A protester holds up a sign reading: End statelessness

Dominican Republic: Authorities must end racist treatment and guarantee the right to nationality

Ahead of the tenth anniversary of a judgment that formalized the denationalization of children of people with irregular migratory status, the Dominican Republic must put an end to the structural racism that disproportionately affects tens of thousands of people of Haitian descent, who have been affected by the racist and discriminatory policies that the Dominican state has historically implemented against this population, Amnesty International said today.

In 2010, the country’s constitution was reformed to stipulate that those born on Dominican territory to parents with irregular migratory status would not acquire Dominican nationality. On 23 September 2013, a judgment by the Constitutional Court (168-13) interpreted this reform retroactively, stating that it applied to births that took place in the past – between 1929 and 2010. This decision deprived thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their only nationality, rendering them stateless. As a result of this decision, the administrative authorities began a massive cancellation of birth certificates and identity documents.

“A decade on from this deeply regressive ruling, the Dominican authorities have done little to reverse its harmful effects and recognize the rights of the thousands of people affected. The authorities have not dismantled the system of structural racism or the policy of denationalization that affects Dominicans of Haitian descent”, said Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International.

The Dominican Republic has maintained a policy of denying the right to nationality to persons of Haitian descent. The state has used stigmatizing discourse, bureaucratic practices, legislative changes, judicial decisions and the security forces to persecute, intimidate and expel Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has twice condemned the country for arbitrarily depriving Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality.

Since at least the 1990s, civil registry officials have made it difficult to register the births of children born to people with irregular migratory status. In 2004, the Dominican state legalized this previously unlawful practice through a reform of its migration law.

In 2010, a constitutional reform that denies automatic nationality to people born in the Dominican Republic to parents with irregular migratory status came into force. The previous norm in the constitution was that all persons born on the territory acquired nationality, with very few exceptions. This was the reform interpreted by the court in judgment 168-13.

The authorities have not dismantled the system of structural racism or the policy of denationalization that affects Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International

This Constitutional Court judgment was strongly criticized by Dominican human rights activists and organisations, the international community and human rights bodies. In 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the judgment violated the Dominican Republic’s obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and should be annulled.

“The 2013 judgment was just another act of racial discrimination. The Dominican state has continued to apply processes of exclusion based on racial characteristics and people’s real or perceived ancestry,” said Ana Piquer.

In 2014, the state enacted Law 169 to address some of the effects of the judgment through a national naturalization plan. This law created additional problems by requiring thousands of people who had never been able to obtain Dominican documents to declare themselves foreigners – despite being Dominican – in order to subsequently have their cases assessed.

This and other measures have failed to restore the rights of those affected, and tens of thousands have still not had their nationality recognized. Having no other nationality, most remain stateless, a vulnerable situation that prevents them from accessing rights such as education, healthcare or employment.

“To deny a fundamental right, such as nationality, is to become an accomplice to sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, human trafficking and smuggling, thereby violating personal freedoms and contributing to extreme poverty in the country,” said Maria Bizenny Martinez, coordinator of the human rights department of the Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers (MOSCTHA).

The recognition of the rights of persons born in the Dominican Republic is also hampered by arbitrary restrictions on their rights to legal personality, to a name and to a nationality, and to a life free of discrimination, which have a profound impact on their lives and on their families and communities.

Amnesty International again stresses that national laws and practices must not violate the right to non-discrimination and the obligation to prevent statelessness, and that all people within the territory or under the jurisdiction of the Dominican state must be guaranteed the enjoyment of their human rights.

Arbitrary deprivation of nationality is prohibited under international law. Article 8 of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, to which the Dominican Republic is a signatory, provides that states may not deprive a person of their nationality if such deprivation would render them stateless. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. Similarly, Article 20 of the American Convention on Human Rights provides that “[e]very person has the right to the nationality of the State in whose territory they were born if they do not have the right to any other nationality”.

Amnesty International again calls on the Dominican state to restore Dominican nationality to all people born in the Dominican Republic before 26 January 2010, regardless of the migratory status of their parents, and to take all appropriate measures to ensure that no person born in the Dominican Republic becomes stateless. Moreover, the authorities should take all necessary measures to address structural and institutional racism, which disproportionately affects people of Haitian descent.