DAMIEN DEFENDS THE CAUSE
GOMEZ DENOUNCES GBHRA ALLEGATIONS
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Denouncing allegations made against The Bahamas by the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) as ”false, baseless and malicious,” Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez told members of the Infer-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on
Friday, March 20, 2015 that The Bahamas has a history of respecting human rights that “predates our independence.”
“Indeed, our support of Haiti and its people in the attainment of economic, political and social stability emanates from an abiding and unflinching belief in the dignity of our shared human condition,” Minister Gomez told the IACHR commissioners, who convened the hearing based on specific allegations made by the GBHRA President about the mistreatment of illegal Haitian immigrants in The Bahamas.
GBHRA President Fred Smith also addressed the hearing, held in Ruben Dario Room of the Organization of American States (OAS) administrative building at 1889 F Street, N.W.
Underscoring his harsh criticism of the false allegations made by Mr. Smith, verbally and in written documents, Minister Gomez specifically highlighted the outrageous claim made by the GBHRA President that “the Government of The Bahamas has embraced Fascism and Nazism in a targeted campaign to commit genocide against Haitian nationals.”
“They even maintained that there are concentration camps in The Bahamas and compared the Detention Center to Auschwitz,” Minister Gomez said. “These lies cannot be left unanswered. It is my solemn duty to protect the name and reputation of our people. That is the sole purpose of my attendance here today. Let not my good manners detract from the depth of outrage collectively felt by the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas at the defamation of our country.”
Minister Gomez noted that in 1648 “the original English settlers of The Bahamas arrived to establish a free society in which they might practice their religion without let or hindrance of the English Crown or the Church of England.”
“They settled on the island of Eleuthera, the Greek word for freedom,” Minister Gomez said. “Shortly after settlement, a large number a black slaves were deported from Bermuda to Eleuthera where they were immediately freed. Without a Royal permit the settlers pursued the establishment of their new Jerusalem. They held democratically elected assemblies well before The Bahamas became recognized by the English Crown as a colony to be kept, where upon Letters Patent were issued and our democracy institutionalized. The Common Law protected human rights. Much later in 1963 a Bill of Rights was enshrined in the second written constitution affecting The Bahamas. In the 1969 and 1973 to further constitutions sought further to explicitly protect human rights by repeating the 1963 Bill of Rights. In colonial and post-colonial times human rights has been an essential feature of Bahamian Law and Bahamian Culture.”
He added: “It is in this context that the public utterances of the petitioners have evoked outrage and contempt as openly expressed by ordinary members of public. We join the public in condemning the outlandish and bizarre allegations made by the petitioners about the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
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“Notwithstanding the failure of the Petitioners to identify a victim of human rights abuses in The Bahamas or of a single failing in our domestic juridical institutions to provide adequate redress we appear as Portia to demonstrate the purity of our response to the demands of upholding human rights in good and bad times when even our neighbours fail to respond.”
Providing further support for his denunciation of the “baseless and malicious” allegations, Minister Gomez had displayed on a projected screen photographs of the detention center for illegal migrants and of the safe house used to keep infants and young persons under the age of 18 with their respective mothers.
“The new dormitories were built at a cost of over $1 million,” Minister Gomez told the Commissioners. “Note the bunk beds and the state of the art bathroom and toilet facilities. Hardly a concentration camp, much less Auschwitz. Note also the furniture and facilities at the safe house rented from the Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau and The Bahamas. Would the Catholic Church not qualify as a part of civil society? Here they participate in a private public partnership to protect young people. Would the Catholic Church partner with purveyors of genocide? Yet this is what the Petitioners would have you believe.”
Referring to the allegation that Haitians are singled out, Minister Gomez said public records show otherwise, adding that the Government of The Bahamas “acts even handedly in respect of the enforcement of our laws” and further pointing out that “there is no racial or ethnic preference or bias.”
Declaring that The Bahamas’ National Security agencies have collected intelligence about the smugglers of illegal migrants from Haiti, Minister Gomez noted that it has been reported that the fee charged each migrant ranges from $1500 to $5000.
“The criminal enterprise of human trafficking and smuggling is a new scourge to our people,” Minister Gomez said. “It poses new risks to The Bahamas. These risks require a measured response to ensure that our laws are enforced and obeyed by all. The witting or unwitting comfort given by the Petitioners to these criminal enterprises is noted with deprecation.”
Minister Gomez added, “Our duty to govern is paramount. We cooperate with the international community in the fight against both human trafficking and terrorism. Law enforcement requires that we know and account for all aliens in our jurisdiction as far as is humanly possible. This is consistent with existing law and the amendments to the Immigration Act now being debated in our Parliament.
“Our duty to govern also embraces our responsibility to give substance to constitutional rights enjoyed or to be enjoyed by subjects of our Commonwealth. Hitherto the passage of the amendments, children who are natives of The Bahamas but born to foreign parents enjoy no right to remain in The Bahamas during their infancy or minority. At 18 and until their 19th birthday they have a right to apply for Bahamian citizenship. The amendments improve upon the situation of such persons. The amendments confer a status of “belonger” upon such natives, enabling these children to enjoy a legal right to remain in The Bahamas, to attend school, college or university as if they were full citizens of The Bahamas. Additionally, such persons may work without obtaining a work permit. The only right not enjoyed by them is the right to vote. These salutary changes to the law of immigration will benefit literally thousands of Haitian nationals enabling them to open bank accounts and to participate in the formal economy of The Bahamas
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. For this laudatory achievement the Petitioners defame us, the magnanimous Bahamian people.”
Continuing, Minister Gomez noted, “Far from fascism or Nazism, we seek the embrace of our brothers and sisters born in our midst to foreigners who made varying degrees of contributions to our development. Many of these people are of Haitian descent but many also are of other nationalities and ethnicity. Many of these people are poor but some of these people are well to do or rich. We seek the inclusion of all of their talents recognizing that The Bahamas benefits by that inclusiveness more than it loses.
“Madam President and distinguished Commissioners, we in The Bahamas have faced illegal migration for longer than we have enjoyed independence. Throughout this experience, we have extended Christian charity to the weakest amongst us: infants, children, young persons, the aged, the sick and the infirm. We have provided schools and education even granting it as a legal right irrespective of the immigration status of the child. We have provided health care irrespective of persons’ immigration status and we have done so for among other things to promote public health and to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Our history of inclusion is now being questioned in spite of consistent public statements from the Ministers of Immigration, Education, Health and Social Services. This Bahamian tradition is questioned in the face of publicly disclosed expenditure and budgetary data which demonstrates the commitment of The Bahamas to the creation of a democratic, great and socially fair society.”
He added, “There is no threat to any child in the school system that he or she will be deprived of an education while within The Bahamas. Nor is there any threat to any immigrant that he or she will be denied medical care. Simply there is no basis for the defamatory Petition brought by the Petitioners.”