Statelessness in the Dominican Republic
This publication exposes the extremely difficult situation of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Caribbean.
‘I was travelling in a guagua (local bus) when a migration officer stopped the bus, jumped in and asked “All foreigners give me your ID documents.” No one reacted. Immediately after, the migration officer went directly to the darker…
5 min read
‘Our lives in transit’, the documentary
‘Our Lives in Transit’ is a 30-minute documentary showing life in the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of a controversial law that leaves over 200,000 people doubting their own identity. Rosa Iris is a young and determined…
0 min read
This photostory exposes the realities of life for seven young Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. Photographs by Dominique Telemaque. Text written by Paula Nieto. Elena – Generations of official…
6 min read
MRG began working in the Dominican Republic in 2010, implementing a pilot cultural project with the community of Dominicans of Haitian descent. In partnership with Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico Haitianas (MUDHA), a street theatre project…
1 min read
The infographic below is a visual description of the situation of statelessness in the Dominican Republic. Click to view and download a…
1 min read
The right to nationality in international law
he right to nationality is guaranteed in numerous human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 15), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 7), and the American Convention on Human…
3 min read
Despite many Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians coexisting peacefully for decades, old fears – including of a ‘Haitian invasion’ – have increased in the Dominican Republic. This has caused discrimination against…
1 min read
Interview with Violeta Bosico
In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued the ‘Yean and Bosico’ case judgement. The Dominican Republic was found guilty of discriminatory treatment when granting the Dominican nationality to two girls who are…
2 min read
Interview with Rosa Iris Diendomi
At least 10 million people worldwide have no nationality; most through no fault of their own. This occurrence, known as ‘statelessness’, can happen because of discrimination, the re-drawing of borders or gaps in nationality laws….
1 min read
‘I was travelling in a guagua (local bus) when a migration officer stopped the bus, jumped in and asked “All foreigners give me your ID documents.” No one reacted. Immediately after, the migration officer went directly to the darker skinned people in the bus and personally asked us for our documents. We were all Dominicans.’
Rosa Iris Diendomi, Dominican of Haitian descent, lawyer and member of the social movement Reconoci.do
Discrimination is a long-standing problem that Dominicans of Haitian descent have been facing for decades and over generations in the Dominican Republic. Most of the members of this community were born in Dominican territory at a time when the Dominican Constitution specifically stated that those born in its territory, unless in transit for a maximum of 10 days (Migration Law 95/39) or the children of diplomats, would have Dominican nationality.
This problem became more visible in the Dominican Republic in 2004, when the Dominican Parliament passed a new Migration Law (285/04). This changed the concept of ‘in transit’ to an unlimited period, and created the so-called ‘Book of Foreigners’ (Resolution 02/07). This registry entered into force in 2007. Since then it has segregated those born in Dominican territory of foreign parents, even though the Constitution still accepts nationality passed by jus soli. Those registered in the ‘Book of Foreigners’ are not given any ID documents and cannot enjoy their basic rights.
Statelessness affecting Dominicans of Haitian descent became even more internationally visible with the judgment of the Dominican Constitutional Court in September 2013 (TC0168/13). This judgment retroactively deprived hundreds of thousands of people born between 1929 and 2010 of their nationality. This violates a fundamental right to which everyone is entitled: the right to nationality. This judgment is considered unconstitutional by local and international civil society organizations as it violates, among others, Article 110 on retroactive law and Article 18.2 on nationality of the Dominican Constitution. It also run contrary to a judgement in 2005 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the issue of the nationality of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has been given the mandate by the United Nations General Assembly to help States prevent and reduce statelessness, also expressed its deep concern at the adverse impact of the ruling on those affected.
The Dominican authorities subsequently passed a Naturalization Law (169/14) in order to address the situation created by the judgment. This Naturalization Law divided the community into two groups.
The first group are those already registered in the Dominican Civil Registry. These were also the people affected by the Constitutional Court judgment in September 2013. According to this law, their nationality had to be restored automatically. However, many of those who lost their nationality in 2013 have not yet recovered it after more than two years. The Central Electoral Board has been and currently still is auditing its registries. By early October 2015, 55,000 people had been identified as part of this group but only around 10,000 ID documents had been issued, according to local authorities.
