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TITLE: THE BAHAMAS HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 THE BAHAMAS The Commonwealth of the Bahamas is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Queen Elizabeth II, the nominal Head of State, is represented by an appointed Governor General. Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham's Free National Movement (FNM) has controlled the Government and Parliament since 1992. The police and the small Bahamas Defence Force answer to civilian authority and generally respect laws protecting human rights. However, there continued to be credible reports that police occasionally abuse detainees. The economy depends primarily on tourism, which accounts for over two-thirds of the gross domestic product. Financial services, particularly offshore banking and trust management, are also a major source of revenue. While some Bahamians enjoy relatively high average income levels, overall unemployment is estimated to exceed 20 percent; there is considerable underemployment and some poverty. Bahamians enjoy a wide range of democratic freedoms and human rights. As in past years, the principal human rights problems were police abuse of detainees, harsh and overcrowded conditions at the only prison, the slow pace of justice, intolerance toward non-Bahamians, and violence against women and children. The Government investigates charges of abuse and brought some perpetrators to trial, winning manslaughter convictions against two police officers. Citizens also brought two successful civil suits against the police on grounds of misconduct. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of politically motivated killings by the Government or domestic political groups. However, police officers occasionally committed extrajudicial killings. In May a detainee died while in police custody. A Coroner's Court jury later determined that the police were negligent because they failed to provide necessary medical care. A civil suit in the matter is pending. In October the authorities charged an off-duty police officer with murder after he allegedly shot at five men during an altercation, killing one. The courts convicted and imprisoned two of three police officers charged with manslaughter in the 1989 beating death of a suspect. b. Disappearance There were no reports of disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel and degrading treatment or punishment, but human rights monitors and members of the general public expressed concern over a pattern of police abuse against criminal suspects. Many of the charges of abuse involved beatings in order to extract confessions. Some alleged victims claimed that police officers threatened them after they had filed a complaint. The police Complaints and Discipline Unit, which reports directly to senior police officials, is responsible for investigating allegations of police brutality. Police officials reportedly disciplined or dismissed some police officers as a result of these complaints; however, the authorities did not publish any results of investigations of abuse. The courts convicted an immigration officer charged with beating a Jamaican attorney at Nassau international airport and sentenced him to prison for assault; the case is currently under appeal. Despite some recent improvements, conditions at Fox Hill, the Bahamas' only prison, remain harsh and overcrowded. The men's prison, originally built in 1953 to house about 500 inmates, holds over 1,100 prisoners. Male prisoners are crowded into poorly ventilated cells which generally lack running water and adequate sanitation facilities. Facilities for women are less severe and do have running water. Most prisoners lack beds, many sleep on concrete floors, and most are locked in their cells 23 hours per day. Prisoners reported that guards beat them and arbitrarily revoked privileges. The prison has no formal mechanism for reporting, investigating, and acting on prisoner complaints. Local and international human rights groups visited the prison during the year. Organizations providing aid, counseling services, and religious instruction have regular access to inmates. Despite fiscal constraints, prison officials continued modest but measurable steps to improve prison conditions and begin prisoner rehabilitation programs. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The authorities conduct arrests openly and, when required, obtain judicially issued warrants. Serious cases, including those of suspected narcotics or firearms offenses, do not require warrants where probable cause exists. Arrested persons appear before a magistrate within 48 hours (or by the next business day for cases arising on weekends and holidays) to hear the charges against them. They may hire an attorney of their choice. The law requires the Government to provide legal representation only to destitute suspects charged with capital crimes. Police sometimes deviate from prescribed procedures, however, and act arbitrarily. The Government respects the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. In two cases, persons successfully sued the police for incidents that occurred several years earlier involving false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and a breach of constitutional rights. The amount of damages awarded, over $200,000 in each case, was unprecedented in Bahamian legal history. Judges generally grant bail only to Bahamian suspects, since the authorities consider foreign offenders likely to flee if released on bail. Judges sometimes authorize cash bail for foreigners arrested on minor charges but generally prefer to levy fines in exchange for guilty pleas. The Government tightened bail provisions to prevent suspects with prior convictions for serious offenses from gaining release on bail. The authorities detain illegal migrants, primarily Haitians and Cubans, at the Carmichael Road Detention Center until arrangements can be made for them to leave the country. Illegal migrants convicted of crimes other than immigration violations are held at Fox Hill and remain there for weeks or months, pending deportation after serving their sentences, unless they can arrange private means for their repatriation. A few illegal Haitian migrants have been detained in Fox Hill but never charged with a crime. Exile is illegal and is not practiced. