EDITORIAL: Ruling on unlawful detention a step in the right direction

THIS week is guest editorial week at The Tribune - we have invited a series of contributors to offer their views on different issues throughout the week. Today’s editorial is written by Paco Nunez, Secretary General of Human Rights Bahamas.

THE Privy Council’s recent ruling in the Ngumi case vindicated what human rights defenders have been saying for years: The Bahamas Department of Immigration is not above the law. Immigration, just like the police, cannot hold people indefinitely but rather only up to 48 hours before bringing them to court, lawfully deporting them, or re-establishing their liberty.

People suspected of breaching the Immigration Act are to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty, just like any other suspected violator of the law. The presumption of innocence is sacred, the right to liberty and due process is pre-eminent and the burden of proof is always on the authorities. This should be the basic standard in any democratic society. Sadly, it does not go without saying in The Bahamas.

In addition to Mr Ngumi, who was held illegally and against his will for more than six years, other cases coming to light in recent times include: Joseph Amihere, held illegally for seven years; Atain Takitota, eight years; Matthew Sewell, nearly a decade. A group of asylum seekers fleeing persecution in war-torn Cameroon were illegally imprisoned for two years. This is to say nothing of the countless unfortunate souls whose stories never came to public attention, who were routinely held for days, weeks or months without legal justification.

Acknowledging past wrongs, Attorney General Ryan Pinder says things have changed under the Davis Administration. His office has implemented specific reforms to ensure that detention and deportation protocols are in accordance with the law. We commend the AG and his team wholeheartedly for these efforts, but also recognise that despite their very best intentions the wheels of progress tend to grind slowly in The Bahamas. Indeed, Human Rights Bahamas (HRB) is aware of very recent cases where detainees were held for much longer than 48 hours.

Fortunately, we are in a position to help: HRB recently became an official Representative of Precautionary Measure 535-14 under the auspices of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the organ of the Organization of American States (of which The Bahamas is a member) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.

PM 535-14, in force since 2015, calls upon the Bahamas Government to: ensure the life and physical integrity of Immigration detainees; provide hygienic conditions and adequate medical treatment; ensure access to legal assistance; substantially reduce overcrowding; and ensure that civil society organisations have access to the facility to monitor conditions.

Accordingly, we urge the Davis Administration to grant HRB, as official Representative of PM 535-14, full access to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre in order to evaluate conditions, ensure that PM 535-14 is being adhered to, and also determine whether current detainees are being held in accordance with the Privy Council’s Ngumi ruling.

As human rights defenders, our only interest is that abuse of individual rights within this jurisdiction be reduced to the absolute minimum possible. Ensuring that people are not held for more than 48 hours would do much to achieve this - if only by limiting the window of opportunity for the beatings, torture, intimidation, humiliation and sexual assault of which so many detainees complain.

Public-private cooperation with a view to bringing detention procedures within the ambit of the law would also serve the interests of the State, considerably curtailing the cost of housing and feeding people held illegally and indefinitely for months or years, not to mention the substantial payments in damages inevitably arising as a result. Likewise, it would ease the ongoing international embarrassment of The Bahamas being repeatedly called out by international human rights NGOs and in annual US State Department reports for the systematic abuse of individual rights.

Human rights defenders stand ready and willing to work hand-in-hand with the Davis administration to ensure that it is indeed a ‘New Day’ for respect for human rights in The Bahamas. We sincerely hope this offer will be received in spirit in which it is intended.


DEDDIE 1 year, 3 months ago

As a nation we keep making the same dumb mistakes over and over. It doesn't take a King's Council to win these cases. A first-year law student could win such cases. I could guarantee you there is someone sitting in Fox Hill prison or the detention center who is been held illegally. I have always been of the opinion that the government purposely create scenarios to keep the fraternity of lawyers working.

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