When they are identified, these person’s registration details are transcribed into new books, and thus this community is being segregated from mainstream Dominican society. These registration details are duplicated in a new register, and both registers may be subject to nullification in the future. Finally, those people identified in the audits but who still have not recovered their identity documents cannot enjoy their basic rights and remain at risk of statelessness until their documents have been issued.
Although the Central Electoral Board has identified a large number of persons, there are still people missing from their lists. Among others, some human rights activists who lost their nationality in 2013 are not on the lists published by the Central Electoral Board and thus could not regain their ID documents.
The second group created by the Naturalization Law is made up of those born in Dominican territory but who were never registered under the Dominican Civil Registry. This group had to register as foreigners in a complex and bureaucratic procedure in order to be naturalized in the future. The criteria set for this form of registration were difficult to fulfil by those affected. Dominicans of Haitian descent had to submit numerous documents, which in some cases had to be notarized. This increased the costs of the whole process for a community that has little access to work and lives mainly in remote areas. Also, initially the law established a very short timeframe for registration – just three months – which was then extended for another three months. This period proved insufficient, and the criteria too strict for all community members affected to be registered. This resulted in only 8,755 people registered out of the 53,000 targeted, according to the last census undertaken by officials, although some civil society organizations claim the affected community numbers up to 100,000. In any case, regardless of the figures, there is still a large number of stateless people.
It is important to differentiate between those people who moved to the Dominican Republic and those born in that country. Dominicans of Haitian descent continue to struggle to be recognized as Dominicans. These are children, women, men and old people who are at risk of being arbitrarily detained, and even expelled from their own country, because they are stateless. This has been constantly reported by international organizations in addition to Minority Rights Group International (MRG), such as UNHCR, the European Network on Statelessness, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
The international community has also highlighted the problem of statelessness affecting Dominicans of Haitian descent. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has published several judgments on the right to nationality, finding against the Dominican government in, for example, the case Yean and Bosico Girls v. Dominican Republic in 2005 or, most recently, the case Expelled Dominicans and Haitians v. Dominican Republic in 2014. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights also visited the country and organized specific hearings on this topic.
At the United Nations (UN) level, the Independent Expert on minority issues and the Special Rapporteur on racism concluded in 2007, at the end of their joint visit to the Dominican Republic, that there was in the country a ‘profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination’ affecting the population of Haitian descent. Their plight was one of the issues most raised at the Universal Periodic Review of the Dominican Republic in February 2014. And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the first time, mentioned the Dominican Republic in the opening statement at the 30th session of the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner urged the Dominican authorities to ‘ensure that those with a valid claim to remain are allowed to do so’.
‘Our Lives in Transit’ is a 30-minute documentary showing life in the Dominican Republic in the aftermath of a controversial law that leaves over 200,000 people doubting their own identity.
Rosa Iris is a young and determined lawyer; we experience a year in her life as she fights for the rights of her community.
There is a huge threat over her and others in her position. She is no longer allowed to call the country she was born in, home. ID documents are being confiscated, buses are picking up anyone without proof of who they are and deportations have started.
Despite living in the Dominican Republic all their lives, Dominicans of Haitian Descent face daily discrimination, sometimes violent. Because their parents or grandparents were born in next door Haiti, but mainly because they are black.
This story of migration and nationality, rejection and belonging resonates with people all over the world. Identity and integration have never been so relevant, as we face a global crisis over who has the right to live where, how communities form and who we are.
This film was made in partnership with the Dominican civil society organisation Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (MUDHA) and the production company The Playroom.
This photostory exposes the realities of life for seven young Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. Photographs by Dominique Telemaque. Text written by Paula Nieto.
Elena – Generations of official nonexistence
‘I am Dominican and I want to have my documents,’ she says.
Though born in the Dominican Republic from Haitian parents 26 years ago, Elena cannot work or study. Her case is difficult: officially, her family has not existed for generations. Her father, born in Haiti, migrated to the Dominican Republic in 1960 and worked in this country until his death.
