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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Bahamas

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Bahamas, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4b28.html [accessed 1 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
THE BAHAMAS

 

The Bahamas is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Queen Elizabeth II is the nominal Head of State and is represented in The Bahamas by an appointed Governor General. The Government is headed by an elected Prime Minister and Parliament. Since 1992 the Government has been controlled by the Free National Movement (FNM) of Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham. The opposition Progressive Liberal Party is led by Sir Lynden 0. Pindling, who was Prime Minister from independence in 1973 until 1992.

The police and a small defense force are answerable to civilian authority and generally respect laws protecting human rights. However, there were continuing credible reports that police occasionally abuse suspects during interrogations. Many of the allegations involved members of the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), which is also the body charged with investigating such cases. CID issued no public reports of such investigations during 1993.

The economy depends primarily on tourism, which accounts for more than half of the gross domestic product. Financial services, particularly offshore banking and trust management, are also important foreign currency earners. While some Bahamians enjoy relatively high average income levels, overall unemployment is estimated to exceed 20 percent, and 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, abuses against Haitians caused by local antagonism toward the Haitian migrant community, violence against women, and the slow pace of justice. The Government established a coroner's court in 1993 to conduct independent investigations in cases where criminal suspects die while in police custody and for other deaths in unusual circumstances. Only one prosecution on the basis of alleged police abuse commenced during 1993, that of three police officers charged with a beating death in 1989.

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 killings for political motives by the Government or domestic political groups. Three police officers from the island of Eleuthera were placed on trial on charges of manslaughter arising from the 1989 beating death of a criminal suspect at the time of arrest. At year's end, this trial had not been completed. The Government established a coroner's court in 1993 to investigate deaths of suspects in police custody and accidental deaths involving unusual circumstances. There were no such deaths reported in 1993. Most Bahamian police still do not carry firearms, although several were shot during attempted arrests in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of abductions, secret arrests, or clandestine detention by police or other official security forces.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel and degrading treatment or punishment, but Bahamian human rights monitors expressed concern over a pattern of police abuse against criminal suspects. The police Criminal Investigation Department is charged with investigating allegations of abuse and disciplining those officers determined to be guilty. Many of the charges of abuse, however, involved CID officers themselves who allegedly beat criminal suspects, occasionally with instruments such as baseball bats, during interrogations in an effort to extract confessions. In one incident being investigated by the Grand Bahama Human Rights Organization, a criminal suspect in Freeport claimed to have been cut with garden shears during an interrogation. Charges by a Jamaican attorney that he had been beaten by Bahamian immigration officers at Nassau International Airport in December led to an official protest by the Jamaican Government.

Although Bahamian police claimed to be investigating many of these incidents, no reports of such investigations were published during 1993, nor were any police officers tried or disciplined for such abuse. In at least one incident, an alleged victim of such abuse reported being harassed after release from custody by the officer he accused.

Conditions at Fox Hill, The Bahamas' only prison, remain harsh and overcrowded. The men's facility, originally built in 1953 to house about 500 inmates, holds over 1,800 prisoners. Up to four male prisoners may be housed in 6- by 8-foot cells designed to hold no more than two. Most prisoners lack beds and many sleep on concrete floors. The cells have no running water, and drinking water is often not supplied unless the prisoner has paid a trusty. Sanitation facilities usually consist of a plastic bucket in each cell. A public investigation in June into the 1988 death of a Fox Hill prisoner highlighted the problem of poorly controlled violence among prison inmates. Prisoners allege that requests for medical attention are sometimes denied. Prison authorities often decline to forward prisoners' letters, including letters to the courts by prisoners defending themselves.

The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association conducted a limited inspection of conditions at Fox Hill in May. On two separate occasions, diplomats and Bahamian journalists were allowed to make comprehensive, unsupervised visits. The journalists' subsequent articles, accompanied by photographs of prison conditions, received wide coverage in the local press, and the Ingraham administration appointed a new superintendent and senior deputy superintendent at Fox Hill. In September the Government transferred oversight of the prison from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Public Safety and Transport. Improvements in prison conditions, however, still await the availability of adequate government funding.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Authorities conduct arrests openly and, when required, obtain judicially issued warrants. Felony cases, including those of suspected narcotics or firearms possession, however, do not require warrants where probable cause exists. Suspects under arrest 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. At this point they generally gain access to an attorney of their choice. The Government respects the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrests, but Bahamian law allows no compensation for false arrest. It is possible to sue police authorities for malicious arrest but the standard of proof is high and there are no recent reports of successful suits on this ground.

