Rights Bahamas: If govt wants no lawsuits; ensure that people’s rights are not abused

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – The Rights Bahamas group on Tuesday expressed that it takes issue with a recent suggestion that was made by Immigration Minister, Brent Symonette, who called on the group’s legal director, Fred Smith,QC, to stop suing the government and collaborate with the Attorney General’s office to avoid the treasury losing large sums of money in the form of damages awarded to victims.

“First of all, contrary to the minister’s suggestion, Smith has no point to prove,” said Rights Bahamas in an issued statement.

“He is merely defending clients whose rights have been abused and who are entitled to redress. Rights Bahamas will not participate in any effort to rob these victims of their legitimate claim to justice.”

In an article that appeared on the front page of The Tribuneon Tuesday, Immigration Minister Brent Symonette expressed that he wanted Smith to stop suing the government as he had made his point.

Symonette also called for collaboration between attorneys representing clients on immigration matters, as well as the Department of Immigration to resolve issues without saddling the public purse with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.
But yesterday, Rights Bahamas said if government officials do not want to see more lawsuits, they should concentrate on ensuring that people’s rights are not abused.

Rights Bahamas said the call for an end to legal action on its part is also curious in light of the fact that the Attorney General’s office insists on fighting each immigration case, ‘tooth and nail,’ even when they know they are wrong.

“For example, our legal team is currently representing a Jamaican woman in a civil case who was kidnapped and raped repeatedly by a senior immigration officer,” Rights Bahamas alleged. “Despite actually prosecuting the officer in the criminal courts, the Attorney General is now, perversely, defending him in the civil courts! A great deal of time and energy could be saved if the government’s lawyers would just admit when they are on the wrong side of a case and work on a sensible settlement agreement with the victims.”

Rights Bahamas also noted that Mr. Symonette’s suggestion that human rights lawsuits cost the public treasury hundreds of thousands of dollars, hinder investment in public services, and only make money for lawyers is totally misleading.

“The fact is, despite several court victories for the victims of human rights abuses, the government has not actually paid a single dollar in damages in years. The truth is that these cases cost the government nothing but political capital,” Rights Bahamas said.

“Regardless of these few points of disagreement, Rights Bahamas stands ready to work with government, wherever possible, to resolve human rights issues.

“As Smith said during the recent IACHR hearings in Jamaica, the current FNM administration is far more enlightened than its predecessor on questions of human rights and we welcome any opportunity to help make progressive change during their tenure in office.”

Meanwhile, Rights Bahamas expressed its sincere thanks to the Immigration Minister, following his call for cooperation between government and human rights advocates to clear the backlog of citizenship applications.

Rights Bahamas said it has long been their desire to work with officials on this issue, as well as a host of other human rights challenges facing the Bahamas.

“The minister’s approach is welcome change from the usual state of affairs.

“We have offered on several occasions to help government resolve the citizenship backlog and other pressing matters, for example, the inhumane conditions at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.

“Until now, our offers have always been ignored,” Rights Bahamas said.