By Travis Cartwright-Carroll
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas — Questionable deaths in police custody and shooting deaths during police operations featured prominently in The Bahamas’ 2012 Human Rights Report released on Friday by the US State Department.
The report also said a poorly functioning judicial system leading to delayed trials, and witness intimidation were some of the most serious human rights problems in the country.
The report said that other problems included poor detention conditions; corruption; violence and discrimination against women; sexual abuse of children and discrimination based on ethnic descent, sexual orientation, or HIV status.
The report noted that the government took action against police officers accused of abuse of power, and there was not a widespread perception of impunity.
“There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings,” the report stated.
“However, there were occasional reports of fatal shootings and questionable deaths of suspects in police custody.
“Bystanders at some shootings claimed that police were too quick to use their firearms and, in some instances, declared that police officers were unprofessional and in need of additional training.
“Police investigated all such incidents and referred them to a coroner’s court for further evaluation.
“In addition, all deaths in police custody go before the coroner’s court.
“Authorities reported two fatalities in police operations during the year.”
The report also mentioned that on June 6, a court found police officer Donovan Gardiner guilty of beating a suspect (held in custody on a minor traffic offence) with a baseball bat, resulting in injuries that led to his death in 2007. The judge sentenced Gardiner to ten years in prison.
The report highlighted a case in July where three robbery suspects who were held in custody claimed that police beat them.
According to the report, prison and detention centre conditions failed to meet international standards.
“Conditions at Her Majesty’s Prisons at Fox Hill (HMP), the country’s only prison, remained harsh and unsanitary for many prisoners,” the report said.
The report said overcrowding and access to health care were major problems in the men’s maximum-security block.
It added that the practice of using slop buckets was also an issue.
“Human rights organizations complained the government did not consistently grant requests by independent human rights observers for access to HMP, the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, and the two juvenile centers,” read the report.
“The government maintained additional bureaucratic procedures for some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to gain access to the detention center, making it difficult to visit detainees on a regular basis.”
In a press release, the US Embassy noted that the report merely provides a snapshot of conditions in each country.
“We report factually on human rights conditions and how they align with universal human rights, and we work hard to ensure that the reports meet high standards of accuracy and objectivity,” the statement read.