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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

Third session meeting highlights

1 December 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record


The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group this afternoon reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by the Bahamas, during which 27 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

Presenting the national report of the Bahamas was MICHAEL BARNETT, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, who noted that his country was the second oldest parliamentary democracy in the western hemisphere and that changes in the Government through the democratic parliamentary process had occurred peacefully over the years. The Bahamas respected the human rights of all people. He also recalled that his country had the highest per capita income among independent States in the western hemisphere after the United States and Canada.

Responding to questions submitted ahead of time, the Minister noted that the death penalty legal for crimes of murder or treason, but it was not mandatory; the last case took place in January 2000. With respect to complaints of police brutality, like all citizens, police officers were subject to the law and punished for acts of violence that exceeded their authority. In 2007 and 2008 four police officers were charged with criminal offences related to excessive abuse of power. All those subjected of excess police force were afforded legal redress. A police complaint unit was also in place to address such acts. As to incidents of rape, the Bahamas rejected the assertion that it had the highest rate of rapes. Parliament passed an amendment to the sexual offences act and the new domestic violence protection act was now in force. The law of Bahamas did not recognize marital rape, although rape in general was punishable by law. Sexual harassment and discrimination were illegal and punishable under Bahamian law and applied equally to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender.

Concerning illegal immigration, the Minister noted that Bahamas was a country which has attracted a large number of illegal immigrants and migrant workers. The country was unable to absorb a high number of undocumented migrant workers and other illegal migrants. An immigration detention centre was established over ten years ago to house immigration detainees outside the criminal prison system. There were presently 258 persons currently held in the detention centre. All persons requesting international protection were interviewed and assessed immigration officers who had been trained by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The vast majority of the individuals detained by immigration authorities in the Bahamas were from Haiti and Cuba. It was the policy of the Bahamas to repatriate all such persons to their country of origin as quickly as possible. In instances where children were involved, it was the policy of the Bahamas that children may not be kept in detention for periods in excess of one week. It was also the policy of the Bahamas that minor children were housed at the detention centre only if accompanied by their parents or guardians.

The age of criminal responsibility in the Bahamas was seven, the Minister noted. This was a product of the State’s colonial past which established that at English Common Law a person under the age of seven could not be held liable for a criminal offence. Children under 18 who were sentenced by a court served their sentences in juvenile residential facilities. Consideration will be given to reviewing the age of criminal responsibility in the Bahamas as a part of its ongoing legal reform. As regards corporal punishment, Bahamian law did not permit a parent the use of corporal punishment to correct a child under the age of 16 for misconduct or disobedience of a lawful command. It is not proposed to amend this law and there has been no domestic lobby for any change in the law. Corporal punishment of a minor allowable by law did not amount to the sanction of child abuse. Physical abuse of a child was punishable under the law.

Speaking to the issue of protection of human rights during natural disasters, the Minister recalled that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was responsible for disaster preparedness and response and targeted the entire population. Official hurricane advisories over radio and television were routinely given in English and Creole. Similarly, emergency assistance and aid from NEMA and/or from the Department of Social Services, was available to Bahamians and other residents who fell victim to a disaster.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the results achieved in women’s rights and efforts leading to their empowerment and position in political life; efforts to reduce the gender gap between men and women; gender equality in the primary education system; the entry into force of the Domestic Violence Act of 2007; progress achieved in the area of combating racism; that education received the largest percentage of the Bahamian annual national budget; the State’s proactive policy in combating HIV/AIDS; Bahamas’ high-ranking on the UN Human Development Index; and the high rate of literacy in the Bahamas.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to national provisions to address instances of domestic violence and violence against women, in general; steps taken to address the high number of rapes in the country; the practical effect of regional cooperation efforts to combat human trafficking; instances of corporal punishment and the criteria by which the Government defined this act in relation to physical abuse; the situation of children in prison and juvenile justice measures in place; the policies in place for mothers in prison in light of caring for their children; measures taken to remedy the situation of overcrowded prison conditions in light of the increasing number of illegal immigrants; measures taken to deal with cases of illegal detention and mistreatment of prisoners; and the issue of ill-treatment of detainees at a detention centre housing asylum seekers and concerns expressed by Special Procedures Regarding the Carmichael Detention Centre.

Other questions raised covered the Government’s position on extending an invitation to Special Procedures; actions to be taken to protects and safeguard the human rights of minorities and marginalized groups; the steps take to improve cases of mistreatment of minorities; how the Government intended to address the concerns of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the issue of undocumented migrants and refugee seekers; plans to bring down the backlog of cases in courts; and how climate change and its consequences was affecting basic human rights in the Bahamas, in particular the right to adequate housing, the right to food, the right to water and the right to life.

Drawing attention to the reference in the report that Appeals from the Bahamas Court of Appeals went to the Privy Council in London, one delegation asked the State under review to explain the link between the supreme institution over a sovereign State to another institution in another country as well as its utility.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To complete its accession to the ICCPR and the ICESC and to consider acceded to the other major human rights instruments, including the Convention against Torture and the Convention on Forced Disappearances; to have a national human rights body drawn up in compliance with the Paris Principles; to respect its treaty bodies reporting obligations; and to step up its efforts for human rights training and education to ensure that civil society was sufficiently consulted in the follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review; to develop an implement measures to deal with the large backlog of case in courts; and to extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures. Some States urged the international community, as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to facilitate the Bahamas’ request for technical assistance in human rights training.

Several delegations called on the Bahamas to abolish the death penalty and impose a moratorium on all executions and to institute an awareness campaign in that regard. Other encouraged the State to penalize acts of corporal punishment; to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to increase the age of criminal responsibility of children; to take additional measures to prevent child abuse and neglect; to increase efforts to ensure the registration of all children at birth; to undertake a comprehensive study on child abuse in order to understand its scope and to suggest ways of preventing it from occurring; and to focus more efforts in combating child prostitution and pornography and in aiding its victims as per the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Other recommendations included: To respect the rights of all migrants without condition; to ratify the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; to respond without delay to concerns raised by several Special Procedures on the conditions of detention in Carmichael Detention Centre; to implement the recommendations of the CERD with regard to refugees or asylum seekers; to find alternative forms to imprisonment for mothers; to impose specific legislation to protect LGTB [lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual] people from any form of discrimination; to take serious efforts to address the high number of rapes in the country; to take a real political commitment to address violence against women and to criminalize marital rape; and to continue positive efforts in the area of women’s rights and share their best practices.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Cuba, Chile, France, the Netherlands, Mexico, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Slovenia, Italy, Canada, China, Argentina, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ghana and Djibouti.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Czech Republic, Sweden, Maldives, Australia, Latvia, Barbados, Jamaica, Haiti and Botswana.

The four-person delegation of the Bahamas consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labour and Social Development.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Bahamas are Djibouti, Malaysia and the Netherlands.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on the Bahamas can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of the Bahamas on Wednesday, 3 December.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Burundi.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp

 

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