By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
HUMAN Rights Bahamas is calling for a “full and independent investigation” of an allegation of sexual assault by a male officer against a female migrant who was detained at the Department of Immigration’s safe house.
Meanwhile Callendars & Co, the law firm representing the female migrant in an upcoming court action, is arguing that the Department of Immigration has unlawfully detained their client at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre since August of last year, despite the fact that she has yet to be charged with any immigration offence.
Fred Smith, QC, has filed a certificate of urgency in an attempt to expedite the hearing of the matter since he claimed his client was in the care of the Immigration Department under whose custody she was allegedly raped and assaulted and was being denied the right to have access to her attorney.
If successful, the habeas corpus application will ban the department from deporting the female migrant before the matter is fully ventilated in the courts.
Last Wednesday, The Tribune reported that a high-ranking government official confirmed there was an investigation underway into an allegation that a Surinamese woman had been allegedly raped by an officer stationed at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
A day later, the Department of Immigration issued a press release stating an investigation by its Corruption, Complaints and Intelligence Unit, along with the Royal Bahamas Police Force’s Sexual Offences Unit, revealed there was “no substance” to the rape allegation.
At the time, immigration officials also said the woman denied there was any inappropriate conduct toward her and demanded her immediate repatriation. However, they did not say when the woman would be released to return home.
On Friday lawyers representing the woman made repeat efforts to contain senior immigration officials to secure access to see her at the Carmichael Detention Centre but were met with a wall of silence.
Because of this they have now taken the matter to the courts to force the Immigration department to grant them access.
In a statement yesterday, Human Rights Bahamas called on the Royal Bahamas Police Force to conduct an independent probe into the matter after arguing the Immigration Department was not “qualified or in any way lawfully empowered to investigate sexual crimes”.
“In dealing with the very serious allegations of rape of a detainee by an officer, it should go without saying that the Immigration Department cannot credibly investigate itself,” the statement read.
“Not only does this represent a glaring conflict of interest, it also reveals a total lack of transparency and disrespect for the laws of The Bahamas.”
The human rights watchdog said it was imperative for the police to launch a “full and impartial investigation” inclusive of all the “relevant facts and circumstances” whenever a serious offence is alleged to have been committed.
The group also insisted immigration officers were “not above the law” and did “not enjoy some special dispensation” that exempted them from being brought before the courts or being held liable for their actions in the event that they were found guilty.
“The department’s recent statement absolving the accused officer of ‘inappropriate conduct’ is barely worth the paper it is written on,” the statement continued. “The same can be said of any statement they claim to have extracted from the victim, who is detained, under duress, and totally in their control.
“Human Rights Bahamas (HRB) demands that a full and independent investigation of these allegations be conducted by the Royal Bahamas Police Force, overseen by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Legal representation has now been secured for the victim by her family and habeas corpus application will be made demanding her immediate release. As always, HRB will be reporting this matter, and the department’s attempt to circumvent a proper police investigation, to the Inter-American Commission on Human rights (IACHR) and our various partner agencies in the international community.”
Yesterday The Tribune also reached out to police press liaison, ASP Audley Peters, to find out what role the RBPF played in the Immigration Department’s initial investigation. When asked, he said he could not speak to the matter at the moment.
“I’d have to speak with, (Chief Superintendent Shanta Knowles), the officer in charge at the Central Detective Unit to find out what the situation is before we can make a comment with respect to that,” he stated.
Attempts to reach CSP Knowles directly were unsuccessful up to press time.