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a729: Public Statement, Amnesty International (fwd)

From: Robert Benodin <r.benodin@worldnet.att.net>

Public Statement Amnesty International
5 February 2002
AI Index AMR 14/001/2002 - News Service Nr. 23
Letter to Prime Minister of Bahamas
The Honourable Hubert Ingraham
Sir Cecil V. Wallace Centre,
PO Box CB 10980,
The Bahamas. 4 February 2002
Dear Prime Minister,
We note with concern the interception and detention of 226 Haitian nationals
off the coast of the Bahamas on 30th January 2002. According to reports,
this brings the total number of arrivals for the month of January to nearly
We understand that the Haitians include pregnant women and children and that
they are arriving in desperate, dangerous and overcrowded conditions.
We wish to raise with you the concern that they have full access to adequate
procedures for claiming protection under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to
the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) and its Protocol.
You will doubtless be aware that Amnesty International has long expressed
concern about ongoing human rights violations and political violence in
The situation has further deteriorated in recent weeks following an armed
attack, by unidentified armed assailants, on the National Palace in
Port-au-Prince on 17th December. Information we have points to numerous
subsequent acts of targeted violence at the hands of armed government
supporters against perceived opponents. This has included attacks on
reporters and radio stations.
We understand that you have expressed your own concern at the situation in
Haiti and that your Minister for Immigration, Mr Earl Deveaux, also made
mention of this when asked about the recent influx of Haitian. Mr Deveaux
confirmed that the alleviation of this problem of immigration would come
about only if Haiti made efforts to improve the democratic and electoral
Thus, given this climate of tension and violence in Haiti, and in accordance
with the 1951 Refugee Convention and its Protocol, it is essential to ensure
that the arrivals are made aware of, and have access to, a fair and
satisfactory asylum procedure in accordance with international standards.
As a signatory party to the Convention and its Protocol, the Bahamas has
obligations under international law. Under the principle of non-refoulement,
enshrined in Article 33 of the Refugee Convention, the Bahamas' is obliged
to ensure that no person is forcibly returned directly, or indirectly, to a
country where "his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his
race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or
political opinion". Implicit in this principle is the necessity to establish
a fair and satisfactory asylum procedure (including the right to appeal) to
identify those in need of international protection.
Thus, we are alarmed to hear that some Haitian arrivals are being deported
very shortly after their arrival raising doubts about whether a fair and
satisfactory asylum procedure can have been completed.
In the circumstances, we would be grateful if you could provide us with more
detailed information as to the Bahamas' compliance with her international
obligations. In particular, we would be obliged if you could confirm that:
1. Asylum seekers are not returned to Haiti until their individual asylum
claims have been fully examined and they have been given an opportunity to
2. Arrivals are made aware of their rights and have adequate access to
qualified interpreters and to legal advice concerning the possibility of
making a claim for asylum;
3. Those who wish to claim refugee protection are granted immediate access
to a full and fair procedure, including an effective appeal process;
4. Asylum seekers are not detained unless unavoidable, in accordance with
Conclusion no.44 adopted by the states participating in the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Executive Committee in 1986;
5. If it is detention is considered unavoidable, then please confirm that
asylum seekers receive adequate medical care and treatment and are not held
in detention with convicted prisoners
6. Children under the age of 18 are not detained. This would be contrary to
the UNHCR's February 1999 Guidelines relating to the Detention of Asylum
Seekers and the international obligations incurred under the Convention on
the Rights of the Child.
We fully appreciate the heavy burden placed upon the Bahamas because of this
crisis. We understand that some $200,000 has already been spent this month
on repatriation costs alone. However, we are sure that you will agree that
the solution should not entail breaches of the Bahamas' obligations under
the Convention, but requires, as the Preamble to the Convention states,
"international cooperation".
We thank you for your consideration of the matters raised and look forward
to your prompt response.
Yours sincerely,
For Irene Khan, Secretary General