Dominicans of Haitian descent fight back

Sonia Piere
Sonia Piere

By Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International

When representatives of the Inter American Commission of Human Rights visit the Dominican Republic this week to look at the rampant discrimination suffered by Dominicans of foreign descent, Solange Pierre will not be able to help thinking about her mother.

Aged 48, Sonia, who passed away two years ago this week, would have been without a doubt, first in line to talk to them.

As a founding member and Executive Director of the Movement for Dominico-Haitian Women (Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas), Sonia dedicated her life to advocating for equal rights and respect for Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent.

She spent most of the final years of her life fighting against the authorities’ attempts to deprive Dominicans of Haitian descent, like herself, of their nationality.

Since she was a little girl, Solange looked at her mother at work, fighting for what was right and fair. They’ve suffered continuous threats, harassment and smear campaigns.

Seeing her mother speak publicly about human rights and defending those most marginalized, inspired Solange to take up Sonia’s legacy.She now works in the organization her mother founded and will be one of the activists speaking to the international experts visiting the country.

“All my life I fought side by side with my mother. Being a human rights activist takes dedication, passion. It means you have to live for others. Being a human rights defender is part of who I am, something I have inside of me, it’s my identity,” she said.

“When I look back at my mum’s work, I realise that without her efforts we wouldn’t be able to talk in the Dominican Republic or to the entire world about the massive deprivation of nationality that Dominicans of foreign descent are suffering in the Dominican Republic.”

Two years on, the issues Sonia spent a lifetime fighting against are as pressing as ever. On 23 September 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court published a highly criticised ruling which, in practice, deprives people of foreign descent of their Dominican nationality, making them stateless. The vast majority of those affected are Dominicans of Haitian descent.

The ruling is nothing but a blow for the hopes of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who have been deprived of their identity documents in last decade. Without them, they cannot access health services, education, secure a job, vote or marry. Their lives have been, effectively, put on hold.

The Constitutional Court ruling has left thousands of people in the Dominican Republic in dismay. Many have called it their “civil death”.

And it is fuelling an upsurge in xenophobia. On 4 November, Day of the Constitution, hundreds of people took part in a nationalist demonstration in Santo Domingo chanting “death to the traitors”.

The decision has also provoked an incredible wave of solidarity from international organizations, foreign governments and human rights activists from around the world.

Solange says a lot of the attention raised is due to her mother’s relentless work and to her determination to improve the situation of the most marginalized in the Dominican Republic.

Because of her, thousands of people affected by these abuses have now the strength and confidence to express their outrage and fight back.

“I would like to say to Dominicans of Haitian descent and Dominicans in general that we have to fight and resist because human rights are not to be begged for but to be demanded,” Solange said.