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‘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 has 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’.