Elena has a document from Ramón Santana hospital in San Pedro de Macorís proving she was born there. However, this is not enough to register in the Civil Registry. First, her mother needs to be registered. To start the process, Elena’s family paid 1,000 Dominican pesos (22USD) to get a copy of Elena’s mother Haitian birth certificate. After this payment they were asked for more and more documents, which were difficult to access. Elena’s mother has now given up. She is tired of struggling for so long and being mistreated by Dominican officials.
None of Elena’s six siblings were able to register under the naturalization process, nor even Elena’s son. Another generation that does not exist for the Dominican government. Elena does not go out of her house as she is afraid of being deported to Haiti. She is unable to continue with her life. ‘I am Dominican and I want to have my documents,’ she says.
Estefany – The pitfall of law 169/14
When Estefany was 18, she requested her ID documents to study education at university. Since then, she has been involved in a slow process of going back and forth to the official centers of the Central Electoral Board to be recognized as a Dominican citizen. Throughout this process, unable to enrol at a university, she has taken courses on human rights, documentation, health and IT. She also started accompanying other community members that faced the same situation as she did.
When Estefany was 18, she requested her ID documents to study education at university. Since then, she has been involved in a slow process of going back and forth to the official centres of the Central Electoral Board to be recognised as a Dominican citizen.
Three weeks after the government passed Naturalization Law 169/14, Estefany obtained her ID document. This caused mixed feelings – happiness to finally obtain her ID document, on the one hand, but also sorrow for the injustice that other community members are suffering, including their fear of the possibility of arbitrary detention and deportation, and anxiety for her immediate future. Seeing the problems that her community still suffers, despite the slight improvement in their situation, she decided to study law. Now Estefany wants to support other denationalized Dominicans of Haitian descent, who continue to have their basic human rights violated.
Franklyn – ‘Come back tomorrow’
Every 15 to 20 days he goes to a registry office to arrange his documents. ‘Come back tomorrow’ is invariably the response.
Franklyn, 26, would love to work in the hospitality industry and study tourism. However, he has been waiting since he was 19 years old for a document to prove he has legal status in the country he was born. Since finishing A levels in 2011, he has waited and despaired. Every 15 to 20 days he goes to a registry office to arrange his documents. ‘Come back tomorrow’ is invariably the response.
Without his ID card, Franklyn cannot study, work or plan his future. For him, not having documents means burdening his mother with more responsibilities. Her having to work to sustain him frustrates Franklyn. Despite all these challenges, he has not stopped fighting. Two years ago he started studying English and dreams about being a dad ‘before I am too old’, and of visiting Canada, where his brother lives.
Franklyn is one of the people affected by the ‘Book of Foreigners’ – one of the thousands whose lives have been put on hold by this slow, expensive and demoralizing bureaucratic process.
Note: A week after this interview, Franklyn obtained his ID document after a long trip to Bahoruco, in the south of the Dominican Republic. Now he plans to move to Bávaro or Punta Cana to work in the hospitality industry. His eyes sparkle while holding the shiny ID card finally, relief after so many years of anguish and despair.
Glenol and Mélida – Arbitrary detentions
‘They treat me different,’ he says, ‘because they judge me by my colour.’
Even with documentation, Dominicans of Haitian descent are still at risk of being deported to Haiti. Glenol and Mélida, 23, only have their birth certificates, which they firmly keep as proof of belonging to the country where they were born – the Dominican Republic. However, they do not have Dominican nationality because their documents are still being transcribed.
Glenol came closest to being deported a few weeks ago. He was working, watering and planting grass, when a migration van appeared. After he was asked for his documents, he showed them his birth certificate and his student ID card. Though informed that there would not be any problem once his documents had been checked, he was taken in a bus halfway to the border with Haiti – a country Glenol has never even visited – before being released. Other people in the bus were not so lucky. The experience has left Glenol fearful and more aware than ever of the discrimination he faces. ‘They treat me different,’ he says, ‘because they judge me by my colour.’
Higna – Punished for being the ‘daughter of foreigners’
‘In this country,’ she says, ‘you do not exist if you do not have an ID card.’
