By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
HUMANS Rights Bahamas has again criticised the government for its response to calls from United Nation experts to halt demolition works of shanty towns on Abaco, saying recent comments made by Works Minister Desmond Bannister only “emphasises that the government’s actions are driven by discrimination and xenophobia.”
Mr Bannister is the second Cabinet minister to be chastised by the local human rights watchdog group this week after Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson was criticised for his statements on the matter.
The UN said the planned evictions and demolitions violate human rights to adequate housing and urged the Minnis administration to halt its plans to demolish dozens of homes on the storm impacted island.
However, both Mr Bannister and Mr Johnson have suggested that the government will not be swayed from its plans, arguing that the Bahamas is a country of laws that must be upheld.
On Tuesday, Mr Bannister told reporters Bahamians must decide if they want to live in a country like the Bahamas or a country like Haiti where there is “dirt, garbage, shantytowns all over the place.”
He also said exercises involving shanty towns in New Providence will be conducted soon, as residents have complained about illegal structures springing up.
Responding to his remarks yesterday, Rights Bahamas said: “As for the unfortunate remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister Desmond Bannister, they only emphasise that the government’s actions are driven by discrimination and xenophobia.
“He is now the second Cabinet minister, after Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson, to make flippant public remarks reminiscent of the intolerant utterances a former US President Donald Trump, who called Haiti and African nations ‘shhole countries.’
“Nevertheless, Bannister is correct: the Bahamas should not want to be like what Haiti is today,” the group added.
“The breakdown of democracy, human rights and civil society in that long suffering country is the result of a number of geopolitical and historical factors – not least the total disrespect and utter disregard for the rule of law by successive governments, for example that of François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, the dictator, who rode roughshod overdue process, the judiciary, and individual rights and freedoms.”
It continued: “We urge Mr Bannister and his colleagues to stop pushing us in the direction of Haiti and other failed states through their dictatorial, ‘might makes right’ policies and actions. We implore them to act like they are in a modern democracy:
“Respect the courts, respect the rule of law, respect due process. Stop riding roughshod over constitutional rights.”
The Supreme Court in 2018 granted an injunction protecting shanty town homes in New Providence from destruction pending an outcome of a judicial review over the matter.
Government officials, however, have said homes in The Farm in Abaco and elsewhere are not subject to that injunction.
Progressive Liberal Party Leader Phillip “Brave” Davis recently told a local daily that the government should wait until the judicial review is completed before it moves to demolish homes.
Yesterday, Rights Bahamas commended Mr Davis for his “defence of due process and the rule of law on the question of the government’s egregious, extra-judicial home demolition project.”
The Ministry of Works spearheaded the demolition of 45 “incomplete and unoccupied” structures in The Farm in April.
Last week, Mr Bannister said the government was ready to continue its actions in the community which could begin as early as this week.
However, sources on the ground told this newspaper that no occupied buildings have yet been demolished.
For his part, Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell told reporters this week that his ministry will offer some assistance to displaced shanty town residents affected by the government’s demolition exercises, regardless of their legal status.