Rights group condemns statements by PM on “shanty towns”

Photo taken from: the-bahamas.net

NASSAU, Bahamas, Aug 21, CMC – The human rights group, Rights Bahamas, says plans by the government to remove “shantytowns” where many Haitian migrants live from the landscape of the country constitutes a gross violation of people’s fundamental human rights under the constitution

“These people do not want to be forced to live somewhere else, they do not want the authorities to break up their close knit communities, built over generations through mutual help and support. They do not want to be forced to live among strangers. And no one, the government included, has the right to arbitrarily force them to do so,” Rights Bahamas said in a statement.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, speaking at a Church service last Sunday, commemorating the 26th anniversary of the ruling Free National Movement’s (FNM) 1992 general election victory, recalled his discussions with the League of Haitian Pastors some months ago, where he informed them that “our aim is to improve the lives of all those affected by what we are doing.

“I reminded the pastors that we must live in the Bahamas as one people with shared values and a shared commitment to a better future for all citizens and residents of the Bahamas.

“It is unjust and unfair to allow the shantytowns to remain, especially given the social and other problems often found in these areas. It is a moral imperative for the country to remove the shantytowns even as we engage in immigration reform,” he said.

Minnis said that because his administration is committed to social justice “we are removing shantytowns, a long-standing problem successive governments failed to address in a comprehensive manner”.

But the rights group said that it is taken aback by the “level of hypocrisy and disingenuousness” involved in the Prime Minister’s comments regarding Haitian ethnic communities.

“First of all, there is no such thing as a “comprehensive, careful and compassionate” way to forcibly evict someone from their home and relocate them against their will. This is brute force and coercion, pure and simple,” Rights Bahamas said, adding “the government can try to sugar coat this matter all likes; it will not change the fact that what they are seeking to do constitutes a gross violation of people’s fundamental human rights under the constitution”.

The group said that the claim by the prime minister that the conditions in Haitian ethnic communities necessitate their destruction “is the epitome of duplicitousness” noting that the government’s own White Paper on Over The Hill Reform acknowledges that the same sanitary, infrastructure, construction and land title issues exist in traditional Bahamian communities, “but these are not slated for demolition.

“Instead, they are to be improved and rehabilitated. Why the double standard? Why only those of Haitian ethnicity have their homes destroyed? It can only be a case of discrimination based on ethnicity. That is a grave violation of the most fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution and no amount of false rhetoric or fake compassion can justify or excuse it.”

Right Bahamas said that it intends to closely monitor the situation and reminds the government that the Supreme Court of the Bahamas has placed an injunction on all efforts to evict persons in these communities or demolish their homes.

“This prohibition remains in place until the conclusion of a full constitutional challenge and any moves to violate it will constitute a serious infringement of the rule of law in the Bahamas,” the rights group added.

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