A system of bail exists, albeit mostly for Bahamian suspects, as foreign offenders are generally considered to be likely to flee if granted 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 is obligated to provide legal representation only to destitute suspects in cases involving capital crimes. Illegal migrants, mostly Haitians, have the right to retain legal representation, although not at government expense, but are generally held at Fox Hill prison pending deportation unless they can arrange private means for their repatriation. As a result, illegal migrants may be held at Fox Hill for weeks or months while awaiting repatriation.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The justice system in The Bahamas derives from English common law. The judiciary is independent, appointed by the executive branch on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, and conducts fair and public trials. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to appeal. However, the overburdened judicial system must handle a rapidly increasing caseload, most of it related to narcotics, which often results in excessive pretrial detention and prison overcrowding; it can often take as long as 2 years from time of arrest to eventual conviction or acquittal.

In 1993 the Government constructed new magistrates' courts on New Providence Island and announced plans to appoint additional magistrates to help reduce the case backlog. The Government and the Grand Bahama Port Authority also constructed a building to house four magistrates courts and a Supreme Court in Freeport, the latter to be the first court at that level to be located outside Nassau. Public and private sector attorneys participated in a study of the judicial system, which developed recommendations for improving court efficiency. The Ministry of Justice and the College of The Bahamas began planning for a 1994 course to train additional court reporters, the short supply of whom has contributed to the case backlog.

There are no political prisoners in The Bahamas.

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

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary entry, search, or seizure. A court order is usually required for the entry into or search of a private residence, but a police inspector or more senior police official may authorize the search of a residence 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. Aside from restrictions on prison mail, 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 Constitution provides for the right of free expression and that right is respected in practice. The political opposition freely and frequently criticizes the Government. Three daily and three 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.

Reporters occasionally self-censor stories about government fraud, corruption, and moral turpitude due to the threat of libel suits under laws unchanged since the nineteenth century. In March an election court consisting of two Supreme Court justices issued a "contempt of court" verdict against the publishers of two newspapers for printing a letter to the editor highly critical of the election court's reversal of the result of a close House of Assembly race in the 1992 general elections. The justices assessed $1,000 fines against both publishers.

In August the Government issued radio broadcasting licenses to two private companies, one associated with the afternoon daily The Tribune and the other with the weekly Bahama Journal and a trucking company, thereby ending the state monopoly on radio broadcasting since independence. Opposition politicians claimed that the companies receiving broadcasting licenses were sympathetic to the ruling FNM; the Government, while indicating it might issue additional licenses for local broadcasting, claimed it needed to limit the number of private nationwide radio stations in order to maintain the economic viability of the state-run network. Florida radio stations are easily received in most of The Bahamas, but a Bahamian law forbids the use of foreign radio or television to broadcast Bahamian election advertisements.

The sole television broadcaster in The Bahamas, the state-owned station ZNS, 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. Prior to the 1992 election, however, the then-ruling PLP also received far more television coverage than did its critics. The Government announced that by August 1994 it would issue a permit for a private company to provide cable television service in Nassau; such service is already available in Freeport.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights to free assembly and association. These rights are respected in practice. Private associations are permitted, but groups must obtain permits to hold public demonstrations. Such permits are freely granted.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution and respected in practice; no restrictions are placed on any religious denomination.

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

Bahamians and residents of The Bahamas enjoy free movement within the country, and Bahamians face no impediments to foreign travel or emigration. The Government liberally grants passports to its citizens.

Although Cuban asylum seekers are officially regarded as illegal immigrants and are occasionally held in prison or at other official facilities until a third country arranges to admit them, the Government in most instances works with private groups to arrange temporary housing. Opposition politicians charged that the Government's willingness to make such arrangements for Cubans whose intended third-country destination was the United States constituted discrimination against Haitian migrants. The Bahamas is reluctant to accept Cuban migrants for long periods of time, however. On several occasions, Bahamian authorities have initially declared their inability, due to shortage of operational craft, to assist Cuban rafters stranded on isolated small islands in The Bahamas.

The presence of an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Haitian migrants in The Bahamas remained a volatile social, economic, and political issue. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials, who interview the refugees to determine their status, relatively few qualified as legitimate refugees. In January the Government repatriated 339 Haitians under the auspices of the UNHCR. In May authorities conducted raids on Abaco and Eleuthera Islands, rounding up over 400 Haitians. Church and human rights officials criticized the Government for conducting some of the raids at night, for refusing to allow some Haitians to collect their belongings, and for causing the separation of many Haitian children from their parents. These officials further criticized the Government for conducting the raids without having prepared adequate housing for the captured illegal immigrants. Several hundred detainees were housed on an emergency basis by the Roman Catholic Church in an abandoned convent in Nassau after they were originally sent to a government building with no sleeping or sanitary facilities.

