Bahamas | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2010

2010 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


In 2009, the Bahamas faced increasing challenges to its traditional record of good governance due to economic instability, rising crime, and increased tensions over migration issues.

The Bahamas, a former British colony, became an independent state within the Commonwealth in 1973. Lynden Pindling served as the country’s first prime minister and head of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) for a quarter-century. After years of allegations of corruption and involvement by high officials in narcotics trafficking, Pindling and the PLP were defeated by the Free National Movement (FNM) party in the 1992 elections.
The FNM ruled the Bahamas for 10 years under Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, until the 2002 elections brought the PLP, led by Perry Christie, back to power. In May 2007, the FNM triumphed at the polls, winning 23 parliamentary seats to the PLP’s 18, thereby restoring Ingraham to the premiership and demoting Christie to leader of the opposition. Christie retained this position by winning an overwhelming majority of votes in the PLP leadership conference in October 2009.
As the Caribbean’s only upper-income country, the Bahamas has established a model service economy based on an impressive tourism sector—which accounts for a large share of national income—and offshore financial services. However, in 2009, the worsening global economy cut into the Bahamian tourism industry and posed new challenges to the Ingraham government. Marijuana cultivation and trafficking by foreign nationals residing in the country has led the United States to keep the Bahamas on the list of major drug-producing or drug-transit countries. The country is also a major transit point for migrants coming from elsewhere in the Caribbean, especially Cuba and Haiti, in the hope of reaching the United States.

In January 2009, an ambulance driver and a member of Parliament were arrested on charges of attempting to extort money from American actor John Travolta following his son’s death in the Bahamas. A mistrial was later declared when another lawmaker prematurely announced an acquittal.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The Bahamas is an electoral democracy. The lower house of the bicameral Parliament, the 41-member House of Assembly, is directly elected for five-year terms. The 16 members of the upper house, the Senate, are appointed for five-year terms by the governor-general, who represents the British monarch as head of state. Nine of the senators are appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister, four on the recommendation of the opposition leader, and three on the recommendation of the prime minister after consulting with the opposition leader. The head of the majority party or coalition in Parliament typically serves as prime minister.
Political parties can organize freely. The two leading parties are the FNM, headed by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, and the PLP, led by former prime minister Perry Christie.
The Bahamas was not ranked by Transparency International in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, but police corruption remained a major concern and top officials frequently face allegations of administrative graft.
The Bahamas has a well-developed tradition of respecting freedom of the press. Daily and weekly newspapers, all privately owned, express a variety of views, as do the government-run radio station and four privately owned radio broadcasters. Strict and antiquated libel laws dating to British legal codes are seldom invoked. Access to the internet is unrestricted.
The people’s rights to religious and academic freedoms are respected.
The Bahamas upholds freedom of assembly. Constitutional guarantees of the right to form nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are generally respected, and human rights organizations have broad access to institutions and individuals. Labor, business, and professional organizations are generally free from government interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent. In 2009, the government sought to liberalize its telecom industry by offering controlling shares of the Bahamas Telecommunications Industry, thus opening up a state monopoly to private investors.
The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and a court of appeals, with the additional right of appeal under certain circumstances to the Privy Council in London. Some progress has been reported in reducing both the duration of court cases and the backlog of criminal appeals. Nevertheless, some murder suspects have been held for up to four years before being brought to trial. In 2006, the Privy Council ruled that mandatory death sentences for individuals convicted of murder in the Bahamas are unconstitutional. However, a higher than normal homicide tally in 2009, exceeding seventy murders by October, reopened the death penalty debate. In practice, the death penalty was last carried out in January 2000.
NGOs have documented the occasional abuse of prisoners and arbitrary arrest. Prison overcrowding remains a major problem. Juveniles are often housed with adults, increasing the risk of sexual abuse. The establishment of a “correctional training institute” in 2005was intended to improve segregation of violent and nonviolent offenders, and has since achieved positive results. However, the institute continues to face problems of limited capacity.
Discrimination against people of Haitian descent persists, and between 30,000 and 40,000 Haitians reside illegally in the Bahamas. Strict citizenship requirements and a stringent work-permit system leave Haitians with few rights. In May 2009, a boat carrying Haitian refugees capsized near the Bahamas, and some dozen people drowned.

The government is strongly opposed to homosexuality. However, the Bahamas spends more than US$1 million annually on antiretroviral drugs for HIV-infected patients. Gender equality has not been achieved, and only 12.2% of the seats in the Bahamian parliament are held by women. There is, however, better representation for women in the Senate than in the House of Assembly. Domestic violence remains a problem. In the fall of 2009, the government sought to amend the Sexual Offenses Act to outlaw marital rape, a move that generated significant controversy and was deferred until the 2010 legislative session.