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Title:  Bahamas Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996




                              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, the official unemployment level is reported at over 13 percent; 
there is also considerable underemployment and some poverty.

Bahamians enjoy a wide range of democratic freedoms and human rights.  
The principal human rights problems centered on occasional police abuse 
of detainees, harsh and overcrowded conditions at the only prison, 
delays in trials, violence and discrimination against women, violence 
against children, and the occasional practice of administering corporal 
punishment prior to the period allowed for appeal.

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.  In September an off-duty 
policeman in Nassau was killed and his body dumped on a nearby island.  
Investigators later discovered that he had been shot while entering a 
car occupied by two fellow off-duty officers.  The officers involved did 
not have authorization to possess firearms, were dismissed from the 
force, and currently face murder charges.

A civil suit is still pending over the May 1994 death of a detainee in 
police custody in which the coroner's court jury found that police were 
negligent for failing to provide necessary medical care.  A police 
officer was acquitted of murder charges stemming from an October 1994 
incident in which he, while off duty, allegedly shot at five men during 
an altercation, killing one.  Two police officers convicted in 1994 of 
manslaughter in the 1989 beating death of a suspect were acquitted in 
March on appeal.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated 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 corporal punishment, abolished in 1984, was 
reinstated in 1991.  Local human rights monitors protested that in some 
instances the authorities administered punishments prior to the proper 
period allowed for appeal, and without legal representation for the 
defense.  Corporal punishment retains broad public support.

Human rights monitors and members of the general public expressed 
concern over continued instances of police abuse against criminal 
suspects.  Many of the charges of abuse involved beatings in order to 
extract confessions.

The police Complaints and Discipline Unit, which reports directly to 
senior police officials, is responsible for investigating allegations of 
police brutality.  Police officials disciplined or dismissed some police 
officers as a result of complaints, although some alleged victims also 
claimed that police officers threatened them after they had filed a 
complaint.  An immigration officer convicted of assault in the beating 
of a Jamaican attorney at Nassau International Airport in 1994 lost his 
initial appeal, and appealed his case further.

Conditions at Fox Hill, the only prison, improved modestly, but remained 
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.  There are no separate facilities 
for inmates being held on remand, although some are eventually 
segregated to a medium security wing after being processed through 
maximum security.  In July an inmate being held on remand in maximum 
security on minor theft charges was found severely beaten in his cell.  
He died a short time later at the public hospital.  The authorities 
charged another inmate in his death.  A second inmate died of natural 
causes resulting from his infection with AIDS.  Prison officials 
estimate that about 13 percent of the incoming prisoner population is 
infected with the HIV virus.  Most prisoners lack beds, many sleep on 
concrete floors, and most are locked in their cells 23 hours per day.  
Facilities for women are less severe and have running water.

Local and international human rights groups visited the prison during 
the year.  Organizatioons 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 develop 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 Government does not provide legal representation except 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.

Judges tend not to grant bail to foreign suspects, particularly on more 
serious offenses, 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 in practice, foreign 
suspects generally prefer to plead guilty and pay a fine rather than 
pursue their right to defend themselves, given the several months' 
backlog of court cases and harsh conditions at Fox Hill Prison.

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 privately for their repatriation.  Due to 
security concerns, the authorities earlier in the year temporarily 
transferred groups of Haitian and Cuban detainees from the Detention 
Center to Fox Hill Prison after fighting broke out.  These detainees 
have all since been released or deported.

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.

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.  The 
opening of new courts by the Government has reduced the backlog of 
cases, particularly in domestic disputes, but criminal cases can still 
be delayed in excess of 2 years before defendants receive a trial.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary entry, search, or seizure and the 
Government generally respects these prohibitions in practice.  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 of drug 
possession exist.  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 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.

  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 Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government 
respects this right in practice.

  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice.

Following the restoration of President Aristide in Haiti, the Bahamas 
reestablished diplomatic relations with Haiti and negotiated a 
repatriation agreement, whereby 800 Haitians residing illegally in the 
Bahamas could be returned to Haiti every month over a period of 1 year.  
The Bahamas offered free transportation and limited financial incentives 
to induce Haitians to depart voluntarily, though far fewer than expected 
did so.

Reports from the initial roundups of Haitian migrants in February and 
March claimed that police and immigration officials physically 
mishandled some detainees, but reports since that time uniformly state 
that repatriation procedures are proceeding smoothly and without 
incident.  The presence of an estimated 35,000 Haitian migrants in the 
Bahamas remains a sensitive social, economic, and political issue.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their 
government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice 
through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of 
universal suffrage.

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 0. 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.  Women are 
underrepresented in the legislature.  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

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.  The domestic court, dealing exclusively with family issues such 
as spousal abuse, maintenance payments, and legal separation, received a 
significantly increased volume of cases this year.  Officials attribute 
the increase to the greater willingness of victims to pursue their 
claims as a result of the court's decreased backlog, rather than to any 
increase in actual offenses.  The court installed a one-way mirror this 
year to help shield victims from being identified by suspects.  The 
court can and does impose various legal constraints to protect women 
from abusive spouses or companions.

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 Minister of Foreign Affairs, Janet Bostwick, who 
was formerly the Minister of Justice, is personally responsible for the 
office known as the Government's Women's Affairs Unit.

  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 also 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.

  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 disabled 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.  Workers exercise the right of association extensively; 
almost one-quarter of the work force (and one-half the workers in the 
important hotel industry) belong 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.  In October six 
trade unions signed a National Congress of Trade Unions constitution.  
The new constitution will provide a unified forum for over 27,000 
workers from the Musicians and Entertainers Union, Taxi Cab Union, 
Maritime Port and Allied Workers Union, Commercial Stores and 
Supermarkets Union, Public Service Union, and the Bahamas Hotel Catering 
and Allied Workers Union (the country's largest).

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 Office of Labor must supervise the vote.  The Minister 
of State for the Public Service and Labor 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 Bahamas Hotel Catering and 
Allied Workers Union conducted a number of work stoppages and strikes at 
resort hotels during the year.  In September the Airport, Airlines and 
Allied Workers Union staged a "sick-out" against Bahamasair in an 
unsuccessful attempt to gain salary increases.

All labor unions have the right to maintain affiliations with 
international trade union organizations.

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers freely exercise their right to organize and participate in 
collective bargaining, and the law protects it.  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 
State for the Public Service and 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 years 
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 weekly.  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 State for the Public Service and 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.  In September the Government, in conjunction with the 
International Labor Organization and the TUC, sponsored a 4-day seminar 
on occupational safety and health and the environment in order to 
promote greater awareness and enforcement of worker health and safety 
standards.

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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