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

The Bahamas is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy with a multiparty political system, governed by an elected Prime Minister and Parliament. The political process is open to all elements of society, and citizens 18 years of age and older are eligible to register and vote. In the 1992 elections, slightly over 92 percent of registered voters cast valid ballots. Registration is on a nonparty basis. The two principal political parties are the ruling Free National Movement (FNM) 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.

Since the 1992 general elections, the FNM under Prime Minister Hubert A. Ingraham has held 32 of 49 seats in the House of Assembly, while the PLP holds 17. In May The Bahamas Court of Appeals overturned an earlier Supreme Court ruling that would have permitted a parliamentarian defeated for reelection in 1992 to appeal his loss via the election court. The decision left the composition of Parliament unchanged. The Cabinet has 3 female members, and 4 women were elected in 1992 to the 49-member House of Assembly. One of the four was a parliamentarian later elected Deputy Speaker of the House. Under the Constitution, the next general elections must be held before August 1997.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Four local human rights groups operate in The Bahamas: the Grand Bahama Human Rights Organization, the New Providence Human Rights Organization, the Abaco Human Rights Organization, and the National Association for the Protection of Human Rights.

These organizations operate freely and report without government restriction on alleged human rights violations. No international human rights organization sought to visit The Bahamas to investigate human rights conditions during 1993.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides for individual rights and freedoms regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, creed, or sex, and this policy is generally respected in practice.

Women

The Constitution differentiates between the sexes in that it does not provide Bahamian women the ability to bestow citizenship upon their foreign-born spouses. Additionally, nationality laws confer citizenship more easily on the children of Bahamian men than on those of Bahamian women in marriages involving two nationalities. The FNM pledged in its party platform to "accord non-Bahamian spouses of Bahamian women the same privileges as those afforded the spouses of Bahamian men," but as of year's end had not introduced legislation to carry this out.

Women participate fully in Bahamian society and are well represented in the business and professional sectors, as well as in the judiciary and in government. Women's rights activists, however, claim that the scarcity of public and private child care facilities, particularly important in a society with a high proportion of single mothers, discourages many women from entering the work force,

Domestic violence against women continued to be a problem, with independent women's support groups reporting that many women sought shelter at the private, but government-supported, Women's Crisis Center in Nassau. Women may have their cases heard in a closed domestic court and may seek a restraining order against an abusive spouse. In the case of an abusive male companion, however, women can only obtain a magistrate's order for their protection, which carries less legal force than a restraining order. Women's rights groups speak freely on ways to improve the condition of women and children, including safeguarding their physical safety. In September the Ministry of Justice cosponsored with private women's groups a conference aimed at devising a national policy statement on women's rights. The conference concluded that an important first step would be the development of better statistics documenting the status of women in Bahamian society.

Children

Since independence, both major political parties have been committed to defending the rights of Bahamian children and improving child welfare and education. In 1993, at a time of fiscal austerity, the Government placed priority on maintaining adequate expenditures in these areas. One of the few areas to receive a modest increase in government expenditure was youth and education, with particular emphasis on efforts to improve physical conditions in the nation's schools. According to the Women's Crisis Center, however, child abuse and neglect continued to be serious problems. In 1992 the Center reported 206 cases of sexual abuse of minors, and the frequency of such reports increased during 1993. Women's and children's rights monitors said that far more cases of abuse were not being reported, although a public education campaign mounted in 1992-93 by the Women's Crisis Center resulted in increased calls to the Center's telephone "hot line."

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Approximately 85 percent of the Bahamian population is primarily of African descent, with the rest mostly of either European or mixed descent. Since independence, both black and white Bahamians have been well represented in Government, the civil service, and private business. Although opposition politicians occasionally charge that the business community continues to be dominated by white Bahamians, the number and size of black Bahamian-owned businesses continue to grow steadily and they probably constitute a majority of business activity. Black and white Bahamian business leaders no longer appear to regard themselves as representing separate interest groups. On several occasions in November and December, former Prime Minister and opposition leader Pindling called on Bahamians to boycott white-owned businesses, claiming that black businessmen were still at a competitive disadvantage. Pindling's comments drew wide criticism, and no boycott or change in business patterns developed.

Many Haitians in the Bahamas are illegal immigrants and face economic and social deprivation. Although they provide a ready supply of cheap labor and fill jobs which most Bahamians shun, illegal immigrants are subject to detention and deportation at any time. Children born in The Bahamas to illegal immigrants, if not registered by the country of their parents, are considered stateless until they become eligible to apply for citizenship at the age of 18. Although they are eligible nevertheless for free public education, there were reports of some children of Haitian illegal immigrants being denied entry to public schools in islands other than New Providence because of limited school facilities. There is no instruction in Creole or in English as a second language in the Bahamian school system. Many Bahamians, including some government officials, view the growing Haitian population as unwelcome guests who are a drain on the economy and who deserve no constitutional rights.

