Rights Bahamas seeking injunction to block further evictions, demolitions

Rights Bahamas is seeking an injunction to block further evictions and demolitions of shantytowns on Abaco and the wider Bahamas.

In an affidavit filed on November 25, 2019, President of Rights Bahamas and Respect Our Homes Ltd. Stephanie St. Fleur accused the government of fostering anti-Haitian sentiment.

“Further, I believe that the plan to eradicate rural organic communities is a continuation of a decades-long campaign to cleanse The Bahamas of the influence of Haitian ethnicity on the part of successive governments and that it aims for the same outcome,” she said.

Attorneys representing 177 shantytown residents and Respect Our Homes Ltd. are listed as the applicants in the matter.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, Attorney General Carl Bethel, Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) and the Water and Sewerage Corporation are listed as the respondents.

In August 2018, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson granted an injunction blocking the demolition of shantytown structures.

The government had given residents of most shantytowns on New Providence until August 10, 2019 to leave before demolition started.

In her affidavit, St. Fleur said, “…The applicants seek judicial review of the respondents’ proposed plan to demolish homes and other buildings in several specific organic Haitian ethnic communities in New Providence, Abaco and elsewhere in The Bahamas, as forecasted by various members of the executive and members of the non-statutory bodies known as the Shantytown Committee and the Shantytown Taskforce.

“The applicants are also seeking an injunction to prevent any further evictions and or demolitions in these communities or indeed anywhere else in The Bahamas.

“This affidavit does not speak to events which have occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which hit The Bahamas and in particular the Abacos and Grand Bahama on September 1, 2019. Facts relating thereto will be subject of a separate affidavit.”

Shantytowns on Abaco, mainly The Mudd, Pigeon Peas and Sand Banks, were largely destroyed during the passage of Dorian. The government has moved to prevent residents from rebuilding in those communities.

The Minnis administration also moved to demolish the few remaining homes in those communities, and remove debris from the land.

Minnis has said that the government will compulsory acquire shantytown land on Abaco.

He also announced that he will instruct the attorney general to return to court and seek to have the 2018 injunction lifted.

Foulkes has said that the government’s Shantytown Action Task Force, which he heads, is ready to move whenever that injunction is lifted.

St. Fleur continued, “The applicants are seeking declarations that the government, through the committee and the task force, has acted and is acting in a discriminatory manner contrary to Article 26 of the Constitution; has engaged in inhumane and degrading treatment contrary to Article 17, has denied individuals access to due process and the protection of the law…”

She argued that the shantytown residents have “suffered under what amounts to a deliberate policy of violating the rule of law, the aim of which is the reduction, limitation and or wholesale eradication of Haitian culture and ethnicity in The Bahamas…”

She claimed that polices by successive governments have “intensified anti-Haitian sentiment considerable and given rise to a Haitian lynch mob mentality in certain sectors of society”.

“The result is an unconscious conflation of illegal and undocumented migrants with individuals of Haitian descent generally, and a social context that is aggressive, antagonistic, racist and discriminatory,” St. Fleur said.

“These factors have led to the respondents waging, since January 2018, what amounts to an ethnic cleansing campaign against a large percentage of the population – estimates have ranged 25 to 45 percent – that are of Haitian descent.”

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