Dominican Republic: Stateless people are no-rights people

Dominicans of Haitian descent demonstrating for their right to nationality

By Chiara Liguori, Amnesty International’s researcher on The Caribbean

There is one question everybody should be asking at the United Nations in Geneva on Wednesday 5 February, as a panel of experts reviews the Dominican Republic’s human rights record: why are they stripping hundreds of thousands of people of their nationality

Dominicans of Haitian descent have long been waiting for an answer.

The long running discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent took a turn for the worse last September, when the country’s Constitutional Court – the highest in the land – ruled that anyone born since 1929 to foreign parents who could not prove their regular migration status, had been wrongly registered as Dominican.

Since then, more than 250,000 people are believed to have lost their Dominican nationality and are now stateless.

Since 2007, the government has been denying Dominicans of Haitian descent of their identity documents, depriving them of the right to work, marry, send their children to school, or vote.

It is also feared that thousands of others can be effectively forced to move to the country of their forebears, even if they have never been there before or don’t speak the language.

One of them is father-of-two Felipe Fortines. His ancestors were born in Haiti.

“If you don’t have a birth certificate, you can’t have an identity card, and your life becomes null and void,” he said.

“According to the ruling, I would have to go to Haiti, ask them to grant me nationality and then come back to become naturalised. It’s absurd.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ( IACHR), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), governments and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have criticised the ruling.
But the government of President Danilo Medina has ignored the critics and maintains its determination to implement the ruling. It is currently preparing a draft law on naturalisation.

Although the content of the draft law is still unknown, it is feared that it wrongly assumes that people affected by the ruling are foreigners who need to be naturalised.

President Medina says the measures do not violate any human rights.

He is wrong.

His argument ignores that while conditions for granting nationality are for each state to decide, international law provides that no one can be arbitrarily deprived of nationality, particularly if that may result in statelessness.

He also conveniently overlooks the fact that his government has the obligation to respect and uphold the human rights and dignity of his fellow citizens – including their right to work, health, and education.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process in which all 193 UN member states scrutinise each other’s human rights records, under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.

Some high level officials in the Dominican Republic have claimed that the critics are part of an international conspiracy against their country and that they are interfering in matters of national interest.
This is absurd. The UPR review should be seen by Dominican authorities as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to human rights.

During a recent high-level meeting between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Dominican representatives committed to respect the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent. They should now show the world how they intend to implement this pledge.

Yesterday’s statement from the European Union’s (EU) External Action Service (EEAS) on the issue is timely. The EU “recognis[es] the sovereign right of the Dominican Republic to determine its policies on nationality and migration” and “encourage[es] a rapid implementation of the necessary measures in line with universal human rights standards.”

However, this statement represents a missed opportunity for the EU and its member states to use their influence to call for immediate measures to stop massive, arbitrary and retroactive deprivation of nationality as a result of the Constitutional Court ruling.

The EU and its member states have committed themselves to put human rights at the centre of all external action. To translate this commitment into practical reality, the EU and its member states must take advantage of the UPR session to support a renewed push to implement the IACHR recommendations, ensuring full and continued political backing for their implementation as well as any technical support necessary.

The EU and its member states must remain vigilant and pro-actively ensure that all measures taken by the Dominican authorities are consistent not only with state sovereignty but also with human rights—so that hundreds of thousands are not faced with another missed opportunity.