Govt. defends shantytown eradication plan, asks court to dismiss any reference to “ethnic cleansing”

Govt. defends shantytown eradication plan, asks court to dismiss any reference to “ethnic cleansing”
The Supreme Court of The Bahamas.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — As counsel for the government defended its shantytown removal policy in the Supreme Court yesterday, lead attorney Kayla Green-Smith asked the court to disregard all references by the applicants that the government was seeking to ethnically cleanse Haitian communities.

The substantive trial on the issue of the demolition of unregulated homes in these communities continued before Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson.

Attorneys Fred Smith, QC, and Martin Lundy represent the applicants, including 117 shantytown residents.

The respondents in the matter are Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes, Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister, Attorney General Carl Bethel, Bahamas Power and Light and the Water and Sewerage Corporation.

“We, the respondents, wish to restate — [we] object any reference to the term ‘ethnic cleansing,’” she advised the court.

“My lady, if you would recall during the court of the applicants’ presentation, they made reference to this whole concept of…alleging that the respondents were engaged in that process.”

She pointed out that a United Nations commission of exerts mandated to examine international humanitarian law defined ethnic cleansing as the “purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas”.

The commission of experts also said the coercive practices used to remove the civilian population can include but are not limited to “murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, severe physical injury to civilians, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of the civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, use of civilians as human shields, destruction of property, robbery of personal property and attacks on hospitals, medical personnel and locations with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem, among others”.

“And so, my lady, we say…” she said, before asking counsel to read the quotation in the previous paragraph, which references the commission defining ethnic cleansing in its interim report as “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area”.

Counsel obliged and read the portion of the report.

She pointed out, however, that the commission’s final report in 1994 defined ethnic cleansing as involving “violent and terror-inspiring means”.

“…What the commission describes as these coercive practices, we humbly say to you that certainly is not the case in this…” she said.

“These proceedings relate to the respondents’, in our humble submission, my lady, comprehensive initiative aimed at removing illegal, unregulated and unsafe buildings in shantytowns. In other words, those buildings that were not built in accordance with the building regulations and/or any of the other legislations that deal with buildings and the construction industry in this country.”

Green-Smith argued that not only were these buildings unsafe, as seen during Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, costing many their lives, but structures, their unregulated makeshift power sources and lack of proper infrastructure create unsanitary conditions that have widespread implications on the health and safety of the public.

The attorney also referenced an assessment and report of the water and water table in shantytown communities that revealed chloroform contamination and human feces in walkway areas, as well as a rodent infestation.

She assured that the process will “continue to be done in a very humane manner”.

She argued that international humanitarian organizations were contacted and consulted on the government’s policy, and the Shanty Town Action Task Force put in place plans to assist residents with locating alternative housing.

“So, we humbly ask this court to disregard…any reference to the term ‘ethnic cleansing,’” she said.

“By way of further preliminary objection, we humbly submit that the applicants have not established their rights to be on the land or the right to bring any claim on the land…”

About Royston Jones Jr.

Royston Jones Jr. is a senior digital reporter and occasional TV news anchor at Eyewitness News. Since joining Eyewitness News as a digital reporter in 2018, he has done both digital and broadcast reporting, notably providing the electoral analysis for Eyewitness News’ inaugural election night coverage, “Decision Now 2021”.