Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of National Security reported four fatalities in police operations during the year; in each case the government reported the suspect was armed. Six police shootings from 2015 remained pending before the Coroner’s Court.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. At times citizens and visitors alleged instances of police abuse of criminal suspects.
Foreign male prisoners frequently reported threats and targeting by prison guards at the Bahamas Department of Corrections (BDOC). For example, a Bahamian-U.S. dual citizen reported in June that BDOC officials placed a bag over his head and beat him with a golf club.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions failed to meet international standards in some areas, and conditions at the government’s only prison remained harsh due to overcrowding, poor nutrition, and inadequate sanitation.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate access to medical care and drinking water remained problems in the men’s maximum-security block. In October the Ministry of National Security reported the block held 975 inmates in spaces designed to hold approximately 375 inmates when constructed in 1953. The minister of national security reported that the BDOC facility, originally built to hold 1,000 prisoners, held 1,676 inmates as of October. The ministry reported one prisoner death; the matter was before the Coroner’s Court of Inquiry.
Inmates reported receiving only two meals per day, and often only one, with a meal sometimes consisting only of bread and tea. Fresh fruit and vegetables were rare to nonexistent. Prisoners also reported infrequent access to drinking water and inability to save potable water due to lack of storage containers for the prisoners. A few cells also lacked running water, and in those cells, inmates removed human waste by bucket. Sanitation was a general problem, with cells infested with rats, maggots, and insects. A University of The Bahamas study reported that in the maximum-security block, which housed 58 percent of the prison population, inmates removed waste matter using buckets.
Prison inmates complained about the lack of a full-time dentist and a failure to appoint a staff psychiatrist. Prisoner access to a primary care physician was sporadic.
Administration: An independent authority does not exist to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Migrant detainees did not have access to an ombudsman or other means of submitting uncensored complaints, except through their national embassy or consulate.
Independent Monitoring: Human rights organizations complained that the government did not consistently grant requests by independent human rights observers for access to the BDOC facility, the Carmichael Road Detention Center (CRDC), and the two juvenile centers. The government maintained additional bureaucratic procedures for some civil society organizations to gain access to the detention center, making it difficult to visit detainees on a regular basis.
Improvements: The BDOC acquired 20 industrial washers during the year for cleaning prisoner bedding and clothing, and the Ministry of National Security reported instituting a standardized cleaning program to improve hygiene conditions in the prison.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions, with the exception of immigration raids. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, although this process sometimes took several years.
Numerous Haitian migrants reported being detained by immigration officials and solicited for bribes of 1,000-3,000 Bahamian dollars (B$) ($1,000-$3,000).
Government officials sometimes held migrant detainees who presented a security risk at the BDOC facility; migrants previously remained in custody without charges for up to three years.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) maintains internal security. The small Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) is primarily responsible for external security but also provides security at the CRDC and performs some domestic security functions, such as guarding foreign embassies. The Ministry of National Security oversees both the RBPF and RBDF. The RBDF augments the RBPF in administrative and support roles.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the RBPF, RBDF, and Department of Immigration. Authorities automatically placed under investigation police officers involved in shooting or killing a suspect. Police investigated all cases of police shootings and deaths in police custody and referred them to a coroner’s court for further evaluation. The Police Complaints and Corruption Branch, which reports directly to the deputy commissioner, is responsible for investigating allegations of police brutality or other abuse.
In addition to the Complaints and Corruption Branch, the independent Police Complaints Inspectorate Office typically investigated complaints against police, but it had not met as of September 4.
From January to October, 101 complaints were lodged with the Complaints and Corruption Branch, with assault, unethical behavior, missing property, damage, unlawful arrest, assault with a deadly weapon, extortion, neglect of duty, and stealing the most common, in descending order. The RBPF received and resolved these complaints through its Complaints and Corruptions Branch. The RBPF took action against police misconduct, consistently firing officers for criminal behavior.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Authorities generally conducted arrests openly and, when required, obtained judicially issued warrants. Serious cases, including suspected narcotics or firearms offenses, do not require warrants where probable cause exists. The law provides that authorities must charge a suspect within 48 hours of arrest. Arrested persons must 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, although some persons on remand claimed they were not brought before a magistrate within the 48-hour period. Police may apply for a 48-hour extension upon simple request to the court and for longer extensions with sufficient showing of need. The government generally respected the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. The constitution provides the right for those arrested or detained to retain an attorney at their own expense; volunteer legal aides were sometimes available. Minors under age 18 receive legal assistance only when charged under offenses before the upper courts; otherwise, there is no official representation of minors before the courts.