Higna finished school when she was 16 dreaming of studying maths at university. However, her life ground to a halt when, after she requested her ID documents, she was told that she could not receive them as she was the ‘daughter of foreigners’. The only solution was to gather an endless number of documents – a costly and time-consuming process that many members of her community cannot afford to undertake.
Time passed and Higna’s hopes were no closer to being realized. When she finally gathered all the documents required, she brought them to the Central Electoral Board (CEB). Two months later, at her next appointment at the CEB, they informed her that her documents were lost and that she had to restart the process again. In the meantime, she lost the chance of a scholarship to study because of her lack of documentation.
It took another year before she was able to obtain her ID documents. After so much time in a limbo, Higna’s relief was enormous: ‘I felt frozen, like I did not exist, and my ID documents brought me back to life.’ Finally, she could study accounting or maths at university. However, no one will give her back those years of waiting. ‘In this country,’ she says, ‘you do not exist if you do not have an ID card.’
Nelson – The eternal wait
Four months ago, his birth registry received a big red stamp: ‘CANCELLED’.
Nelson, 26, was born in Dominican territory. His parents, of Haitian origin, registered him with their identification as sugar cane workers. Now Nelson has started a nationalization process. Four months ago, however, his birth registry received a big red stamp: “CANCELLED”. The last time he went to the Central Electoral Board, after travelling for two hours from San Pedro de Macorís to Santo Domingo, he was told that the person leading on his case was not in the building and that he should come back another day.
Meanwhile, craving a stable job and a decent salary, he takes on small jobs. Though he feels he is doing all he can, Nelson does not understand what is going on with his documents, nor why the authorities continue to reject them.
MRG began working in the Dominican Republic in 2010, implementing a pilot cultural project with the community of Dominicans of Haitian descent. In partnership with Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico Haitianas (MUDHA), a street theatre project was implemented. A group of professional and amateur actors were recruited and trained to make a play about racism in their society and perform it for the general public. The whole process was filmed and the result is the documentary Say My Name.
In 2013, MRG and MUDHA started a new three year project, using street theatre and community consultations to increase participation by Dominicans of Haitian descent in public life and their access to essential services, such as health and education. This project empowers Dominicans of Haitian descent to speak out for their rights, while challenging discriminator views in the wider community. In parallel, MRG and MUDHA have led international advocacy actions in the United Kingdom and at the UN level, submitting a report on the right to nationality to the UN Universal Periodic Review of the Dominican Republic and organizing side events at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The infographic below is a visual description of the situation of statelessness in the Dominican Republic.
Click to view and download a PDF.
he right to nationality is guaranteed in numerous human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 15), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 7), and the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 20). While states can regulate the acquisition and retention of nationality, they must respect fundamental human rights norms in doing so. With regard to the Dominican Republic, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Expelled Dominicans and Haitians v. Dominican Republic, explained that, when regulating the granting of nationality, states must avoid rendering persons stateless, and they must not discriminate in the enjoyment of the right to nationality.
Obligation to avoid statelessness
The 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (Article 1(1)) defines a stateless person as someone who is not considered a national by any state under the operation of its law. Both the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (Article 1(1)) and the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 20(2)) require states to grant nationality to people born in their territory who would otherwise be stateless. The 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (Article 8(1)) goes further and forbids states to deprive people of their nationality if such deprivation would render them stateless. According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Yean and Bosico Girls v. Dominican Republic, states have the obligation not to adopt practices or laws concerning the granting of nationality if their application fosters an increase in the number of stateless persons. Moreover, in the case of Expelled Dominicans and Haitians v. Dominican Republic (para. 261), the Court explained that, where a state cannot be certain that a child born in its territory can obtain the nationality of another state, either for legal reasons or due to practical obstacles, it must grant nationality in order to avoid statelessness at birth.
Prohibition on discrimination in access to nationality
States cannot deprive people of their nationality on discriminatory grounds. This prohibition is included in the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (Article 9) and in the American Convention on Human Rights (Articles 20(1) and 24). The American Convention on Human Rights (Article 20(3)) forbids any arbitrary deprivation of nationality. According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Yean and Bosico Girls v. Dominican Republic, these international norms forbid a state, which otherwise grants nationality to everyone born in the territory, from depriving a person of the right to nationality based on the migratory status of his or her parents.
