The United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR) said a recent Supreme Court ruling, which found that anyone born in The Bahamas to either a Bahamian mother or father is entitled to citizenship at birth, regardless of the parents’ marital status, brings The Bahamas in line with international human rights standards.
The May 25 ruling contradicts the longstanding requirement that children born in The Bahamas out of wedlock to Bahamian men and foreign women must wait until 18 to apply for citizenship.
Attorney General Carl Bethel said his office is appealing the ruling.
However, the OHCHR said the Bahamian government should build on the ruling to eliminate gender-based discrimination in the country’s laws.
“We welcome the recent court ruling in The Bahamas regarding the country’s citizenship laws which are a positive step towards promoting gender equality and reducing the risk of statelessness,” the OHCHR said in a statement.
It added, “This brings the legal framework of The Bahamas more into line with international standards on the right to nationality and equality and non-discrimination.
“We encourage the government of The Bahamas to build on this ruling and take the necessary legislative, policy and procedural steps to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender in their nationality laws, as recommended by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.”
In his ruling, Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder said the legal position “must be that every person born in The Bahamas after July 9, 1973, shall become a citizen of The Bahamas at the date of his birth if at that date either of his parents is a citizen of The Bahamas, irrespective of the marital status of the parents at the time of birth”.
Winder’s ruling sided with the view expressed in 2013 by the Constitutional Commission, chaired by Sean McWeeney, QC, of which Bethel was also a member and signed the final report.
A 2016 referendum to address this matter and others concerning the ability of Bahamians to pass on their citizenship to children and spouses was overwhelmingly rejected by voters.
Under the proposed change to the constitution, a Bahamian father of a person born outside of wedlock, after the coming into operation of the amendment, would have been able to pass his citizenship to that person subject to legal proof that he is the father.
Had the referendum been successful, it would also have allowed for a Bahamian woman to pass her citizenship on to her child born to a foreign husband in a foreign country.
It would have also allowed women to pass on citizenship to their spouses, as Bahamian men are able to do.
A similar exercise in 2002 was also rejected.
While Justice Winder’s ruling spoke clearly to the issue of the right of a child born in The Bahamas out of wedlock to a Bahamian father and a foreign mother, he did not come to a conclusion regarding the applicants in the case, who include children purportedly born to Bahamian men out of wedlock to Jamaican and Haitian women.
The matter was adjourned to July 29, 2020, with Justice Winder citing the need for proof of paternity to make a determination.