a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In July the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) reported shootings by police had decreased by 62 percent from 2018.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. At times citizens and visitors alleged instances of cruel or degrading treatment of criminal suspects or of migrants by police or immigration officials. In February media reported an incident in which police allegedly tortured three persons in Eleuthera in an attempt to force a confession. The three persons were subsequently released. In August human rights advocates called for an independent body to investigate allegations of police brutality and misconduct following an alleged physical assault of two young women by a police officer in Exuma. As a result of an investigation by the Police Disciplinary Tribunal, the RBPF suspended the involved police officer.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions at the government’s only prison, the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) facility commonly known as Fox Hill Prison, were harsh due to overcrowding, poor nutrition, and inadequate sanitation, ventilation, and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate access to medical care and drinking water remained problems in the men’s maximum-security block. The BDCS facility was designed to accommodate 1,000 prisoners, but it sometimes housed several hundred more. Juvenile pretrial detainees were held with adults at the BDCS remand center, a minimum-security section of the prison.
The government stated inmates consistently received three meals a day, but some inmates and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported inmates received only two meals per day, with a meal sometimes consisting only of bread with cheese and tea. Fresh fruit and vegetables were rare to nonexistent. Prisoners reported infrequent access to clean drinking water and an inability to store potable water due to a lack of storage containers. Maximum-security cells for men measured approximately six feet by 10 feet and held up to six persons with no mattresses, running water, or toilet facilities. Inmates removed human waste by bucket. Prisoners complained about the lack of beds and bedding. Some inmates developed bedsores from lying on the bare ground. Sanitation was a general problem, with cells infested with rats, maggots, and insects. Ventilation was also a problem, and some inmates complained of mold and mildew, a common problem in the country. The government claimed to provide prisoners in maximum-security areas access to toilets and showers one hour a day, but some prisoners reported they had access for only 15 minutes twice a week. The women’s facilities were generally more comfortable, with dormitory-style quarters and adequate bathrooms.
The availability of clearly labeled, prescribed pharmaceuticals and access to physician care were sporadic. There was inadequate access to the men’s second-floor medical center for sick inmates or inmates with disabilities.
Administration: The Internal Affairs Unit and a disciplinary tribunal at the BDCS facility are responsible for investigating any credible allegations of abuse or substandard conditions. There were no such investigations during the year.
Independent Monitoring: Human rights organizations complained the government did not consistently grant requests by independent human rights observers for access to the BDCS facility, the Carmichael Road Detention Centre (for migrants), and the two juvenile centers. The government had additional bureaucratic requirements for some civil society organizations to gain access to the detention center, making it difficult to visit detainees on a regular basis. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it was regularly able to visit the primary detention centers and the “safe house” for women and children to speak with detainees held there, including asylum seekers and refugees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions, with the exception of immigration raids (see below and section 2.f.). The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, although this process sometimes took several years.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The RBPF 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 says 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 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 available only for serious felonies being tried in the Supreme Court. Access to legal representation was inconsistent, including for detainees at the detention center. Minors receive legal assistance only when charged under offenses before the Supreme Court; otherwise, there is no official representation of minors before the courts.
A functioning bail system exists. Individuals who were unable to 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.
In July the Department of Immigration, along with the RBPF, apprehended 28 Haitian nationals during an early morning joint operation in New Providence that turned violent. Witnesses and civil society representatives stated the officers conducting the raid failed to present warrants and physically assaulted residents. Several Bahamians were detained, including a Haitian-Bahamian human rights advocate. After the operation the Department of Immigration said its officers were assaulted while carrying out their duties during the operation. In November a magistrate court dismissed charges against a 19-year-old woman accused of intent to cause harm to an immigration officer.
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 was interpreted as two years. Authorities released selected suspects awaiting trial with an ankle bracelet on the understanding the person would adhere to strict and person-specific guidelines defining allowable movement within the country.
The Department of Immigration detained irregular migrants, primarily Haitians, while arranging for them to leave the country or until the migrant obtained legal status. The average length of detention varied significantly by nationality, by the willingness of other governments to accept their nationals back in a timely manner, and by the availability of funds to pay for repatriation. Authorities aimed to repatriate Haitians within one to two weeks. During the year the government dispatched magistrates to the southern islands to adjudicate cases of interdicted irregular migrants, a change implemented to provide further due process.
The government continued to enforce the law requiring noncitizens to carry their passport and proof of legal status in the country. Some international organizations alleged that enforcement focused primarily on individuals of Haitian origin, that the 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 solicited and accepted bribes to prevent detention or to grant release.
Activists for the Haitian community acknowledged alleged victims filed few formal complaints with government authorities. Activists attributed this to a widespread perception of impunity for police and immigration authorities, and fear of reprisal. The government denied these allegations.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Procedural shortcomings and trial delays were problems. The courts were unable to keep pace with the rise in criminal cases, and there was a continued backlog.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. 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 have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal.
Defendants may hire an attorney of their choice. The government provided legal representation only for serious felonies being tried in the Supreme Court, leaving large numbers of defendants without adequate legal representation. Lack of representation contributed to excessive pretrial detention, as some accused lacked the means to advance 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 the child-welfare social worker to prepare a probation report to include a recommendation on the sentence for the child. In essence the government-assigned social worker tasked with safeguarding the welfare of the child is also tasked with recommending an appropriate punishment for the child.
A significant backlog of cases was awaiting trial. Delays reportedly lasted years, 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 persons for testimony.
Local legal professionals also attributed delays to a variety of longstanding systemic problems, such as slow and limited police investigations, insufficient 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.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions; however, in shantytowns (illegal informal settlements populated primarily by Haitian migrants), witnesses reported habitual warrantless entry of homes by immigration officers without probable cause. Many Haitians claimed immigration officers targeted their dwellings, demanding multiple bribes, once the Haitians’ undocumented status was discovered.
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 exists to suspect a weapons violation or drug possession.