Recent developments in the Dominican Republic
On 23 September 2013, in judgment TC/168/13, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic retroactively stripped more than 200,000 persons of Haitian descent of their Dominican nationality. Pursuant to the Inter-American Court’s holdings in the case of Yean and Bosico Girls v. Dominican Republic and in the case of Expelled Dominicans and Haitians v. Dominican Republic, by targeting persons of Haitian descent, making the migratory status of a person’s parents a condition for nationality, and depriving people of their nationality in a retroactive manner, the judgment violated the prohibitions on discrimination in access to nationality and on arbitrary deprivation of nationality. Moreover, the judgment entailed a risk of statelessness for hundreds of thousands of persons, as the Dominican Republic had not proven that those affected could obtain Haitian nationality. This is contrary to the object and purpose of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, of which the Dominican Republic is a signatory.
In 2014, the Government of the Dominican Republic introduced Law No. 16914, which purports to offer a path towards ‘naturalization’ for those affected by judgment TC0168/13. According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Expelled Dominicans and Haitians v. Dominican Republic, by treating as aliens persons who had the right to Dominican nationality since birth, the law continues to violate the right to nationality and the right to equal protection of the law.
This text was written by the Americas Network on Nationality and Statelessness and CEJIL.
From the 1920s, during the dictatorships of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Haitians began to migrate to the Dominican Republic as sugarcane cutters in stateowned or private companies. Initially, this was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but as time passed Haitians settled down indefinitely in the slums (bateyes) close to the plantations.
Between 15,000 and 30,000 Haitians were killed in the massacre known as the ‘Parsley Massacre’ (Masacre de Perejil) during Trujillo’s dictatorship. Their bodies were thrown into the River Dajabón, which borders the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
The Migration Law 95/39 was approved and its rules of procedure limited the period that someone could be ‘in transit’ to a maximum of 10 days (i.e. anyone who stayed in the Dominican Republic for less than 10 days could have been considered ‘in transit’).
The Dominican Constitution allowed nationality passed by jus solis with two exceptions: (a) people in transit; (b) legitimate children of diplomats.
The new Migration Law 285/04 considered temporary foreign workers and undocumented migrants as foreigners ‘in transit’, preventing their children from acquiring Dominican nationality. It also created a separate registry for children born in the Dominican Republic to foreign mothers who do not have a regular migration status (Article 28).
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued judgment on the case Yean and Bosico vs República Dominicana, finding that the Dominican Republic had applied discriminatory treatment when granting nationality and left both girls stateless, thus violating, among others, their rights to nationality and to equal protection of the law.
The Central Electoral Board stopped issuing birth certificates and copies of birth certificates to Dominicans born in Dominican territory to foreign parents (Circular 017/2007).
The Central Electoral Board established the new registry described under Migration Law 285/04, commonly called the ‘Book of Foreigners’, in Resolution 02/07.
The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the Independent Expert on minority issues visited the Dominican Republic.
The Central Electoral Board approved Resolution 12, which reinforced internal procedures established in March 2007.
The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and the Independent Expert on minority issues published their report after their joint country visit. They concluded: ‘[T]here is a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination in Dominican society, generally affecting blacks and particularly such groups as black Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians’.
A new Constitution was approved in the Dominican Republic. For the first time in the country, the Constitution denied the automatic acquisition of the Dominican nationality to children of irregular migrants.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended that the Dominican Republic to:
‘adopt the necessary measures to prevent, diminish and eliminate the conditions and attitudes which cause or perpetuate formal or de facto discrimination against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. It also urges the State party to ensure birth registration with regard to these groups and guarantee their economic, social and cultural rights. It urges the State party to reconsider the regulations relating to the citizenship of children of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, in particular, by ensuring a non-discriminatory access to the Dominican nationality, irrespective of date of birth.’
The Central Electoral Board started reissuing birth certificates and copies of birth certificates (Circular 32/2011).
