Dominican Republic: Killings at the hands of the police rise while reforms stall

The number of killings perpetrated by the police is on the rise again in the Dominican Republic whilst legislation intended to fix the problem stalls and stagnates in Congress, said Amnesty International today.

The past six months have seen the number of people killed by the police rise by 13% compared with the year before, with 87 people dead between January and June this year, according to figures released by the National Observatory on Citizen Security (Observatorio de Seguridad ciudadana).

“Fourteen people a month are dying at the hands of the police in the Dominican Republic. Many of these killings seem to have been unlawful. Clearly the government needs to push harder for concrete action to stop these abuses once and for all,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director.

“It’s a tragic state of affairs when the police, the very people tasked with protecting the human rights of citizens, are the ones committing such terrible crimes, further endangering public security in the country.”

Crime in the Dominican Republic is rife and public security is a major concern for the population. However, evidence shows that far from helping to tackle the problem, hard-line policing methods are contributing to escalating violence and crime.

News of the increase in police killings comes as President Danilo Medina celebrates the mid-point of his presidential term. Police reform was a key component of the President’s election manifesto, but two years into his presidency the reform has yet to start while allegations of unlawful killings and torture by the police continue to be rife.

Amongst those killed this year was Walder Sánchez. Although the official police line was that he died in a shoot-out on 30 May, witness testimony suggests Walder Sánchez was deliberately shot several times while unarmed. He was apparently in his bedroom with his pregnant girlfriend and begged the police not to shoot. During the operation, his landlady and girlfriend were also reportedly beaten by the police. An investigation into the incident has now been opened by the Attorney of Santo Domingo Province.

As well as allegations of unlawful killings, Amnesty International has also received numerous complaints of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the police.

In April, Luis Manuel Lember Matínez and Eduardo Luis Cruz were detained by the police after they refused to pay a bribe. Luis Manuel was shot in the leg before the two men were transferred to the police station where they were beaten severely. Luis Manuel claims he received electric shocks to his legs. Two days after their ordeal they were released. The police officers involved are now under investigation.

While some of the cases documented by Amnesty International are being investigated, others are merely covered up. There are numerous cases of police impunity on which Amnesty International has been campaigning for years. However the Office of the Prosecutor General has consistently remained silent in the face of all requests for information on these cases.

Legislation to reform the police has been waiting to be passed by Congress since May 2013. The failure to prioritize the bill and interests opposing reform have prevented the bill’s progress.

“Without the adoption of legislation aligned with human rights principles, it is very unlikely that we will ever see the national police working effectively to respect human rights,” said Erika Guevara.

“Two years ago we had great expectations for President Medina and his promises about police reform, but sadly the police continue to kill unlawfully and torture with impunity while the President’s much lauded bill sits stagnating in parliament.”

“There is no time to waste. President Medina still has the opportunity to fulfil his campaign promise to “do what has never been done”, namely to give the country the police force that it deserves.”

Amnesty International is now calling on the Dominican Republic to push these reforms through in order to overhaul the National Police force and to investigate and prosecute all those responsible for unlawful killings, torture, and other human rights violations.

Additional information 

Data from the Observatory on Citizen Security (Observatorio de Seguridad ciudadana) shows killings at the hands of the police dropped in 2013, but has risen again in the first six months of 2014.

Over 700 people were killed by the police between 2011 and 2013, according to figures gathered by the Office of the Prosecutor General (Procuraduría General de la República.)