By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel yesterday informed the United Nations that The Bahamas has no immediate intention of abolishing the death penalty despite calls from scores of member states to formally end the practice.
Mr Bethel addressed the international recommendations that the country has not accepted during his national report to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group session in Geneva, Switzerland.
“It is one of the popular mind,” Mr Bethel told the international body during a response period, “there is no appetite on the streets if you will in The Bahamas for any ability for compromise on that issue (capital punishment). It is an emotive matter and so what we try and do is to show through raising our conviction rates, through our prosecutors, to give a sense of comfort to the populace that there is a remedy, there is a punishment that fits the crime.”
While there is no formal moratorium, Mr Bethel noted there has not been a mandated execution in 17 years.
“The Bahamas maintains its position on the retention of the death penalty. In fact, one of the recommendations submitted by the Constitutional Commission, after consultation, was the retention of the death penalty. The Bahamas continues to recognise the lawfulness of the death penalty as a punishment for the crimes of murder and treason, on a discretionary basis and subject to the conditions laid down in the case law.
“That said,” he continued, “The Bahamas is not considering any immediate action to establish a formal moratorium on the death penalty. The last mandated execution took place 17 years ago, even in the absence of a formal moratorium.”
He also reflected on calls for the removal of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, referencing the country as a Christian nation as described in the preamble to the Constitution.
Mr Bethel revealed that persons who are in the process of gender reassignment are currently provided with psychological assistance from the Ministry of Health with other forms of assistance being possibly considered.
“Consideration might be given to other forms of assistance,” Mr Bethel said, “however, as this issue remains highly controversial in popular discourse, a cautious and modulated approach has been adopted.
“Persons who are in same sex relationships are able to avail themselves of the regular protection and remedies available under the law in respect of violence or assault or property rights. And, it should be noted that consensual relations in private between adults of the same sex has been lawful in The Bahamas since 1991.”
On the matter of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, Mr Bethel acknowledged these elements have not been identified as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Constitution or legislation.
However, he maintained the government’s position that there has been no instances recorded of any legal discrimination of this nature, nor any formal reports made to law enforcement or government agencies.
Mr Bethel stressed that the country, as a “Christian nation”, believed that the family is the foundation of a strong nation and marriage by law defined as the union of a man and a woman.
He also said that the local LGBTQI community had access to local and international platforms with representation on a number of national and regional organisations, and noted a 2016 press conference held by the transgender community to address concerns on the equality referendum that was conducted without interference.
In response to recommendations from member states during yesterday’s session, Mr Bethel underscored the importance of partnering with civil and religious leaders to “advance the cause of a more moderate public approach to issues.”
“We live in a constitutional democracy,” he said, “we have had uninterrupted democracy, we have (had) two (constitutional) referenda. There has always been the political woe of the political class to advance all of the issues in controversy, except for the one of capital punishment, but the issue of gender equality, identity, transitioning, the difficulty in a democracy is that it is a question of developing a social consensus. And this is why we have adopted a modulated approach, cautiously, seeking to advance rights in areas that are very strongly held negative points of view in the populous.”