The Dominican Constitutional Court issued judgment TC0168/13. It retroactively deprived hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their Dominican nationality (covering the period 1929 to 2010), leaving them stateless.
UNHCR officially reacted to the ruling of the Constitutional Court:
‘UNHCR is deeply concerned by a recent ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic that could render as stateless countless Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent, many of whom have lived in the Dominican Republic for decades. Due to its retroactive effect, this ruling has the potential to affect tens of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic.’
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights expressed concern about the Dominican Constitutional Court judgment TC0168/13 as:
‘the ruling retroactively modified legislation that was in effect from 1929 to 2010, and thus would strip Dominican citizenship from tens of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic. In many cases, these individuals could be left stateless, which violates the American Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, this judgment has a disproportionate effect on individuals of Haitian descent.’
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights visited the Dominican Republic. It concluded that:
‘the Constitutional Court’s ruling implies an arbitrary deprivation of nationality. The ruling has a discriminatory effect, given that it primarily impacts Dominicans of Haitian descent, who are Afrodescendant persons; strips nationality retroactively; and leads to statelessness when it comes to those individuals who are not considered by any State to be their own nationals, under their laws.’
At least 29 states recommended the Dominican Republic to secure the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent at the Universal Periodic Review of this country.
The Dominican government passed law 169/14, a ‘specific scheme for people born in Dominican territory registered irregularly in the Dominican Civil Registry and for naturalization’, as a way to solve the crisis created by the Constitutional Court judgment from September 2013. It was commonly known as the ‘Naturalization Law’.
Law 169/14 entered into force. The rules of procedure divided the community into two groups. Group A were those already registered and thus affected by the judgment: for this group, it determined that their nationality should be restored automatically. Group B were those who were never registered in the Dominican Civil Registry: for this group, it detailed a registration procedure to be completed in 90 days.
The government extended the registration time limit for Group B by a further 90 days. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued their judgment on the Benito Tilde Mendez vs Dominican Republic case. It ruled that the Dominican Constitutional Court judgment was discriminatory and in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Dominican Constitutional Court issued judgment TC0256/14, declaring the state’s acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights invalid.
The Naturalization Law registration period ended on 2nd February 2015, with a total of 8,755 people registered out of 53,000, according to the Dominican authorities’ figures.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, for the first time mentioned the Dominican Republic in his opening statement of the 30th session of the Human Rights Council:
‘My office also continues to follow up the Dominican Republic’s deportations of people of Haitian descent. I continue to urge the authorities to ensure that those with a valid claim to remain are allowed to do so, and that any deportation is carried out in line with international human rights standards.’
The UNHCR publisheed a report on statelessness to celebrate the first anniversary of the #IBelong campaign. It included the Dominican Republic as one of the countries with the highest number of stateless people in the world.
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights publishes a report on the human rights situation in the Dominican Republic. The Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, under whose mandate is the protection of the rights of stateless persons, Commissioner Enrique Gil Botero, said:
‘The situation of statelessness generated by judgement 168/13 that has not yet been completely corrected after the measures adopted by the Dominican State, is of a magnitude never before seen in the Americas.’
Despite many Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians coexisting peacefully for decades, old fears – including of a ‘Haitian invasion’ – have increased in the Dominican Republic. This has caused discrimination against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The Dominican Republic is located in the Caribbean between Cuba and Puerto Rico. It shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Migration in the island has been an ongoing issue for centuries, as it was not only invaded by different countries (Spain and France) but also settled by various communities (Lebanese, Cocolos or Chinese, among others) on both sides of the island. The indigenous community of Taínos soon disappeared.
From the 1920s on, Haitian migrants moved to the Dominican Republic on a seasonal basis to work as sugarcane cutters for either state owned or private companies. Haitian migrants were mainly young or middle aged men. Over time, they settled in slums next to sugar plantations called ‘bateyes’, bringing their Haitian families or marrying and having children with Dominican women. They integrated into Dominican communities, becoming the most numerous minority group in the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian community in the Dominican Republic was an important source of cheap labour from the 1920s, but migration continued even after the Dominican sugar industry began to decline from the 1980s. Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent continued to play a crucial role in Dominican economy in agriculture, tourism and construction.