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The justice system derives from English common law. The judiciary, appointed by the executive branch on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, has always been independent. However, a controversy arose when the Ministry of Justice refused to pay the travel expenses of an expatriate judge of The Bahamas Court of Appeal to return to Nassau in order to conduct a hearing. The judge resigned, and members of the legal profession, the opposition party, and the public accused the Ministry of tampering with the independence of the judiciary. Trials are fair and public; defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to appeal. However, an overburdened judicial system must handle a steadily increasing caseload, which results in excessive pretrial detention and delayed justice for victims. In some criminal cases, it can take several years from time of arrest to eventual trial. There were even further delays in mid-1994 when higher court rulings sent several hundred preliminary inquiries back to lower courts because of procedural errors. The Supreme Court, where many serious criminal cases are heard, began its term with no criminal cases before it because lower courts were correcting errors and rehearing preliminary inquiries. The Government continued to open new courts and appoint new magistrates in an effort to reduce the case backlog. There are no political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Constitution prohibits arbitrary entry, search, or seizure. The law usually requires a court order for entry into or search of a private residence, but a police inspector or more senior police official may authorize a search without a court order where probable cause of a weapons violation exists. Such an official may also authorize the search of a person (which extends to the vehicle in which the person is traveling) without a court order should probable cause exist for drug possession. The Government neither censors mail nor restricts receipt of foreign correspondence or publications. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Government respects the constitutional provision for the right of free expression, and the political opposition criticizes the Government freely and frequently. Two daily and several weekly newspapers, all privately owned, express a variety of views on issues of public interest, including varying degrees of criticism of the Government and its policies. Foreign newspapers and magazines are readily available. Two new radio stations, both privately owned, compete with a government-run network and include lively political debates in their programming. The country's sole television station, the state-owned Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas, presents a variety of views, although opposition politicians claim with some justification that their views do not receive as extensive coverage as those of the Government. Coverage was more fair in 1994, however, than in past years. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for the rights to free assembly and association, and the authorities respect these rights in practice. The law permits private associations, but groups must obtain permits to hold public demonstrations. The authorities grant such permits almost without exception. c. Freedom of Religion The Government respects in practice the constitutional provisions for freedom of religion. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The Government respects the rights of citizens and legal residents to both domestic and foreign travel. Increasing numbers of Cuban rafters arrived on remote, uninhabited islands in the southwestern Bahamas near Cuba. Bahamian authorities regularly declared their inability, due to a shortage of operational craft, to assist these stranded rafters. In the first part of the year, the authorities did not interview Cuban migrants who reached populated islands to determine any claim to refugee status; they allowed them to leave with the tacit understanding that the Cubans would make their own arrangements to migrate to the United States. When the U.S. Government changed its policy toward Cuban migrants in August, the Bahamian Government began to detain Cuban migrants, under austere but livable conditions, at the Carmichael Road Detention Center. The Government allows representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to interview Cubans to determine whether any have claim to refugee status. The presence of an estimated 40,000 Haitian migrants in The Bahamas remained a sensitive social, economic, and political issue. Several international human rights organizations visited during the year to observe the conditions and treatment of Haitians in the Bahamas. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report praised The Bahamas for accepting many Haitians and for providing them a wide range of social services. However, it expressed concern over procedures for determining the refugee status of the Haitians and the extent of due process afforded them during repatriations. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government The Bahamas is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy with two major political parties and general elections at least every 5 years. An elected Prime Minister and Parliament govern. The political process is open to all elements of society, and citizens 18 years of age and older are eligible to register and vote; voting is by secret ballot. In the 1992 elections, slightly more than 92 percent of registered voters cast valid ballots. The two principal political parties are the ruling Free National Movement and the opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). The PLP led the country for 6 years of internal self-government from 1967 to 1973, and held power under Prime Minister Sir Lynden O. Pindling from independence in 1973 to 1992. The FNM holds 32 of 49 seats in the House of Assembly, and the PLP holds 17. Both the ruling party and the opposition name members to the upper house, the Senate, in compliance with constitutional guidelines. Although it does pass legislation, the Senate is primarily a deliberative body that serves as a public forum to discuss national problems and policies to address them. The Parliament has four elected female members, including the deputy speaker of the House, and three appointed female Senators, including the government leader in the Senate. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Individual human rights monitors, several local human rights groups, as well as representatives of international human rights organizations operate freely, expressing their opinions and reporting their findings on alleged human rights violations without government restriction. The Government allows them broad access to institutions and individuals. