Rights Bahamas threatens suit over shantytown land

Local human rights group Rights Bahamas yesterday said it will take legal action to defend the constitutional rights of shantytown residents on Abaco.

This followed Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ order last week to compulsorily acquire land where those unregulated communities once were.

In a press release, the group said: “The residents [of] shanty town communities in Abaco have a right to have whatever little they have left respected, just like everybody else in every other devastated community in Abaco.”

The group claimed it is unconstitutional to target these individuals because of their economic status, their homes “allegedly” not being built to code or their reportedly unsanitary neighborhoods.

“All of these issues exist in Over-the-Hill communities in [New Providence], yet no one is proposing that the government compulsorily acquire the land from the Bahamians who live there,” said Rights Bahamas.

“These communities have been there for decades and many of the occupants have possessory rights under the law. The government can’t just use Dorian as an excuse to take away their property rights and discriminate against people because of their ethnic heritage.”

The group said that “the small-minded, petty and xenophobic thinking” behind this order follows an already existing agenda to exterminate communities of Haitian ethnicity which, it said, is currently challenged by an ongoing court action.

Last year, a Supreme Court injunction barred the Minnis administration from moving forward with its eviction deadline for unregulated New Providence communities.

“The storm might have destroyed people’s homes, but it did not abolish their property rights. The government has no legal right to dispossess these people,” said the group.

“Just like every other community, they have a right to go back to rebuild. Of course, the rebuilding must be to code, but the process of considering their applications must be on the same basis that other applications are to be considered for every other person in every other community that was destroyed by Dorian.”

The group said that the prohibition order should not have been made or directed only to the shantytowns.

Rights Bahamas said that it is committed to fighting “tooth and nail” through the courts and up to the Privy Council, if necessary, to prevent what it called a terrible abuse of power.

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