Freedom in the World
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In response to a dramatic increase in crime rates in 2011, the Bahamian government introduced reforms to key criminal justice legislation, including the Penal Code. A freedom of information bill was also introduced in Parliament in October.
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-ranking 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. Christie retained his position as leader of the opposition by winning an overwhelming majority of votes at the PLP leadership conference in October 2009.
Following the surprise resignation in January 2010 of PLP representative Malcolm Adderley, a by-election was called for February to fill the Elizabeth constituency seat. The governing FNM, the PLP, the newly formed National Development Party, the Workers’ Party, and the Bahamas Democratic Movement (BDM) all fielded candidates. The FNM was declared the winner by just two votes, a close result that was challenged by the PLP and triggered a mandatory recount. In March, an election court ruled in favor of the PLP, thus overturning the election-day results.
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, the Bahamian tourism industry continues to suffer from the global economic crisis that struck in late 2008, posing challenges for the Ingraham government. Marijuana cultivation and trafficking by foreign nationals residing in the country have led the United States to keep the Bahamas on the list of major drug-producing or drug-transit countries.
In 2011, government statistics indicated that almost all major categories of crime had risen dramatically in comparison to the previous year: murder increased by 44 percent, attempted murder by 29 percent, rape by 38 percent, and robbery by 16 percent. In an effort to address the rise in crime, the government amended existing laws and introduced new legislation related to the functioning of the criminal justice system, including amendments to the Penal Code, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Firearms Act, the Bail Act, the Sexual Offences Bill, and the Court of Appeal Act.
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 based on recommendations made by the prime minister and the opposition leader. The governor general represents the British monarch as head of state. The head of the majority party or coalition in Parliament typically serves as prime minister. Political parties can organize freely.
Corruption remains a problem at all levels of government. Top officials frequently face allegations of administrative graft, domestically and from abroad. A freedom of information bill was introduced to Parliament in October 2011 and was expected to be debated in early 2012.
The Bahamas has a well-developed tradition of respecting press freedom. The privately owned daily and weekly newspapers 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.
Religious and academic freedoms are respected.
Freedoms of assembly and association are protected. 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 also generally free from government interference. Unions have the right to strike, and collective bargaining is prevalent.
The judicial system is headed by the Supreme Court and a court of appeals, with the additional right of appeal to the Privy Council in London under certain circumstances. In 2006, the Privy Council ruled that mandatory death sentences for individuals convicted of murder in the Bahamas are unconstitutional. In practice, the death penalty was last carried out in 2000. However, in light of the rising crime rate, calls for resuming capital punishment have been issued recently by government representatives.
NGOs have occasionally documented cases of prisoner abuse and arbitrary arrest. Overcrowding in the country’s prison remains a major problem, and juveniles are often housed with adults, increasing the risk of sexual abuse. The correctional training institute established in 2005 has worked to segregate violent and nonviolent offenders. However, the institute continues to face problems of limited capacity, including inadequate space to segregate offenders and insufficient numbers of trained personnel.
The Bahamas remains a major transit point for migrants coming from other Caribbean islands, especially Cuba and Haiti, who are trying to reach the United States. Discrimination against Haitian immigrants persists, and at least 30,000 undocumented Haitians reside in the Bahamas. Strict citizenship requirements and a stringent work-permit system leave Haitians with few rights. While the government halted the deportation of Haitians for a short period following the Haitian earthquake in January 2010, the financial crisis and its effects on the country’s tourism sector—which is a main employer of undocumented workers—led the government to resume repatriation of undocumented migrants later that year.
Although gender discrimination is not legally protected, criminal "quid pro quo" sexual harassment is prohibited. Violence against women, including domestic violence, is a serious problem. Despite laws against domestic violence, police are often reportedly reluctant to intervene in domestic disputes. Only 12 percent of the seats in Parliament are held by women. While sexual orientation is not criminalized, discrimination against same-sex relationships is not prohibited by the constitution. The government is strongly opposed to homosexuality, and efforts have been promoted to weave anti-gay clauses into existing marriage acts.