Commissioners: President of the Commission, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine; Felipe Gonzáles; Rosa Maria Ortiz; Elizabeth Abi-Mershed

Petitioners: Centro Bono, The Center for Justice and International Law , The Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers, Dominican Haitian Womens Movement , Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights

State: Dominican Republic

On October 23, 2015 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on the right to nationality in the Dominican Republic. The hearing was a result of a ruling in 2013 by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic, Law 168–13, which stripped the citizenship of Dominicans born to those residing illegally in the country, the majority of whom are of Haitian descent. Law 168–13 left many Dominicans stateless. Subsequent to Law 168–13, President Medina of the Dominican Republic passed Law 169–14 to provide a pathway to citizenship for those left stateless as a result of Law 168–13. Law 168–14 divided those stripped of their nationality into two categories, Group A and Group B. The members of Group A are those whose birth has been registered and whose citizenship could be recognized after undergoing a process of regularization by the Central Electoral Board. Alternatively, Group B is made up of people whose births have never been registered and must obtain a residency permit with the ability to apply for naturalization in two years.

The Petitioners, members of civil society, discussed the obstacles in obtaining identification documents and the discrimination imposed on Dominicans of Haitian descent due to Law 168–13 and Law 169–14. They discussed how those stripped of their nationality did not automatically regain their citizenship. Instead, the Central Electoral Board is auditing the civil registry books segregating and excluding Dominicans born of foreign descent from other Dominicans. As a result, many people have been denied their birth certificates and find it difficult to access justice, obtain drivers licenses, obtain medical issuance, etc. For those in Group B, they have been arbitrarily deprived of their nationality and have been forcibly converted into “foreigners.” The civil society members ask government to evaluate Law 169–14, including its efficacy; to end the discriminatory policies of the electoral board; to adopt effective measures to prevent statelessness of persons born in the Dominican Republic; and to create a national dialogue group to resolve denationalization problems.

The Dominican Republic began by stating that they have two major concerns. First they are convinced that the Commission’s position is a static, one sided idea of the immigration and nationality issue in the Dominican Republic. Second, they argue that they have been afforded differential treatment in comparison to other states facing the same issues. The State claimed that they have adopted policies supported by the majority of its citizen, which respect Dominican law and human rights. They stated that isolated incidents should not overshadow the benefits of the law and that they have resolved the situation by enacting law 169-14. Furthermore, they emphasized that there was no humanitarian catastrophe or ethnic cleansing as was projected. After the deadline of registration, the previous immigration procedure came back into force and those who did not register faced deportation.

The president of the Commission, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, responded to the Dominican Republic’s opening statement by stating that the commission does not engage in discrimination. Commissioner Ortiz then asked why if Law 169–14 recognizes people denationalized as nationals of the Dominican Republic, why do they not have automatic citizenship, over separate registration from other natural born Dominicans. Lastly, Commissioner Gonzales requested clarification on the situation of people who did not register with the government.

Petitioners responded that the State has no political will to rectify the situation of statelessness. They argued that nationality was supposed to be granted quickly, yet after 17 months the government is still in the process of granting stateless people proper identification. The State rejected that there is no political will and stated that they have made significant progress. They concluded by emphasizing that there are remedies and mechanism for those that feel that rights have been undermined.

Author’s Legal Analysis

The right to nationality is a fundamental human right. The American Convention on Human Rights (the Convention), which the Dominican Republic has ratified, recognizes this fundamental right. Article 20 affirms that “every person has the right to the nationality of the state in whose territory he was born if he does not have the right to any other nationality.” Furthermore, Article 20 provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality. Law 168–13 likely violates Article 20 of the Convention by stripping citizenship from natural born Dominican and leaving them stateless. The majority of these people are of Haitian descent who, despite being born in the Dominican Republic and at birth being recognized as citizens, the law has stripped of citizenship. Although Law 169–14 attempts to rectify the issue of statelessness, it likely violates Article 20 because the categorization into Group A or Group B arbitrarily strips people of their nationality whether they were previously registered as a citizen at birth and established a heavy burden for reestablishing citizenship. Moreover, members of Group B have been converted into foreigners in their own country and risk deportation.

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