By RIEL MAJOR
Tribune Staff Reporter
IT has been two years since Rights Bahamas activists were granted protective measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights but to date the government has yet to report on its efforts, the group said.
In a statement issued this week, Rights Bahamas called on the government to answer “fully and honestly” to the request from the commission of observation on the abuses against human rights defenders reported between December 2016 and February 2017.
The statement read: “We call on the government to publicly say what it has done to live up to the stipulations of Precautionary Measure MC706-16 issued on November 4, 2016. We demand that the government pass a Hate Speech Act and take public steps to discourage its supporters and all Bahamians from seeking to denigrate, intimidate or strike fear into human rights defenders because of their work.”
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) confirmed it has had to reiterate its request to the government in a letter to Rights Bahamas, dated May 22, 2019.
“The threats in question were reported to the commission in December 2016 and early 2017, towards the end of the former PLP administration. They occurred in the face of an order from the IACHR requiring the government to protect five activists from Save The Bays, after it was found that they were ‘in serious and urgent situation, since their lives and personal integrity face an imminent risk of irreparable harm,’” the statement said.
“On November 4, 2016, (the) commission issued precautionary measures requiring The Bahamas to: adopt the necessary measures to protect the lives and personal integrity of the activists and their families; ensure that they can pursue their work freely; come to an agreement with the activists on what measures should be taken to protect them; and report on what actions were taken to investigate the threats in order to prevent their repetition.”
Rights Bahamas added the incidents complained of included threats of prosecution and imprisonment by government officials, attempts to target the activists for harm, break-ins, damage to personal property, and numerous instances of hate speech, menacing remarks and threats of violence from political supporters of the former administration.
The earlier request for a response from the government went unanswered, prompting a second official request, issued on May 22.
According to the statement, Rights Bahamas doesn’t know of any effort made from the Progressive Liberal Party or the Free National Movement living up to the stipulations of the precautionary measures.
“...Certainly, the activists have not been consulted on any measures to protect them, as was required by the commission. Nor have any actions been taken to discourage verbal, online and physical attacks on activists generally,” the statement read.
“Meanwhile, instances of hate speech and threatening remarks against human rights defenders have continued and even increased, particularly over the last few weeks in the wake of a hearing before the IACHR in Jamaica on the treatment of migrants in the Bahamas.
“Members of our delegation to that hearing have been vilified and threatened by members of the public with everything from violence to deportation to prosecution for treason, yet the government has remained silent. Nothing has been said or done to affirm or support activists’ right to do their work unmolested.”
Rights Bahamas stated it will continue to report to the commission “any and all threats against human rights defenders” in the Bahamas.
At the time of the initial complaints, Rights Bahamas was known as the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA).
In 2016, the GBHRA submitted a petition on behalf of Fred Smith, Francisco Nunez, Joseph Darville, Kirkland Bodie and Romauld Ferreira that asked the IACHR to request that the Bahamas government adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to their lives.
The IACHR found that the five members of Save The Bays were in “a serious and urgent situation since their lives and personal integrity face an imminent risk of irreparable harm”. The precautionary measures urged the Bahamas government to adopt the necessary measures to protect their lives and those of their families, to ensure the five men could pursue their work as human rights defenders without being subject to threats, harassment or intimidation, to agree with the petitioners on the measures to be adopted and to report on investigative actions taken within a 20-day period.