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MRG expresses condolences over the death of human rights activist Sonia Pierre

13 December 2011

Sonia Pierre, a tireless human rights activist and director of MUDHA (Movement for Dominican Haitian Women), one of MRG’s partner organizations in the Dominican Republic, died on 4 December 2011 following a heart attack at the age of 48.

From childhood, Sonia fought discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent. For decades, her activism unfortunately made her the target of threats in the Dominican Republic, but it also earned her recognition overseas as a courageous defender of human rights, receiving the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2007 as well as an award from Amnesty International in 2003.

Sonia was raised in a Dominican migrant workers’ camp and was just 13 when she was first arrested for leading her fellow Dominican residents of Haitian descent in a march for cane cutters’ rights. She was jailed for a day and threatened with deportation to Haiti, where her mother was born.

Since then, as director of MUDHA, she fought to secure citizenship and education for the beleaguered minority of Dominican-born ethnic Haitians. In 2005, Sonia petitioned the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the case of two ethnic Haitian children who were denied Dominican birth certificates. The case called Yean and Bosico v. Dominican Republic, “upheld human rights laws prohibiting racial discrimination in access to nationality and citizenship.” The court ordered the Dominican government to provide the birth certificates; however, the Dominican Supreme Court later ruled that “Haitian workers were considered ‘in transit,’ and that “their children were therefore not entitled to citizenship.”

The news of Sonia’s death is devastating not only for her family and friends, but also for the many human rights activists and international organizations who got to know Sonia through her work. Hundreds attended her funeral, and a demonstration to demand citizenship for Dominican Haitians was organized the following day.

‘MRG will particularly miss the energy and vitality she brought to our street theatre programme, where she worked with us to challenge racist attitudes amongst the majority community in the Dominican Republic,’ said Zulema Cadenas, MRG’s Street Theatre Programme Officer.

MUDHA now continues working to end discrimination and bias against Haitians and Haitian descendants in the Dominican Republic, inspired by Sonia’s example and convictions.