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Government generally respects in practice the constitutional provisions for individual rights and freedoms regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, creed, or sex. However, both the Constitution and the law discriminate against women in several respects. Women The Constitution discriminates against women by not providing them with the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their foreign-born spouses. Additionally, the law makes it easier for Bahamian men with foreign spouses to confer citizenship on their children than for Bahamian women with foreign spouses. Some inheritance laws also favor men over women. For example, when a person dies without a will, the estate passes to the oldest legitimate son, or in cases where there is no son, the closest legitimate male relative. Women participate fully in Bahamian society and are well represented in the business and professional sectors, as well as in the judiciary and the Government. The Ministry of Justice and Immigration includes a Women's Affairs Unit. Domestic violence against women continued to be a serious problem, with independent women's support groups reporting that many women sought shelter at the private, but government- supported, crisis center in Nassau. A new domestic court opened in the fall and deals exclusively with family issues such as spousal abuse, maintenance payments, and legal separation. The Government opened this court to reduce the usual several months' delay in these often time-sensitive cases. At the plaintiff's request, the court will hear cases in closed session. The courts can impose various legal constraints to protect women from abusive spouses or companions. Children The Government places priority on maintaining adequate expenditures for child welfare and education. However, child abuse and neglect remain serious problems. The law requires that anyone having contact with a child they believe to be sexually abused must report their suspicion to the police. The same reporting requirement does not apply to cases of physical abuse, which nonetheless are increasing. The police refer reported cases of sexual and physical abuse to the Department of Social Services, which investigates them and can bring criminal charges against perpetrators. The Department may remove children from abusive situations if the court deems it necessary. Although all children, regardless of legal status, are eligible for free public education, there were reports that some public schools on islands other than New Providence denied entry to children of illegal Haitian immigrants, because of limited school facilities. People with Disabilities Although the 1973 National Building Code mandates certain accommodations for the physically disabled in new public buildings, the authorities rarely enforce this part of the code. Private buildings are also not routinely accessible. The Disability Affairs Unit of the Ministry of Social Development and National Insurance works with the Bahamas Council for the Disabled, an umbrella organization for groups offering services for the disabled, to provide a coordinated public and private sector approach to the needs of the disabled. A mix of government and private residential and nonresidential institutions provides a range of educational, training, and counseling services for both physically and mentally handicapped adults and children. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The Constitution provides that labor unions have the right of free assembly and association. Private sector and most public sector workers may form or join unions without prior approval. Members of the police force, defense force, fire brigade, and prison guards may not organize or join unions. Bahamian workers exercise the right of association extensively, with almost one-quarter of the work force (and one-half the workers in the important hotel industry) belonging to unions. The country's two major umbrella labor organizations, the National Workers Council of Trade Unions and Associations and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and individual labor unions all function independent of government or political party control. All labor unions have the right to maintain affiliations with international trade union organizations. The Industrial Relations Act requires that, before a strike begins, a simple majority of a union's membership must vote in favor of a motion to strike. The Department of Labor must supervise the vote. The Minister of Labor, Human Resources, and Training may also refer a dispute involving employees of an "essential service" to the Industrial Relations Board for settlement, if the Minister determines that the public interest requires such action. The country's largest labor union, the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union, conducted a number of work stoppages and strikes at resort hotels during the year. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively Workers freely exercise their right to organize and participate in collective bargaining, which the law protects. Unions and employers negotiate wage rates without government interference. The Constitution and the Industrial Relations Act prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers. The Act requires employers to recognize trade unions. The Industrial Relations Board mediates disputes between employees or unions and their employers. Mechanisms exist to resolve complaints, including filing a trade union dispute with the Ministry of Labor or bringing a civil suit against the employer in court. The Act requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities. Employers may dismiss workers in accordance with applicable contracts, which generally require some severance pay. The Government enforces labor laws and regulations uniformly throughout the country. The Bahamas has two small free trade zones. Labor law and practice in these zones do not differ from those in the rest of the country. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and such labor does not exist in practice. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 for industrial work, work during school hours, or work at night. There is no legal minimum age for employment in other sectors, and some children work part-time in light industry and service jobs. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The Fair Labor Standards Act limits the regular workweek to 48 hours and provides for one 24-hour rest period. The Act requires overtime payment (time and a half) for hours beyond the standard. The Act permits the creation of a Wages Council to recommend the setting of a minimum wage. To date, however, The Bahamas has not established such a council or a minimum wage. The Ministry of Labor, responsible for enforcing labor laws, has a team of inspectors who conduct on-site visits to enforce occupational health and safety standards and investigate employee concerns and complaints, but inspections occur only infrequently. The Ministry normally announces inspection visits in advance, and employers generally cooperate with inspectors to implement safety standards. As such inspections appear inadequate, the Ministry of Labor, Human Resources, and Training formally requested help from the U.S. Department of Labor in December to develop a technical training proposal to improve occupational safety, health, and welfare. The national insurance program compensates workers for work-related injuries. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to find suitable alternative employment for employees injured on the job but still able to work. The law does not provide a right for workers to absent themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. (###)
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