RESPONSE TO ERRONEOUS NEWS REPORTING AND COMMENTARY
Based upon news accounts and commentary upon my Report to the United Nations in Geneva during the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process on Human Rights it has become apparent that there is a great deal of misunderstanding of the nature of the exercise.
The Bahamas has been a member of the United Nations since Independence, and every five years is called upon, along with every other member State, to report on what it has done to live up to the commitments that it made five years previously to address international concerns about Human Rights, which it has previously committed to undertake at the previous UPR held five years before.
Each country is obliged to show the extent to which it has lived up to its commitments or what they are in process of doing to live up to commitments made, and also whether or not it will seek to address other concerns of the international community, which it has not yet committed to address.
Over the past several days and during my absence abroad I have been accused of announcing government policy to the international community without having first announced these matters to the Bahamian people.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Over the past month or more I have given Press interviews and read Press reports or seen TV newscasts in which I have spoken about:
(1) “Marital Rape” and clearly stated that we were drafting an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act. I also clearly stated that the new proposed offence of “aggravated spousal abuse” was a preferred means to avoid stigmatizing incidents in a subsisting marriage as “rape”, but was necessary also as a means to provide protection to abused spouses;
(2) “The intention to amend the Bahamas Nationality Act” where I spoke to the Press about the government’s intention to provide a legal framework where children of Bahamian males or females, born in or out of marriage anywhere in the world could receive citizenship by being registered “upon application”.
(3) “The Independent Committee to review the backlog of constitution-based citizenship applications by persons born in The Bahamas to non-Bahamian parents after Independence”. Again, a number of Press reports covered my comments on this matter.
(4) “Immigration Law reforms” comments that I made were also reported, particularly the proposed increased penalties for harbouring and providing employment to undocumented migrants.
In each case mentioned in my remarks at the UN UPR in Geneva I was careful to state that these initiatives were “draft” Bills, “proposed” Laws or “being finalized”. Where I spoke about the Independent Committee on Citizenship applications, I mentioned the fact that the government “plans to introduce” a Review Committee chaired by a retired Chief Justice.
I further, in respect of the draft “aggravated spousal sexual abuse” amendment Bill, specifically stated in Geneva that the Bill had been forwarded to religious leaders and civil society for consultation; (each of whom having been specifically asked to consult with their associates or affiliated organizations). This had been done since early January, 2018. Up to the day of my comments I had received only one reply from civil society which reflected what I viewed as general support, with a few points of criticism as to certain aspects of the proposed Bill, such as the time limit.
All of these statements are facts; facts that I have spoken to the Bahamian People about, through the news media, on a number of occasions, and before going to defend my country’s Human Rights record in Geneva.
Each of these items were mentioned specifically to show the ongoing seriousness with which the government was either addressing previous commitments made to improve Human Rights, or grappling with the means to effect social progress, protect the vulnerable and take The Bahamas to a better place for the benefit of all Bahamians.
It is therefore deeply distressing to see my words apparently deliberately distorted, contorted and twisted out of all recognition.
I therefore urge all Bahamians to actually read the words in the Report that I gave to the UN, rather than to be driven by the excesses and errors depicted in Social Media and, most of all, to avoid knee-jerk commentary.
Senator the Hon. Carl Bethel, QC
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs
January 19, 2018