Coalition of Civil Societies Challenge the Judicial Response in Denationalization Cases in the Dominican Republic

IACHR Hearing, October 24, 2011

Commissioners: Commissioner Dinah Shelton (Moderator), Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil, Commissioner Maria Silvia Guillén
Participants: Dominican Republic, Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Refugees International, Christian Aid UK, Church World Service, Global Rights, Fundación Etnica Integral (FEI), Movimiento Social y Cultural de Trabajadores Haitianos (MOSCTHA), the Red de Encuentro Dominico Haitiana Jacques Viau (REDHJV) and the Asociación 180° para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo
Countries: Dominican Republic
Topics: Civil Genocide, Right to Citizenship, Right to a Birth Certificate

Dominican Republic faces accusations of systematic discrimination and civil genocide against Haitian Dominicans.  On October 24, 2011, The Inter-American Commission on HumanRights (IACHR) held a public hearing convened by a coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) alleging denationalization of Haitian Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. The coalition of civil societies (Petitioners) included Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Refugees International, Christian Aid UK, Church World Service, Global Rights, Fundación Etnica Integral (FEI), Movimiento Social y Cultural de Trabajadores Haitianos (MOSCTHA), the Red de Encuentro Dominico Haitiana Jacques Viau (REDHJV), and the Asociación 180° para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo.  The Dominican Republic (Respondent) was represented by the General Director of Migration, as well as Permanent and Alternative Ambassadors to the Organization of American States (OAS).

At the hearing, Petitioners challenged Resolution 12 and Circular 17 enacted by the Electoral Council of the Dominican Republic, which together authorize the civil registry to suspend the identity documents of Dominicans with foreign parents when it deems irregularities in such documents. The Petitioners claimed that the retroactive application of the legislation has a disproportionate negative impact on the Haitian community, leaving individuals who once retained citizenship rights unable to obtain identity documents that would allow them to gain employment and benefit from certain government services. A supporting investigation revealed what the Petitioners referred to as civil genocide, in which Dominicans with at least one Haitian migrant parent are stripped of their Dominican citizenship and denied access to their birth certificate. Haitians Dominicans seeking birth certificates at the civil registry faced ill treatment by civil servants, who refuse to provide them their birth certificate on account of the Haitian heritage of one or both of their parents. Petitioners stated that many Haitian Dominicans are not provided with reasons for the denial, but are simply told that their birth certificate has been suspended pending an investigation that may take years.

The Respondent denied Petitioner’s allegation of civil genocide and declared that the Dominican Republic does not have a policy of revoking nationalities. The Respondent submitted copies of Resolution 12 and Circular 17 to the Commission to emphasize that there was no reference to any racial criteria in the text. According to the Respondent, these legal instruments were intended to modernize the country’s civil registry, and combat fraud and irregularities in the process of issuing birth certificates. The Respondent also argued the Petitioners have not fully exhausted all remedies pursuant to Article 46 of the American Convention on Human Rights. There is an administrative procedure in place for those whose birth certificates have been suspended, and the particular cases that the Petitioners relied upon to convey the hearing are in the midst of this process.

Following the Respondent’s argument, Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil—Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty— asked about the domestic remedies available to address irregular application of Resolution 12, and whether there is an avenue for individuals to challenge its constitutionality. The Commissioner also questioned whether the government is failing to abide by civil judgments of domestic courts. In response to Commissioner Gil’s questions, the Petitioners claimed that the administrative process in place to resolve birth certificate discrepancies takes years, and many are not even aware of this process because they are not told by the civil registry at the time of denial. Commissioner Maria Silvia Guillén— Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and Against Racial Discrimination— began by pointing out that the issue is not whether the legislation is facially discriminatory, but whether the procedures implemented to carry out the legislation lead to discrimination in practice. Accordingly, Commissioner Guillén inquired about the percentages of Haitians affected by Resolution 12 and Circular 17. The Petitioners responded that their investigation focused on small samples, but the exact number of Haitians affected in unknown. The Respondent elected to submit written answers to the Commissioners’ questions at a later date.

The Petitioners called for the abolishment of Resolution 12, and for the government of the Dominican Republic to abandon practice of retroactively denying identity documents to Haitian Dominicans, and to take affirmative steps to protect the rights of such individuals.  The Petitioners requested, and the Respondent agreed to, an on-site visit by the Commission to assess the impact of Resolution 12 and Circular 17 in the daily lives of Haitian Dominicans. The Petitioners noted that the Dominican Republic has a right to modernize its civil registry; however, it should not come at the expense of the fundamental rights of Haitian Dominicans.

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