In January 2010, the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola suffered one of the worst earthquakes the world has seen. Dominican society and government showed their solidarity and opened the border to help affected people, and started to invest in Haiti. However, despite many Dominicans, Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians coexisting peacefully for decades, old fears – including of a ‘Haitian invasion’ – have increased in the Dominican Republic. This has caused discrimination against Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. Discrimination occurs based on their skin colour, Haitian sounding names, or living conditions, barring them from access to basic education, health care, work, travel and justice, as well as preventing them from getting married or registering their children. However, this discrimination is not recent; in 1937 between 15,000 and 30,000 people were killed by the regime of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo in the so called ‘Parsley Massacre’ by the Dajabón river. Regime officials asked migrants to pronounce the Spanish word for parsley (Perejil): those unable to pronounce the word in the same way as Spanish speakers due to their French accents were then killed.
In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued the ‘Yean and Bosico’ case judgement. The Dominican Republic was found guilty of discriminatory treatment when granting the Dominican nationality to two girls who are Dominicans of Haitian descent, leaving them stateless. This violated fundamental rights like the right to nationality and the right to a fair trial, amongst others. The Court required the Dominican state to adopt measures to resolve the situation of these two girls and of other children who are Dominicans of Haitian descent facing the same situation, and to guarantee their free access to primary education.
Ten years later, Violeta Bosico, one of the girls whose case was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, has obtained her documents and has started fulfilling her dreams. However, she yearns for a solution for the whole community of Dominicans of Haitian descent.
Q. What does having no documents mean for you?
A. Having no documents meant not being free. I felt as if I didn’t exist without documents. Also, for me it was a real obstacle. I couldn’t do so many things like studying, working, acquiring medical insurance or traveling freely.
Q. What does that mean for your family?
A. For them it meant pain and helplessness because the authorities didn’t allow me something I had the right to.
Q. How did you feel when the Court published the judgement?
A. I felt great. Thankful to God, MUDHA and the international organizations that helped us, but mainly to my family. Without their efforts, it wouldn’t have been possible to win the trial. Thanks to my family and to God I am finally someone. When I received my documents I felt joy, I felt really excited because I finally had in my hands what belonged to me. I felt happy. Really happy. Honestly, I don’t know how to thank God and all the institutions for their constant support. To MUDHA and everyone. With all my heart.
Q. How was the reaction in the streets of the Dominican Republic?
A. Here everyone talked about the case. Some in favour, others against. It had a huge impact in the Dominican Republic. Thank God there was no physical violence but there were some verbal attacks. People against the judgement said that my community, Dominicans of Haitian descent, are Haitians and that we should go back to Haiti.
Q. How is your life now that you have your documents?
A. My life has changed a lot. Before, without documents, I couldn’t think about my future. Now, I have taken some technical courses and I’m studying psychology at university because I love helping people. I have a lot of dreams. In the future, I want to study law to help other community members and travel to Costa Rica. I also want that the government gives everyone affected their documents. I know there are limits but I wish God will help me keep fulfilling my dreams.
Q. How do you see the current situation of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic?
A. In my opinion, the situation has worsened. I thought that after the judgement of the Inter-American Court everything would change. However, that didn’t happen and there are still people who don’t have their rights respected. There are a lot of people who cannot continue with their studies. They have to repeat grades because they don’t have their documents. They cannot work, nor even have health insurance or register their children. Currently, people are suffering because of the Dominican Constitutional Court judgement that has affected many. Honestly, with all my heart, I wish that all this gets sorted out and that those people affected get their documents so they can fulfil their dreams as I am doing with mine.
At least 10 million people worldwide have no nationality; most through no fault of their own. This occurrence, known as ‘statelessness’, can happen because of discrimination, the re-drawing of borders or gaps in nationality laws. Without a nationality, a person often forfeits the basic rights that all citizens should enjoy: access to education and the job market, the ability to buy and sell property, open a bank account, run for office, or even to own a phone.
In this audio interview, lawyer and community leader Rosa Iris Diendomi talks about experiences of statelessness in the Dominican Republic.
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