DISGRACE: Local human rights group slams Johnson’s comments on shantytown demolition

DISGRACE: Local human rights group slams Johnson’s comments on shantytown demolition
Elsworth Johnson.

HRB: Nation’s stance on immigrants an embarrassment on the world stage

“The thin excuse that they are simply respecting the laws of The Bahamas isn’t fooling anyone”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Local activist organization Human Rights Bahamas (HRB) yesterday cried shame on Immigration Minister Elsworth Johnson’s recent comments on the planned demolition of shantytown structures on Abaco.

The issue of unregulated communities, otherwise known as shantytowns, in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas has been long-standing.

The matter has been exasperated on Abaco to some extent in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, which nearly wiped out one of the largest shantytown communities — The Mudd.

As the government plans to proceed with the demolition of approximately 600 structures in shantytowns on that island, despite pushback from United Nations (UN) human rights experts, Johnson on Sunday told Eyewitness News the demolition is in the best interest of The Bahamas.

Slamming his comments as a “disappointing embarrassment”, HRB chided the minister to remember The Bahamas sits on the UN Human Rights Committee as it continued to urge the government to change course.

“It was very disappointing to read Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson’s reckless and inflammatory comments directed at the United Nations,” read an HRB statement.

“Johnson shamelessly deployed the boogeyman of ‘sovereignty’ and spoke in the kind of petty and isolationist language to be expected from a certain a former US president, not a one-time human rights defender.”

Prior to becoming a Cabinet minister, Johnson served as president of the Bahamas Human Rights Network.

HRB’s statement continued: “No one is encroaching on our sovereignty; the UN’s special rapporteurs are seeking to remind The Bahamas of the serious obligations to protect individual human rights to which we signed on willingly.

“The minister’s confrontational attitude towards the very measured and reasonable comments of these international experts is reminiscent of the stubborn attitude of so many former administrations.

“This mulish pose continues to be an embarrassment to The Bahamas on the world stage.”

HRB took issue with Johnson’s argument seeming to suggest “the international community should go fix Haiti before they bother us”.

“First of all,” its statement noted, “the majority of the individuals in question are not Haitian, but Bahamian citizens or lawful permit holders, as his government’s own studies have shown.

A final demolition notice attached to a structure in an Abaco shantytown.

“Secondly, the long-suffering families in question would not be in their current predicament if his government had done something to provide some form of shelter or plan for a path to long-term housing for those who lost everything in Hurricane Dorian.

“How will it benefit The Bahamas to push these families into the street?”

UN human rights experts have called on the Bahamas government to halt planned demolitions, citing concerns including an increased risk of homelessness and extreme poverty among those whose homes are destroyed.

HRB asserted: “The government of The Bahamas cannot continue to pretend that their Abaco home demolition plan is about building standards when it is quite obviously and blatantly a discriminatory effort to destroy communities of a particular ethnic background.

“The continued references to Haiti highlight this fact, as does their failure to apply the same extreme policy to other communities that suffer the very same building code deficiencies.

“…The thin excuse that they are simply respecting the laws of The Bahamas isn’t fooling anyone.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister earlier today echoed Johnson’s comments, saying The Bahamas must uphold its laws.

“It has come to a point where we have to decide whether we will have a society like The Bahamas, or we will have a society like Haiti,” he said.

About Rayne Morgan

Rayne Morgan is a copy editor at Eyewitness News. As a former reporter, she has amassed several years’ experience in the mass media field, writing for both local and international publications, and continues to lend her expertise in grammar and editing to the industry.