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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.
(###)

[end of document]

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