By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
“IMMATURE” and “petty” is how activist group Rights Bahamas is describing recent comments made by Attorney General Carl Bethel and Immigration Minister Brent Symonette in the wake of an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing held in Jamaica last week.
However, the group celebrated the hearing itself, calling it a “huge victory” for human rights in The Bahamas.
In a statement released yesterday, Rights Bahamas added it is looking forward to a visit from IACHR commissioners, calling this proposed trip “the most significant development” to come out of the hearing.
The Bahamas was called before the IACHR in Jamaica last week in response to a petition on the treatment of migrants and their descendants from Rights Bahamas and the Washington-based group, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights.
During debate in the Senate on Monday, Mr Bethel denounced the idea that the country’s laws are under threat, in response to a claim that the IACHR can order the country to change its citizenship laws.
“There is not a country on earth that will mortgage off its right to control its own borders,” he said.
“We will in due course put out a properly diplomatically worded statement to send to (the IACHR) to indicate that we feel that they may have gone a little too far in some of the rhetoric exchanged across the table.”
Meanwhile, on Monday Mr Symonette said he has “difficulty” with international bodies that attempt to force sovereign states to act outside “the best interest of that country.”
During the hearing, Margarette Macaulay, rapporteur on the Rights of Women and Persons of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination, said the body could rule that The Bahamas must amend its laws. She invited civil society to pursue legal action that could produce such an outcome.
In its statement, Rights Bahamas expressed hope the IACHR commissioners’ “pointed comments” in the hearings would help “create a roadmap for progress” and a “platform for more meaningful cooperation between the government and civil society going forward”.
“Unfortunately, the rather immature and confrontational comments by (Mr Bethel) and (Mr Symonette) in the wake of the hearing are extremely unhelpful in this regard,” the statement continues.
“We urge them to remember that the protection of the fundamental human rights of each and every individual is serious business, not a petty game or puerile ego contest. We urge these ministers to focus on the substance of the issues raised at the hearings and treat the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of migrants, and the protections enshrined in the Bahamas constitution with more respect.
“Rights Bahamas remains hopeful that despite the confrontational stance that these ministers insist on maintaining, the executive as a collective and especially Prime Minister (Dr Hubert) Minnis, will see the light and take this opportunity to work with civil society to correct the longstanding institutional injustices which continue to plague our otherwise wonderful country.”
Despite its criticisms of government officials, the organisation said it is “overjoyed” with the outcome of the hearing.
“We understand that IACHR does not act as judge or issue verdicts in such hearings, but rather adopts the role of a mediator between governments and human rights defenders, while also providing a forum to air domestic human rights issues to the world.
“Specifically, Rights Bahamas applauds the commissioners’ decision to highlight: the persistence of gender inequality under the law; the unacceptability of detention as a first resort in irregular migration cases; and the difficulties in obtaining citizenship faced by the children of foreigners born in the Bahamas. But by far, the most significant development to come out of the hearings was the announcement that the IACHR commissioners will visit the Bahamas and observe firsthand the situation is on the ground.
“Rights Bahamas looks forward drawing their attention, in person, to a host of ongoing abuses, in particular the inhumane and degrading treatment of migrants at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre and the so-called ‘safe house’; the violent and illegal enforcement tactics used by the Department of Immigration on a daily basis; and the persistence of an entrenched system of extortion within that department which targets the most vulnerable members of society.”