In the meantime, they are terrorised by the Big Yellow Bus, hunted down, detained and expelled.
Anyone who thinks this is not intentional on the part of the authorities is fooling themselves. Any doubts I may have had were dispelled over the past few years (ie since Fred Mitchell’s 2014 pogrom) in conversations with senior PLP and FNM politicians, several of whom told me that they simply couldn’t grant status to all those who legally qualify, as The Bahamas would be “overrun by Haitians” who will “take over our country”.
One could not ask for a more blatant admission of racism, discrimination and a mentality supportive of ethnic cleansing. They actually admit to breaking the law and denying people constitutional rights so as to defend “ethnic purity”.
The victims of this campaign are, legally speaking, Bahamian Citizens In Waiting, but apparently because of their “blood” or “DNA”, even after securing citizenship they would somehow remain aliens and invaders. As if any of the people who currently call themselves Bahamian are native to this place. As if there is any great genetic difference between Haitian people and “true Bahamians”.
I also speak of individuals who were born here but declined to apply for citizenship for whatever reason. There is no requirement for them to apply and no lawful justification for the authorities bothering with them if they fail to do so. These individuals have committed no crime. They have not violated the Immigration Act by entering illegally or overstaying their allotted time – they were born here and there is no legal process that would allow for their detention or unconstitutional expulsion.
Yet these individuals are routinely randomly, assaulted, battered and kidnapped. One may instinctively recoil from the use of the word “kidnapped”. This would be warranted if there was any intention on the part of Immigration to charge them with an offence. However, they cannot be charged, and not one has ever been charged in a court of law for an offence under the Immigration Act because they have not committed any offence. They are held against their will in the most unsanitary, degrading, demeaning and unhealthy circumstances. They are often beaten, abused and in many cases sexually assaulted – all without ever being charged with a crime, ever having their day in court, without access to a lawyer, without a chance to apply for bail, without any protection from arbitrary detention for extended periods of time.
The Constitution of The Bahamas says that each and every single “person” in this country is entitled to the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in Chapter III of the Constitution. Yet they are denied to only one group of people based on their ethnicity – people who, to the extent that they were born here, are totally innocent of any crime. We treat murderers and rapists better than we treat people suspected of having “Haitian blood”.
I used to think the Immigration Department was a rogue branch of government, operating without oversight and as if it was above the law. Developments since Fred Mitchell’s 2014 Edicts and that of Minnis in 2017 suggest a much more frightening reality. Immigration is not a renegade entity operating against the tide of the government’s normal day-to-day respect for the rule of law; it is the sharp and visible end of a very long spear, the shaft being composed of intentional inaction on the part of the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Royal Bahamas Police Force. And the hands that wield this weapon of national injustice are those of the political leadership itself.
The facts allow for no other conclusion: The Bahamas is engaging in ethnic cleansing on a national level at the behest of our political class, both PLP and FNM. How else can one define a society where people can be kidnapped from their homes, grabbed on the side of the street or at their workplaces and deprived of their liberty just because of how they look or sound? Where people can have their homes broken into without a warrant, have their property stolen with impunity, can be separated from their families and held indefinitely without charge, without the opportunity to apply for bail, without access to a lawyer? What do we say of a society where, based on their ethnicity, people can have their homes and bulldozed and demolished, can be beaten, sexually abused, shot and even killed without consequence?
There can be no question the Carmichael Road Detention Centre meets international definitions of a concentration camp. It exists nowhere in Bahamian law, meaning every single detention is illegal. People are held in inhuman and degrading conditions and without access to a telephone or any contact with the outside world but for a few minutes once or twice a week – in contravention of all international standards. They are held in tighter security and worse conditions than the convicted criminals in Maximum Security at Fox Hill Prison, and for extended periods of time in violation of the Bahamas Constitution. And, most importantly, they are not held there with reference to any specific crime; thus, they are detained on the basis of their ethnicity.
Information has recently surfaced suggesting the Detention Centre is also used to hold individuals who Immigration officers know have status, but have nevertheless kidnapped and held for ransom – cash in return for liberty. Of late, detained people born in The Bahamas, such as Jean Rony Jean Charles, have actually been disappearing.
Detainees – including a pregnant woman – have gone on hunger strikes, others have stitched or padlocked their lips together in a futile attempt to convince Bahamians of the level of suffering that people undergo at that terrifying concentration camp. Sadly, no one is interested in listening.
When the authorities bulldoze whole neighbourhoods, people lose everything they ever owned, regardless of whether they are born here and are Citizens in Waiting, Haitians, Bahamians, legal or illegal – no one bothers to check beforehand. Nor does this come about through a successful application by the landowner to the Supreme Court as it should. Such actions are totally arbitrary and the result of nothing more than the fact the victims are a congregation of poor people who are assumed to be mostly of Haitian descent.
All of this despite the fact the fact the Supreme Court has repeatedly declared the enforcement methods of the Immigration Department illegal. Spitting in the face of the judiciary, as the head of Immigration Enforcement Mr Neilly did last week recently, authorities continue to commit gross violations of people’s fundamental human rights. This could not occur unless there was a vast conspiracy to violate the law and contravene the decisions of the court that went all the way up to the Office of the Prime Minister and included the Minister of Immigration, the Director of Immigration, the Commodore of the Defence Force, senior officers in all of these departments, as well as the officers on the ground and those stationed at the Detention Centre.
The authorities make no attempt to comply with the Immigration Act, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Police Act or the Constitution. They never seek to justify their actions by reference to any law passed by Parliament; they rely only on confused and often contradictory off-the-cuff policy expressions which pander to the xenophobic electorate. They ignore the courts and continue to do all they can to inflict maximum fear and terror on their targets, all in the name of “cleansing” The Bahamas of those of Haitian descent. Once again, the majority of their victims are not illegal immigrants; they are individuals born in The Bahamas who have committed no crime.
Then, there is the Prime Minister’s December 31 deadline, which only heightened the atmosphere of xenophobic fervour, justified casual discrimination and gave oxygen to hugely influential radio hosts who continue to egg Bahamians on to commit further acts of intimidation and harassment, until a lynch mob mentality takes hold. Hence the constant barrage of comments on social media which clearly reflect a violent, hateful, antagonistic, racist, discriminatory and criminal mentality.
Both the FNM and PLP political class have bought into this. Hence the bipartisan 2015 amendment to the Immigration Act, which allowed the authorities to simply give people of Haitian descent born in The Bahamas a “Belonger’s Permit“ and keep them in a state suspended citizenship limbo. The same goes for the requirement to obtain a Haitian passport, even though they are born in The Bahamas. This was a deliberate policy promoted by Fred Mitchell to keep people of Haitian descent separately classified and dealt with outside the law.
None of this is about enforcing the laws of The Bahamas; it is about creating an atmosphere in which politicians can get away with breaking them. We need to stop fooling ourselves. What is going on is nothing less than unadulterated, violent, unapologetic ethnic cleansing, pure and simple.
There is no other name for it. The fact that we are not yet killing people openly is probably only a question of time and the arrival of the right circumstances as has been occurring in the Dominican Republic to people of Haitian descent.