From left, DeAndra Cartwright, foreign service officer within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Frank Davis, minister counsellor/deputy permanent representative & charge d’affaires; Bernadette Butler, minister counsellor; Senator Carl Bethel, attorney general; Jewel Major, chief counsel within the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Legal Affairs; and Alicia Gibson, assistant counsel in the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs.
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel yesterday committed the country to major legislative benchmarks on the issue of marital rape and migrant rights as he defended the country’s performance on human rights obligations before the United Nations.
Mr Bethel revealed marital rape will be criminalised as “aggravated spousal sexual abuse,” and regulations have also been drafted for the welfare of detainees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre (CRDC), during his national report in Geneva, Switzerland.
He also foreshadowed amendments to the Immigration Act, which appear to legislate the government’s new policy targeting persons who harbour or employ undocumented workers, revealing that changes will limit detention times for persons pending deportation and station a courtroom at the CRDC.
Both matters are hot-button issues locally, with debate over marital rape reignited following the condemnation of UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, and scores of detainees petitioning the courts over the lawfulness of their detention at the CRDC in recent months.
Mr Bethel told the international caucus the drafted amendment to the Sexual Offences Act for the new offence of spousal sexual abuse had already been circulated to religious leaders and civil society, and up to late Tuesday responses had been supportive.
It will stipulate that complaints must be made within one year following the cause of the complaint, he said, adding that such a complaint cannot be prosecuted without consent of the attorney general.
Mr Bethel said: “It should be noted that although the proposed offence is not labeled as ‘marital rape’ it still has all of the elements of the offence of rape. The draft bill follows the tenor of the pre-existing law which treats instances of marital rape where there are ongoing divorce proceedings, or a decree of judicial separation, or a separation agreement, as being offences of ‘spousal sexual abuse.’
He continued: “Marital rape in the context of a subsisting marriage will now be criminalised as aggravated spousal sexual abuse.”
As for the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, Mr Bethel acknowledged that conditions at the facility, while improving, were still not up to standard. He referred to the construction of additional buildings, and ongoing efforts to establish a full-time medical facility.
“The Bahamas is pleased to announce that the Immigration (Detention Centre) Regulations, 2018 has been drafted and human rights issues are enshrined in these regulations. The regulations clearly identify the welfare, privileges and duties of detainees, including, but not limited to, clothing, food, education and religion. The regulations also provide for the right of the detainees to outside communication which includes access to legal representation. “Once the regulations are approved they will be tabled in Parliament and thereby enacted into law.
“Amendments to the Immigration Act are being finalised,” Mr Bethel continued, “which will on the one hand increase penalties for persons who harbour or employ undocumented workers, but which, on the other hand, will also provide clear legal remedies to the undocumented migrant, by limiting the timeframes in which they may be administratively detained by an immigration officer pending deportation, requiring judicial oversight thereafter, and mandating that - upon any claim to some constitutional entitlement - the matter must be referred forthwith to a magistrate (planned to be stationed in a courtroom in the Detention Centre) who shall, if it is shown that there is a case which could be made, refer the matter to a Supreme Court judge.”
The Bahamas was one of 14 countries reviewed during UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group session yesterday.
This will mark the third time in ten years the country will be examined by this organisation.