Dominicans of Haitian Descent and the Compromised Right to Nationality

The right to nationality is one of the most critical of human rights. Although in theory few rights—such as to hold national public office, to vote in national elections, or to exit and enter a country freely—are conditioned upon nationality, in practice access to nationality is a prerequisite to enjoyment of many of the benefits that people derive from membership in a political community—from education to social services to the right to counsel.

In the Dominican Republic, enjoyment of the right to nationality has become all but impossible for persons of Haitian descent. Following decades of ad hoc discrimination in access to the identity documents that recognized them as lawful citizens, Dominicans of Haitian descent have, since 2004, faced an avalanche of hostile legislative changes and administrative policies that have restricted their ability to enjoy the nationality that is guaranteed to them under the Dominican constitution.

Singled out because of their perceived national origin and their skin color, thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent have been left effectively stateless and permanently excluded from the political, economic, social, and cultural life of their country of birth and residence. A January 2010 change to the Dominican Republic's constitutional nationality provision threatens to make permanent their status of illegality.

This report reviews the Dominican Republic's history of racial discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent in access to nationality, focusing particular attention on those policies and practices that have emerged in the past decade. It then demonstrates how January 2010 constitutional changes purport to legalize the government's discriminatory policies of the past six years, and reviews the impact of these changes on Dominicans of Haitian descent.

The report concludes with a set of recommendations for the government of the Dominican Republic and a call for international action to encourage the Dominican Republic to change its discriminatory policies and comply with its human rights obligations.