Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up Visit to the Dominican Republic

December 6, 2013

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted an on-site visit to the Dominican Republic on December 2-5, 2013, in response to an invitation by the State. The purpose of the visit was to observe the situation related to the rights to nationality, identity, and equal protection without discrimination, along with other related rights and issues. The Commission carried out this visit to oversee compliance with the international commitments made freely by the State of the Dominican Republic in exercise of its sovereignty.

The delegation was composed of IACHR Chairman José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez; First Vice-Chair Tracy Robinson; Second Vice-Chair Rosa María Ortiz; Commissioners Felipe González, Dinah Shelton, and Rose Marie Antoine; Executive Secretary Emilio Álvarez Icaza L.; Assistant Executive Secretary Elizabeth Abi-Mershed; Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Catalina Botero; and other staff members of the Executive Secretariat. During the visit, various IACHR delegations visited the provinces of Bahoruco, Dabajón, Jimaní, La Romana, San Pedro de Macorís, Santo Domingo, and Valverde. The IACHR held meetings with State authorities, civil society organizations, victims of human rights violations, and representatives of international agencies.

The Commission thanks President Danilo Medina, his government, and the Dominican people for everything they did to facilitate this visit. In particular, the IACHR values and appreciates the support of government authorities and civil society organizations. The Commission very especially values and appreciates the 3,994 individuals who came forward to offer testimonials, complaints, and communications.

Through this visit, the IACHR has been able to appreciate various advances in the development of democratic institutions and the protection of human rights. The Commission particularly values and welcomes as a very positive step forward the fact that, through the 2010 reform of the Constitution, international human rights law and all international human rights commitments adopted by the State are incorporated directly into domestic law, with constitutional ranking.

During the visit, the Inter-American Commission received troubling informing concerning grave violations of the right to nationality, to identity, and to equal protection without discrimination. The violations of the right to nationality that the Commission observed during its last on-site visit, in 1997, continue, and the situation has been exacerbated as a result of Judgment TC 0168/2013 of the Constitutional Court. As a result of that ruling, an undetermined but very significant number of Dominicans, estimated by some sources at more than 200,000 people, have been arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. As a result, these individuals have seen their right to legal personhood violated, and they live in a state of extreme vulnerability. This situation disproportionately affects persons of Haitian descent, who are also Afro-descendants and are often identified based on the color of their skin, which constitutes a violation of the right to equal protection without discrimination.

The Commission deems 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 Afro-descendant 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.

The arbitrary deprivation of nationality and lack of recognition of these individuals’ legal personhood as a result of their not being registered, or due to the difficulties in access to identity documents, leads to a situation of extreme vulnerability in which violations of many other human rights arise. The Commission notes that Judgment 168/13 disproportionately affects individuals who are already subject to multiple forms of discrimination, in particular based on race and poverty. The IACHR visited several bateyes (communities of sugar workers) in various parts of the country and took note of the conditions of poverty, exclusion, and discrimination in which its inhabitants live. Poverty disproportionately affects persons of Haitian descent, and this is related to the obstacles they face in terms of access to their identity documents.

On another matter, the Inter-American Commission received deeply troubling information concerning statements made against journalists, intellectuals, lawyers, politicians, legislators, human rights defenders, public figures, and even high-level public servants who have criticized the ruling of the Constitutional Court. These individuals have been characterized as “traitors to the homeland” and have been targets of threats, and calls of “death to the traitors” have been made publicly. The Commission also expresses its concern that the intolerance and racist discourse creates an environment that could increase vulnerability to violence for persons of Haitian descent. The Commission calls on the authorities to act resolutely to help build a climate of tolerance and respect in which everyone can express his or her thoughts and opinions without fear of being attacked, punished, or stigmatized for doing so.

The Inter-American Commission carried out the visit that ends today in order to analyze firsthand the situation of those affected by Judgment 168/13, in light of the standards of the inter-American human rights system. Following its practice, the Commission today shares its preliminary observations on the situation based on its visit, and expresses its willingness to work with the State to find solutions that protect fundamental rights and meet international human rights standards.

Authorities from the executive and legislative branches stated to the Inter-American Commission that they recognize that a problem exists with respect to the exercise of the right to nationality by persons of Haitian descent and are aware of the need to find a solution. In this regard, in the spirit of working in collaboration to find a solution that is respectful of human rights, the Commission underscores that any measures adopted to respond to the challenges identified in terms of the right to nationality, in particular those made evident by Judgment 168/13 of the Constitutional Court, should have the following characteristics:

1) They should guarantee the right to nationality of those individuals who already had this right under the domestic legal system in effect from 1929 to 2010.

2) People with a right to nationality, such as those who were denationalized under ruling 168/13, cannot be required to register as foreigners as a prerequisite for their rights to be recognized.

3) Measures to guarantee the right to nationality of those harmed by Judgment 168/13 should be general and automatic. These mechanisms must be simple, clear, fast, and fair. They must not be discretionary or implemented in a discriminatory fashion.

4) The mechanisms must be financially accessible.

Finally, the Commission underscores that everyone has the right to count on judicial protection and due process, in a way that is accessible and effective, to safeguard the rights to nationality, identity, and equal protection without discrimination that constitute the primary focus of this visit.

This press release has an annex, which consists of the Commission’s preliminary observations on the visit.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 97/13