Combating statelessness in the Dominican Republic

The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic reflects the amount of deforestation that has occurred on the Haitian side of the border.

The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic reflects the amount of deforestation that has occurred on the Haitian side of the border.

By Noemi Plaza-Sanchez
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations

In 2008, Dominican citizen Juliana Dequis Pierre was denied her birth certificate and national ID card by the local government authorities. This challenge was based on her “irregular” registration at birth by her parents who were of Haitian descent. Pierre sued, and this act set in motion a wave of legal proceedings that led to Resolution 168 by the High Court of the Dominican Republic.

Resolution 168-13, known as “La Sentencia,” ruled that all people born to immigrants who arrived post 1929, regardless of where they or their parents were born, would not be issued their Dominican national ID and remain in “transitory status” until their case was further investigated. Those affected by this policy, mostly Dominican youths, experience complete immobilization within society as a result. They are unable to enroll in university, declare their children at birth, receive hospital services, or even perform a bank transaction. These Dominicans are unable to advance themselves professionally or educationally, and exist in a state of limbo.

The issue of denationalizing those of Haitian descent comes from both an embedded prejudice remaining from  the era of dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, and finds support from those who stand to gain from this oppression. With people of Haitian ancestry existing in this transitory status, they are more easily exploited, underpaid, and discriminated against by society, as they cannot work or study legally. The Danilo Medina administration in the Dominican Republic has taken a so-called “neutral” stand on the issue, not taking any action to advance the legal proceedings in opposition to the Sentencia and thus keeping the young Dominicans trapped in statelessness.

Joanny Peralta on human rights in DR

On November 7, 2014 the CUSLAR Migrations Group, in collaboration with the Cornell Haitian Student Association, hosted Dominican psychologist and social worker Joanny Peralta. During her visit, Peralta led a public discussion on current Haitian-Dominican relations in the DR.

She explained Resolution 168-13 as a violation of human rights and unpacked polemic themes around Haitian immigration and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry. “Racism and anti-Haitianism hurt me, too, as a Dominican,” she said. “They don’t allow me to acknowledge and embrace the rich African heritage that we Dominicans have.”

Peralta has been involved in issues of Dominican-Haitian relations through her work primarily centered in child development and protection, working with an NGO called One Respe in her hometown of Gurabo, Santiago. Following the devastation caused by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Peralta coordinated the Platform for Aid to Haiti, which integrated people and movements for collaboration to deliver economic and humanitarian aid to Haiti through the Dominican Republic. Currently she is working in the office of the President, coordinating a program for child and maternal protection.

Recent developments

   The affected youths have organized protest movements, trying to appeal their plight to the Dominican government and to international audiences and institutions. “We are people trapped in nothingness,” said Isaac Juan, a young man protesting in 2014 in front of the Dominican National Electoral Board, the institution that issues national IDs. “We aren’t recognized here or there and all we want. All we ask, is for our nationality. In addition to the economic problems this brings, it also has psychological effects on us.”

His fellow protestor, Gloria Berique, echoed similar sentiments: “I have nowhere to run. I have no rights. I have never left this country. I am stuck! I try to get by with my faith in God and my hope.”

In July 2014 the Dominican Government passed the Naturalization Law (169-14), which restored nationality to around 25,000 people, only a small fraction of the affected. In October the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruled that 168-13 and 169-14 were “retroactive and discriminatory.” Both of these rulings contradict rights outlined in the American Convention on Human Rights, including the right to nationality and the right to identity. In another case, Expelled Dominicans and Haitian Persons vs. the Dominican Republic, the Inter American Court rules that the government violated the petitioners’ rights to personal liberty, due process and protection of family.

In addition to outlining the problem, Peralta presented the audience with different courses of action that have been and need to be taken to mend the wrongs committed. To date, several human rights movements, such as Movimiento Reconocido, Tengo Derecho, and Soy Dominicano, mostly headed by the affected youths themselves, have been protesting and bringing their cases to court. However, according to Peralta, truly addressing the issue must involve addressing the prejudices of the entire Dominican population. The government must confront the anti-Haitianism in the media and school textbooks. Just as important, the two countries’ highly interconnected histories must be revisited to undo the historical outlook of prejudice and conflict, while emphasizing one of solidarity and cooperation between the two nations.

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