A functioning bail system exists. Individuals who could not post bail were held on remand until they faced trial. Judges sometimes authorized cash bail for foreigners arrested on minor charges; however, foreign suspects generally preferred to plead guilty and pay a fine.
Pretrial Detention: Attorneys and other prisoner advocates continued to complain of excessive pretrial detention due to the failure of the criminal justice system to try even the most serious cases in a timely manner. The constitution provides that authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for a “reasonable period of time,” which is interpreted as two years. Authorities used an electronic ankle-bracelet surveillance system in which they released selected suspects awaiting trial with an ankle bracelet on the understanding that the person would adhere to strict and person-specific guidelines defining allowable movement within the country.
Authorities detained irregular immigrants, primarily Haitians, while arranging for them to leave the country or until they obtained legal status. The average length of detention varied significantly by nationality, willingness of governments to accept their nationals back in a timely manner, and availability of funds to pay for repatriation. Authorities usually repatriated Haitians within one to two weeks. In a 2014 agreement between the governments of the Bahamas and Haiti, the government of Haiti agreed to accept the return of its nationals without undue delay, and both governments agreed that Haitian migrants found on vessels illegally in Bahamian territorial waters would be subject to immediate repatriation. In return the Bahamian government agreed to continue reviewing the status of Haitian nationals with no legal status and without criminal records who either had arrived in the Bahamas before January 1985 or had resided continuously in the Bahamas since that time. Authorities held irregular immigrants convicted of crimes other than immigration violations at the BDOC facility where, after serving their sentences, they often remained for weeks or months pending deportation.
Human rights groups expressed concern that unaccompanied minors were not held in a safe house but were detained in the CRDC with adults.
The government continued to enforce the 2014 immigration policy that clarified requirements for non-Bahamian citizens to carry the passport of their nationality and proof of legal status in the country. Some international organizations alleged that enforcement focused primarily on individuals of Haitian origin, that rights of children were not respected, and that expedited deportations did not allow time for due process. There were also widespread, credible reports that immigration officials physically abused persons who were being detained and that officials solicited and accepted bribes to prevent detention or secure release.
Activists for the Haitian community acknowledged that alleged victims filed few formal complaints with government authorities, which they attributed to a widespread perception of impunity for police and immigration authorities and fear of reprisal among minority communities. The government denied these allegations and publicly committed to carry out immigration operations with due respect for internationally accepted human rights standards, including the involvement of the Ministry of Social Services, where warranted, in cases involving children, scaled enforcement based on the ability to provide adequate housing for detainees, and full investigations of any allegations of abuse.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, sitting judges are not granted tenure, and some law professionals asserted that judges were incapable of rendering completely independent decisions due to lack of job security. Procedural shortcomings and trial delays were problems. The courts were unable to keep pace with the rise in criminal cases, and there was a growing backlog.
Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, to a fair and free public trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, to receive free assistance of an interpreter, and to present their own witnesses and evidence. Although defendants generally have the right to confront adverse witnesses, in some cases the law allows witnesses to testify anonymously against accused perpetrators in order to protect themselves from intimidation or retribution. Authorities frequently dismissed serious charges because witnesses either refused to testify or could not be located. Defendants also have a right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and to appeal.
Defendants may hire an attorney of their choice. The government provided legal representation only to destitute suspects charged with capital crimes, leaving large numbers of defendants without adequate legal representation. Lack of representation contributed to excessive pretrial detention, as some accused lacked the means to pursue their cases toward trial.
