Kafka in the Dominican Republic

Last week, I attended a conference in Santo Domingo on the future of the Dominican-Haitian border. I was accompanied by a colleague from a local NGO that works with Haitian migrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic.

As the conference was presented in several languages, we needed to pick up simultaneous translation equipment upon registering. I got in line, signed, left my passport, obtained the little earpiece, and entered the conference room. Yet this was not so easy for my colleague.

Although she was born in the Dominican Republic and recognized as a Dominican citizen at birth, she had no ID to offer. The government has refused to renew her national identity card, or cédula, and now she cannot vote, get married, attend university, buy property, or get a passport. In fact, according to a law from 1963, she could be arrested for up to 30 days for not having an ID—even though it’s the government that has refused to issue her a new one. After a little negotiating, they accepted my passport for both of our earpieces, and my colleague walked in. Not the sort of arrangement that works in most other situations, however. And unfortunately, this type of statelessness is becoming all too common.

In the Dominican Republic, Haitians and their descendants have been targets of state-sponsored marginalization for years.  One of the most blatant manifestations of this has been the denial of recognition of nationality to Dominicans of Haitian descent. This practice is in clear violation of numerous international laws as well as the Dominican Republic’s own constitution, which guaranteed citizenship by birth (jus solis) until it was amended just this year.

Dominican authorities began discriminatory nationality policies about 20 years ago by denying the lawful right to birth registration to the children of Haitian migrants. This translated into the denial of the right to nationality, a name, a juridical personality, etc. It is this denial that in 2005 led to the landmark Yean and Bosico ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In its decision on this case, the Court stated that the migratory status of a person cannot be a condition for granting nationality, and that the migratory status of persons is not transmitted to their children.

Notwithstanding, the government has further institutionalized its discriminatory nationality regime, effectively stripping thousands of Dominicans of citizenship because of their Haitian ancestry.

New administrative policies affect Dominicans whose nationality had already been recognized by the government. In 2007, the Dominican government started denying citizens of Haitian descent access to copies of birth certificates and other already existing documents under the premise that their nationality had been granted by mistake. By denying copies of existing documents, blocking the renewal of expired documents, and preventing people from obtaining new documents, such as passports or identity cards, authorities have effectively denationalized thousands of Dominicans solely based on their perceived ethnic background. The denial of such documents prevents many—like my colleague—from attending school or university, obtaining health insurance, registering their children, voting, finding jobs, or traveling.

It is in this context that the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) filed a new complaint at the international level this week, given the Dominican Republic’s apparent unwillingness to stop these discriminatory practices.

In Bueno v. Dominican Republic, Emildo Bueno is a direct victim of the denationalization process carried out by the Dominican government since 2007. Emildo was born in the Dominican Republic and lived there most of his life. He holds a Dominican national ID and a Dominican passport. Yet when he applied for a copy of his birth certificate needed for a travel visa, the government refused to provide the documentation. Thus, at age 32, he found that he could no longer access the documents that would prove he was Dominican—the only nationality he has ever had.

To cement these discriminatory practices, the Dominican Republic amended its constitution and fundamentally altered the right to nationality this year. Children born on national territory but whose parents reside illegally in the country now do not qualify for Dominican nationality. This goes directly against the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling of 2005.

States claim complete sovereignty over issues regarding nationality, and thus determine who is or is not considered a citizen.  Unfortunately, some states have abused this authority to deprive nationality to those groups they consider “unwanted,” often using narrow concepts of nationality as a tool to disenfranchise racial and ethnic minorities.

The international community has the responsibility to ensure that not only the Dominican Republic, but all states, comply with international legal standards in determining the conditions for acquisition or loss of nationality. Ensuring the equal right to nationality for everyone is necessary to secure human rights for all.

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BBC Mundo has a great article today on statelessness in the DR: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/lg/america_latina/2010/06/100604_1710_haitian...

The opening line pretty much sums up the plight of stateless people in the DR: "Por más de treinta años nací, viví y crecí como dominicano, pero ahora es como si ya no pudiera decir que pertenezco a esta tierra".

(And the Google translation: "For over thirty years I was born, lived and grew up as Dominican, but now it's as if he could not say that I belong to this land.")

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