Dominican Republic 2019
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Dominican Republic 2019

The police routinely raped, beat and humiliated women engaged in sex work in acts that may amount to gender-based torture or other ill-treatment. The response to the statelessness crisis remained insufficient. Civil society expressed concern over the lack of adequate international protection for Venezuelan refugees. Abortion remained criminalized in all circumstances.


General elections were set for 2020.

A National Human Rights Plan was approved for 2018-2022 which included plans to present comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to Congress between October and December 2019. At the end of the year, this commitment was not fulfilled. In August, a process began to appoint a new Ombudsman.

Between January and September, 58 women were killed because of their gender. The killing of lawyer Anibel González, reportedly by her former partner, reignited regular protests calling for an improved response to gender-based violence.

Between January and September, there were 5,417 reports of sexual offences, including 1,106 reports of rape, according to the General Prosecutor’s Office, compared with more than 6,300 reports of sexual offences and 1,290 reports of rape in 2018.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Within this context of gender-based violence, cisgender and transgender women sex workers were routinely targeted for rape at gunpoint, beatings and humiliation by the police, as punishment for transgressing socially constructed views around gender and as a form of social control.[1]

The criminalized status of sex workers fuelled arbitrary detentions and enabled police officers to commit human rights violations with impunity. Women sex workers faced significant structural barriers in reporting violence by the police and the authorities failed to investigate possible cases of gender-based torture or other ill-treatment, as required by international law.

Women sex workers with multiple discriminated identities – such as transgender women – experienced even more pronounced exclusion and remained at greater risk of torture or other ill-treatment.[2]

Civil society coalitions advocated for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, as well as a national protocol to investigate allegations of gender-based torture, such as rape.

In September, Dominican sex workers advocates held a side event during the ordinary period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at which the Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI Persons acknowledged that rape by the police of women who sell sex can amount to torture.

Discrimination – stateless persons

Civil society organizations continued to report that many Dominicans born to foreign parents who were registered as Dominicans at birth but later unrecognized as nationals (known as Group A) – most recently through a 2013 ruling that left thousands without nationality – had been unable to obtain Dominican identity documents, leaving them unable to prove their nationality and at risk of expulsion.

Similarly, civil society continued to express concern that Dominicans born to foreign parents whose birth had never been registered (known as Group B) had been unable to obtain naturalization as Dominicans, despite having been required first to register as foreigners and later initiate a complex naturalization process.

During the year, the government did not make accessible updated public data on the number of people who had been able to obtain Dominican identity documents or to naturalize, which continued to make it difficult to assess the extent of the statelessness crisis and facilitated the government’s ongoing denial of the problem.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

By October 2019, there were 30,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the Dominican Republic, of whom 184 had lodged claims for asylum, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In January, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its examination of the country’s human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, expressed concern at the extremely low number of people granted asylum and other inefficiencies of the asylum system. Civil society specifically criticized the lack of adequate mechanisms to provide international protection for Venezuelan refugees.

Sexual and reproductive rights

The Dominican Republic continued to criminalize abortion in all circumstances. Importantly, during the UPR process the country accepted recommendations to ensure that women and girls seeking abortion services are not subject to criminal sanctions.[3] However, by the end of the year, no concrete steps had been taken towards that goal.

[1] Dominican Republic: “If they can have her, why can’t we?”, Gender-based torture and other ill-treatment of women engaged in sex work in the Dominican Republic (AMR 27/0030/2019)

[2] Dominican Republic: ‘I Dream of a Queer Future.’ A Conversation Between Two Activists on International Transgender Day of Visibility, (News story, 1 April)

[3] Dominican Republic: Human rights guarantees must be respected (AMR 27/0687/2019)