To work legally, foreigners, including Haitians and a growing number of Jamaicans, must obtain work permits through their employers. Even longtime residents of the Bahamas must renew these permits annually, at a cost of at least several hundred dollars per year, and can have renewal applications arbitrarily denied. If employment is terminated for any reason, the work permit becomes invalid and the foreigner loses his or her legal status. Work permits granted to Haitians and Jamaicans do not normally include permission for a spouse to remain legally in The Bahamas. Some Bahamians have expressed concern that this system tends to lead to economic exploitation of foreign labor by unscrupulous employers.

People with Disabilities

The Ministry of National Insurance and Social Development began work in June to formulate for the first time a national policy regarding the disabled, with a target of mid-1994 for the announcement of the new policy. Although the 1973 National Building Code mandates certain accommodations for the physically disabled in new public buildings, this part of the code is rarely enforced. Assistance for the disabled is provided by several government ministries and private organizations. Approximately 150 children are enrolled in the public Stapledon School for the Mentally Retarded. The Special Services Division of the Ministry of Education provides speech therapy classes and the recently constructed Thelma Gibson primary school includes facilities which can accommodate physically disabled children while keeping them in a mainstream educational institution. The State Home for Orphaned and Abandoned Children includes a residence for physically disabled children.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution specifically grants labor unions the rights of free assembly and association. Workers may form or join unions without prior authorization, except for members of the police force, defense force, fire brigade, and prison guards, all of whom are forbidden to organize by statutes authorized by the Constitution. This right is exercised extensively, particularly in the hotel industry, where approximately 80 percent of the employees are unionized.

The two major labor organizations in The Bahamas, the 8,000-member Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union and the 12,000-member Trade Union Congress (TUC), function independently of government or political party control. All Bahamian labor unions are guaranteed the right to maintain affiliations with international trade union organizations. The TUC, which groups 10 of the country's 44 registered unions, is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Caribbean Congress of Labor.

The right to strike is limited under the Industrial Relations Act, which requires that union members must vote to strike and that the motion must be passed by a simple majority before a strike can commence. The Ministry of Labor oversees the vote. The Ministry may also refer a dispute involving employees of an "essential service" to the Industrial Relations Board for settlement if the Ministry determines public interest requires such action. The Industrial Relations Act also states that a strike which has an object "other than or in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged" or "is designed or calculated to coerce the Government either directly or by inflicting hardship upon the community" is illegal.

The Public Service Workers Union and the Taxi Union held peaceful leadership elections during 1993. Internal bickering among leaders of the Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers Union lessened the union's effectiveness as a collective bargaining agent for hotel workers in a sector already beset by high unemployment and underemployment. Doctors at the public Princess Margaret Hospital occasionally threatened to strike over salaries and working conditions.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers are free to organize, and collective bargaining is extensive for the 30,000 workers (25 percent of the work force) who are unionized. Collective bargaining is protected by law and freely practiced, and the Ministry of Labor is responsible for mediating disputes. Wages are set in negotiations between unions and employers without government involvement.

Both the Constitution and the Industrial Relations Act prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers. The Industrial Relations Act requires employers to recognize trade unions. The Industrial Relations Board within the Ministry of Labor mediates and conciliates disputes between individual employees or unions and their employers. Mechanisms exist to resolve complaints: filing a trade union dispute with the Ministry of Labor, or bringing a civil suit against the employer in a court of law. The Industrial Relations 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 seeks to enforce labor laws and regulations uniformly throughout the country; however, inspections occur infrequently.

Two small, but not particularly active, free trade zones exist in The Bahamas. 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

Bahamian laws prohibit 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 concerns, however, and some children are employed part-time in grocery stores and gasoline stations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Fair Labor Standards Act limits the regular workweek to 48 hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period. The Act requires overtime payment (time and a half) for hours in excess of the standard. The Act permits the creation of a Wages Council to recommend the establishment of a minimum wage; to date, no such council has been established. The Ministry of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing labor laws, has a team of several inspectors who make on-site visits to enforce occupational health and safety standards and investigate employee concerns and complaints. The Ministry normally announces these inspection visits ahead of time. Employers generally cooperate with inspections in implementing safety standards. The Bahamian economy is service oriented, especially in tourism and offshore banking, and therefore does not have significant industrial and occupational health hazards. The national insurance program provides for compensation for work-related injuries. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires an employer to find suitable alternative employment for an employee who is injured on the job but is still able to work. While there is no legislated right for workers to remove themselves from dangerous workplace situations without jeopardy to their continued employment, there have no recently reported instances of such retribution.

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