Numerous juvenile offenders appear in court with an individual who is court-appointed to protect the juvenile’s interests (guardian ad litem). A conflict arises when the magistrate requests “information” about a child’s background and requests that the same social worker prepare a probation report. The Department of Social Services prepares the report, which includes a recommendation on the eventual sentence for the child. In essence the government-assigned social worker tasked with safeguarding the welfare of the child is the same individual tasked with writing the report to the judge recommending the appropriate punishment for the child.
A significant backlog of cases awaiting trial remained a problem. Delays reportedly lasts five years or more, although the government increased the number of criminal courts and continued working to clear the backlog. Once cases went to trial, they were often further delayed due to poor case and court management, such as inaccurate handling or presentation of evidence and inaccurate scheduling of witnesses, jury members, and accused criminals for testimony.
Local legal professionals also attributed delays to a variety of longstanding systemic problems, such as slow and limited police investigations, limited forensic capacity, lengthy legal procedures, and staff shortages in the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and there is access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions; however, in migrant villages witnesses reported immigration officers’ habitual warrantless entry of homes without probable cause. Many Haitians claimed that immigration officers targeted their dwellings once their undocumented status was discovered, demanding multiple bribes.
While the law usually requires a court order for entry into or search of a private residence, a police inspector or more senior police official may authorize a search without a court order where probable cause to suspect a weapons violation or drug possession exists.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, a relatively effective–albeit extremely backlogged–judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without significant restriction.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes both negligent and intentional libel, with a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for the former and two years for the latter. In contrast with 2016, the government did not make use of criminal libel laws during the year.
The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authorization. The internet was widely available on New Providence and Grand Bahama islands, and the International Telecommunication Union estimated that 80 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. The Plays and Films Control Board rated and censored plays and films for public viewing.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government generally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants credibly accused police and immigration officers of excessive force and warrantless searches, as well as frequent solicitations of bribes by immigration officials. Widespread bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, continued.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government had an agreement with the government of Cuba to expedite removal of detainees. The announced intent of the agreement was to reduce the amount of time Cuban migrants spent in detention; however, concerns persisted that it also allowed for information sharing that heightened the risk of persecution of detainees and their families.
Access to Asylum: According to the government, trained individuals screened applicants for asylum and referred them to the Immigration Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration for further review. Government procedure requires that the ministry forward approved applications to the cabinet for a final decision on granting or denying asylum. Throughout the year the government worked to develop institutionalized asylum procedures to enhance the processing of asylum seekers and refugees. Authorities did not systematically involve UNHCR in asylum proceedings, but they sought advice on specific cases during the year and granted UNHCR greatly improved access to interview detained asylum seekers awaiting deportation.
The government did not effectively implement laws and policies to provide certain habitual residents the opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner and on a nondiscriminatory basis. Children born in the country to non-Bahamian parents, to an unwed Bahamian father and a non-Bahamian mother, or outside the country to a Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father do not acquire citizenship at birth.
Bahamian-born persons of foreign heritage must apply for citizenship during a 12-month window following their 18th birthday, sometimes waiting many years for a government response. The narrow window for application, difficult documentary requirements, and long waiting times left multiple generations without a confirmed nationality. These restrictions primarily affected those of Haitian descent, due to their preponderance among the irregular migrant population.
There were no reliable estimates of the number of persons without a confirmed nationality. The government asserted that a number of “stateless” individuals had a legitimate claim to Haitian citizenship but refused to pursue it due to fear of deportation or loss of future claim to Bahamian citizenship. Such persons often faced waiting periods of several years for the government to decide on their nationality applications and, as a result, lacked proper documentation to secure employment, housing, access to health services, and other public facilities.
Individuals born in the country to non-Bahamian parents were eligible to apply for “Belonger” status that entitled them to work and to have access to public high school-level education and a fee-for-service health-care insurance program. Belonger permits were readily available. Authorities allowed individuals born in the country to non-Bahamian parents to pay the tuition rate for Bahamian students when enrolled in college and while waiting for their request for citizenship to be processed. The lack of a passport prohibits students from accessing higher education outside the country, thereby limiting their education and economic opportunities. In October the government repealed its policy of barring children without legal status from government schools. Community activists alleged that some schools continued to discriminate, claiming to be full so as not to admit children of Haitian descent.