Building Civil Society Skills with a Bahamas Human Rights Workshop

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights with support from The Moore Charitable Foundation and local human rights defenders hosted a 2-day civil society workshop for 15 Bahamian activists on October 10 – 11 in Nassau, Bahamas. Led by former director of the Training Institute at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Andrea Galindo, and Program Officer Kacey Mordecai, the workshop worked with participants to identify the main human rights issues in The Bahamas and develop strategies to address them.

On Day 1 of the workshop, participants identified the top three human rights issues in The Bahamas as women’s rights and gender equality; migrants’ rights; and environmental rights. With clear target issues in mind, participants named the major obstacles civil society advocates experience in their work, including the absence of a civil society coalition, a lack of resources and expertise, and very little knowledge of civics, constitutional rights, and human rights among the population.

These conversations framed a more hands-on Day 2, where the activists divided into three groups to tackle each issue area. Each group honed in on a specific problem, created a vision statement, identified allies and opponents in their human rights work, and devised a slogan for their advocacy campaign. For example, the group that worked on migrants’ rights selected inhumane conditions at Carmichael Road Detention Center, where individuals who are presumed to be foreigners are detained by the Bahamian government, as their priority issue. The group decided on #libertyhasnonationality as their campaign slogan and will work towards the vision of a world where “migrants will enjoy social inclusion and access to fundamental human rights.”

In the final “Brainstorming, goal-setting and next steps” session, individual civil society members and organizations identified three main goals to build on the workshop’s momentum. First, establishing a true civil society coalition.

To this end, individuals and organizations committed to contributing time, leadership, and drafting of a shared policy statement to get a local human rights coalition off the ground. Second, raising the profile of The Bahamas before the Inter-American system of human rights by requesting thematic hearings before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and visits from the Inter-American Special Rapporteurs. Third, participants identified the goal of using human rights principles in local campaigns to get the population more familiar with human rights concepts. The group who worked on migrants’ rights pledged to launch their #libertyhasnonationality campaign to initiate progress towards this goal. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights committed to continuing to support Bahamian civil society’s goals with its expertise in international litigation and advocacy.

The delegation from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights also used the trip to Nassau as an opportunity to visit Carmichael Road Detention Center. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Caribbean Institute of human Rights requested precautionary measures to safeguard the life and integrity of the detainees held at Carmichael and the IACHR granted the measures in 2015. Family members of the detainees waiting to visit loved ones told Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights that it was common practice for the guards to deny visitation, particularly to members of the Bahamian Haitian community.

When the delegation briefly spoke to two detainees inside the facility, they confirmed that conditions remained similar to the conditions described in the 2014 request for precautionary measures: food is of poor quality, water is scarce, there is severe overcrowding, detainees must sleep on the floor, and none of the detainees has seen a doctor or been given legal assistance. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will use information gleaned in this visit to submit an update to the IACHR requesting that they maintain the precautionary measures in force and conduct a visit to the detention center to monitor conditions.

Energized by the dedication and drive of our Bahamian partners, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights will continue to work alongside them to address the ongoing human rights violations in the country and make the vision of fundamental human rights for all in The Bahamas a reality.