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Dominican Republic warned of ethnic cleansing charge

17 May 2005

The government of the Dominican Republic faces accusations of ethnic cleansing due to its continued practice of mass expulsions of people of Haitian descent. Following the expulsion of over 400 Haitians by the Dominican Army in May and ongoing and widespread discrimination, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) said that a pattern of mass expulsion of Haitians could be established that should lead to international scrutiny of the Caribbean state. Mass arbitrary expulsions are a violation of numerous civil and political and economic and social rights under international law, stated MRG.

According to a military spokesperson, the latest expulsion took place on 10 May following an incident in which two Dominicans were attacked with machetes, allegedly by Haitian nationals. The Army has justified the deportation on the grounds of protecting the security of Haitians when a group of Dominicans gathered to find the perpetrators of the attack and began to burn Haitian property. However, MRG points out that successive governments have used expulsions as a consistent feature of government policy since Haitian migration and settlement began. Although there is no legal definition of the term ‘ethnic cleansing’, it is customarily understood to include policies and practices of forced deportation, expulsion or displacement of members of a specific ethnic group.

In Minority Rights Group International’s 2003 report, Migration in the Caribbean: Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Beyond, author James Ferguson, states: ‘Expulsion is the most common Dominican response to unwanted Haitian migrantsÂ…Mass expulsions are normally military-led and centrally planned. The criteria for deportations are explicitly racist: a suspected undocumented migrant must appear to be Haitian, in other words black.’

MRG points out that recent mass expulsions occurred in 1991 (35,000 deportations), 1996 (5,000 deportations), 1997 (25,000 deportations) and 1999 (up to 20,000 deportations). In addition, many thousands of Haitians are annually expelled in small-scale exercises involving individuals and smaller groups. Arbitrary expulsion of a group is contrary to the rights of non-citizens, irrespective of their legal status and rights of residence. No opportunity is given to prove legal status, families may be separated and children left alone if parents are expelled, and incidents of physical violence have been reported. Despite a Dominican economy dependent on cheap Haitian labour, expulsions form part of a widespread and systematic discrimination against those of Haitian descent, contributing to 80% living in ‘abject poverty’ according to World Bank statistics.

MRG highlights General Recommendation 30 of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on discrimination against non-citizens, adopted on 4th May 2005, which establishes an authoritative opinion and elaborates the obligations upon states parties in regard to expulsions and deportation. It calls upon the government of the Dominican Republic to fully conform with this and other international standards relating to migrants and non-citizens, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Notes for editors

  • CERD General Recommendation 30 (4th May 2005) calls upon states to protect the rights of non-citizens, and to: 25. Ensure that laws concerning deportation or other forms of removal of non-citizens from the jurisdiction of the State party do not discriminate in purpose or effect among non-citizens on the basis of race, colour or ethnic or national origin, and that non-citizens have equal access to effective remedies, including the right to challenge expulsion orders, and are allowed effectively to pursue such remedies; 26. Ensure that non-citizens are not subject to collective expulsion, in particular in situations where there are insufficient guarantees that the personal circumstances of each of the persons concerned have been taken into account; 27. Ensure that non-citizens are not returned or removed to a country or territory where they are at risk of being subject to serious human rights abuses, including torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; 28. Avoid expulsions of non-citizens, especially of long-term residents, that would result in disproportionate interference with the right to family life.
  • Migration in the Caribbean: Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Beyond‘ was published by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in July 2003.