Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson said the government considered the matters about purported human rights violations in The Bahamas raised by Rights Bahamas before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to be “unsubstantiated and duplicative”.
Johnson also said the hearing about the rights of migrants and their descendants in The Bahamas could have potentially been avoided had the government been allowed to object to the request for a hearing.
Local human rights group Rights Bahamas said the hearing was “in light of the many reports of human rights abuses, illegal detention and deportation exercises, the implementation of racist and xenophobic policies, the targeting of persons of Haitian descent born in The Bahamas, denial of the right to school to children of migrants and the ongoing inhumane and unsanitary conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre”.
Johnson rejected Rights Bahamas’ assertions before the commission in Kingston, Jamaica.
“As pointed out in our preliminary observations, many of the allegations suffer from lack of proper substantiation,” he said.
He added, “With respect to the allegation of entrenched racial discrimination and xenophobia, it is expected in some society where there are significant migrant populations, there are bound to be persons who have anti-migrant sentiments.
“Such behavior is neither tolerated nor condoned, and certainly not encouraged by the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.”
Johnson also pointed to recent improvements at the detention center as evidence of the government’s commitment to the proper treatment of migrants.
“We have made reference to all of the improvements at the detention center,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, an international organization has commended The Bahamas for the works done thus far to assist persons in The Bahamas who are in the care and custody of The Bahamas authorities to see that their rights are protected.”
IACHR President Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño emphasized that detention is not the solution for illegal immigration in The Bahamas.
She made the comments at a hearing on the treatment of migrants in The Bahamas, which took place on Friday at the 172nd Ordinary Period of Sessions of the IACHR in Kingston, Jamaica.
The request for the hearing was filed by Rights Bahamas in conjunction with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, which is headquartered in Washington, DC.
“Deprivation of liberty cannot be the answer,” Arosemena said.
“This is one of our standards with regard to migration.”
She added, “I would like to stress the right to not being detained just by virtue of being a migrant.”
Arosemena continued, “It is not an offense. It is not a crime, and prison and detention is for crimes, for offenses when persons transgress the law.”
The issue of access to education by migrant children was also raised.
“What is the status in the educational system to ensure access to all without exclusion of any class or category?” Arosemena asked.
She added, “They need to go to school at three years old, preschool, primary and secondary, because at 18 they would already have finished their schooling, and 18 years of age, if they have not been educated, if they have no resources, no means, they are not prepared to demand their rights.”
However, Johnson said that Rights Bahamas’ claims of unequal access to education were unsubstantiated.
“The Education Act of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas requires that every child between certain ages to be in a public school,” he said.
The commission also called for The Bahamas to address the issue of gender inequality in the constitution, especially as it relates to the rights of Bahamian women and men to pass on citizenship to their children and spouses.
Arosemena and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women and Persons of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination Margarette Macaulay said that the commission was eager to work with the government and civil society to address all of the matters at hand.
Johnson extended an invitation to visit the Carmichael Road Detention Centre to the IACHR, which Macaulay said would be taken up.
“As the country rapporteur, I also accept very readily the invitation that you’ve stated here today for us to visit The Bahamas and visit the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, but I should say that knowing this, what we ought to monitor in The Bahamas, it would be several commissioners who would be on that visit, and we look forward to it,” Macaulay said.
“We need to work with you in partnership, both with the state and with civil society, and in this way, from our experience, we come to resolve certain situations which might be proving difficult.
“We are aware of the fact that even though you have over 700 islands, The Bahamas is small.
“…The size of the migrant incidence is great for a small country, which is why we do offer our technical assistance and support and partnership.
“And, so, we will communicate with you so that we can as early as possible utilize the invitation.”
She added, “If you could accommodate, not frequent, but regular meetings with civil society to talk together about what you’re doing.”
Johnson said the government has been meeting regularly with civil society, but said that Rights Bahamas’ use of “deceptive information” has complicated their discussions.
“There are ongoing discussions, so as I said in my presentation, there is some difficulty with this, when you do that, and my honorable attorney general has said that,” he said.
“He said you cannot produce deceptive information. We must be on the same playing field.”
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish