NASSAU (8 December 2023) – The Bahamas has made improvements on preventing arbitrary detentions, but further efforts are essential to advance legislative initiatives and ensure effective and inclusive implementation of the laws, UN human rights experts said today.
"We recognise and praise the efforts undertaken by the Bahamas to address arbitrary detention, through ratification of international human rights instruments and efforts made to strengthen the legislative framework,” said a delegation of experts from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in a statement at the end of a visit to the country.
“Regular independent oversight over all places of deprivation of liberty is an effective safeguard against arbitrary detention. We encourage the prompt enactment of the Ombudsman Bill and establishment of the Ombudsman's Office,” the experts said.
According to the Working Group, there are many areas in which improvement is urgently needed. In particular, the experts expressed significant concerns regarding the frequent absence of arrest warrants, the widespread practice of arrests based on insufficient grounds or outdated warrants, as well as extended periods spent by persons in police custody without notification of charges and timely judicial oversight.
“We are alarmed at reports of police violence to extract confessions, without effective redress mechanisms,” they said. The experts also expressed concern over disturbing conditions of detention in some sections of the prison and the mixing of detainees awaiting trial and those serving sentences.
The Working Group commended authorities for upholding the presumption of innocence by utilising electronic monitoring devices, as an alternative to detention. However, they noted deficiencies in the bail system.
“We urge the authorities to significantly improve access to free legal aid by ensuring free legal representation from the moment of arrest, in alignment with international human rights standards. The Public Defender’s Office should be considerably strengthened,” the experts said.
Commending the Government for progress made in the area of immigration, the delegation expressed concern about the adequacy of current measures relating to asylum and refoulement matters. They highlighted barriers to legal representation, a lack of awareness of rights, and effective access to legal safeguards. “We call for a rights-based and non-discriminatory approach to immigration enforcement,” the experts said.
During the visit, from 27 November to 9 December 2023, the three members of the delegation, Priya Gopalan, Ganna Yudkivska and Mumba Malila, met Government officials, officials from the judiciary, lawyers, civil society representatives and other stakeholders. They visited 10 different facilities, interviewing 134 people deprived of their liberty.
A final report on the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2024.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was established by the former Commission on Human Rights in 1991 to investigate instances of alleged arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was clarified and extended by the Commission to cover the issue of administrative custody of asylum-seekers and immigrants. In October 2022, the Human Rights Council confirmed the scope of the Working Group's mandate and extended it for a further three-year period. The Working Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world: Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Matthew Gillett (Vice-Chair on Communications), Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila.
The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page — Bahamas
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