Leading human rights lawyer Fred Smith has strongly rejected the government’s response to complaints by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights about The Bahamas renewed deportation of undocumented migrants.
Statements in recent days by Attorney General Carl Bethel and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have defended the expulsions which had been halted in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. The Bahamas’ position, they maintained, is all deportations had been done in compliance with the law and that the UN’s criticism was “unfortunate”.
Smith, who is recovering in an Italian hospital from a near-fatal para gliding accident, says the facts put forward by Bethel and the Foreign Affairs Ministry simply do not stand up. Here, in today’s Tribune, he writes on behalf of Human Rights Bahamas.
“The International Community may rest assured, that The Bahamas……. adheres strictly to the Rule of Law both locally and internationally, especially with respect to the rights of every man, woman and child in its jurisdiction. Any person entitled to be in The Bahamas legally will be accorded every fundamental right under its Statute Laws. Any person in violation of the Immigration Act will be dealt with in accordance with the… Laws of …. The Bahamas.”
The above quote - regrettable propaganda by the Government, repeated ad nauseam - is an outright lie. Without fear of contradiction, every judgement of the Courts of The Bahamas since 1989 put lie to this.
Every petition determined by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS put lie to this. Every Request For Precautionary Measure issued by the IACHR put lie to this. The Annual Human Rights report submitted by the State Department to the Congress of the United States of America belies this.
The independent fact investigators for Amnesty International, IACHR, and the OHCHR of the UN belie this. Every testimony collected for decades by HRB and every heart wrenching story of abuse published for decades in the media put lie to this.
Quite apart from the fact it was a diplomatic faux pas for the Attorney General to have responded to the OHCHR so rashly, his emotive knee jerk defence of the The Bahamas was in substance wrong.
One fundamental example will suffice to discredit. He said: “Our immigration officers do not deport persons willy nilly. In fact the Immigration Department does not have the power to deport. It is the court that deports.”
This is incorrect and misleading because it seeks to clothe deportations with an apparent cloak of judicial legitimacy. Under Sec. 40 of the Immigration Act, Deportation Orders are made by the Minister of Immigration.
Further, even that simple process is not adhered to. Thousands of people are regularly “expelled” in breach of Article 25 of the Constitution. Or they are euphemistically “repatriated” with no due process.
HRB challenges the government to publish “deportation orders” for the last 5000 expulsions.
Doubtless, and to the credit of the Government, in many ways it acted in a humane and compassionate way to all the victims of hurricane Dorian regardless of place of origin, race, ethnicity or nationality.
However, whether as a result of the vile vitriol vomited from the xenophobes and hate mongers, or the customary seduction of portraying itself as tough on immigration to get votes, or because it wanted to take advantage of the storm to pursue its frustrated agenda of eradicating Haitian ethnic communities, it aggressively pivoted back to its default position of visiting institutionalised discrimination, victimisation, abuse and terror on the Haitian ethnic community and pandering to the Haitian Haters in The Bahamas. It just coudn’t help itself!
One example from the MOFA statement is sufficient to discredit it..
“….The Bahamas wishes to assure that there was adherence to all due process; and the requisite procedures for proper documentation via captured biometrics were followed to determine every individual’s constitutional right to reside lawfully in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Persons found wanting and in violation of the Immigration Act were lawfully removed, in accordance with the requisite Court Orders.”
The government unlawfully took advantage of thousands of storm victims who were in effect, “prisoners” in the shelters to illegally, and under no “due process”, capture private information from them for immigration. This is not lawful under the Immigration Act or the Constitution.
There is no law which requires any person to be “documented” in The Bahamas. There is no law which requires any person to have any paper proving their Immigration or citizenship status. Every person is protected by the constitutional presumption of innocence and has a right to move freely throughout The Bahamas.
Despite the law, if a person does not have a document evidencing citizenship, residency, or work visa they become terrorised victims of immigration abuse.
This is challenging to the thousands of people born in the Bahamas, but who are in limbo. These are the “Citizens in Waiting”, who are either still under 18, or who have applied for registration under Article 7 of the Constitution, or who did not apply but have done so under Section 9 of the Nationality Act, (many of whom have been waiting for their applications to be considered for years) or who did not apply and are simply in citizenship limbo.
It is really to these many thousands of people of Haitian ethnic origin that the spectre of systemic immigration abuse is most real and terrifying.
These are the “undocumented”, with rights to be in The Bahamas, but who are lumped together with the “illegal migrants” and treated as outlaws with no rights!
And this is the case with the majority of the victims of Dorian from the Haitian ethnic communities of the shantytowns of The Mudd, Pigeon Peas, Sand Banks etc.
These poor unfortunates, who have already lost members of their families, their possessions and homes to Dorian, are now also the victims of Immigration and a government that encourages this discrimination and abuse, and turns a blind eye to it, and has the gaul to lie to the international community about respecting the rule of law in The Bahamas.
In breach of the constitution and international conventions and human rights norms, The Bahamas continues to lump the many different categories of persons of Haitian ethnic origin in the Bahamas as “illegal migrants” and continues to treat such people as guilty until they can prove their innocence.
This state encouraged and condoned illegal behaviour by the Immigration, Defence and Police forces, continues to result in illegal arrests in which people are then detained in inhuman and degrading conditions and filtered through an illegal process where they have to prove they are lawfully in the country.
The Immigration Department continues to illegally expel people in breach of Article 26 of the Constitution and without complying with the legally required deportation procedures under the Immigration Act simply because they are undocumented.
It is a disgrace, it is inhumane particularly so for the victims of Dorian from Abaco and Grand Bahama.
The hunt for the Abaco Haitians is on! Immigration are now illegally stationed at the domestic airports and harbours, looking intimidating in their battle fatigues, randomly questioning and demanding papers from any victim of their suspicion.
The resumed Immigration assault has resulted in so many victims of Dorian in Abaco, who may be undocumented, hiding and being unable to take advantage of what is being provided to everyone else, being unable to travel, families being separated and unable to go back to what is left of their homes.
An example of the rank discrimination pervading government’s thinking, was the publication of a building prohibition order only as against the shantytowns not against anybody else in Abaco.
The Bahamas continues to be a nation that victimises and abuses the human and constitutional rights of people of Haitian ethnic origin and in the pursuit of this obsession, the rights of all others are being sacrificed.
It is a perverse denial of the truth for the Bahamas government to continue to parrot, both domestically and internationally, that it is Christian nation that respects the rule of law.