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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 2020

The authorities carried out an estimated 85,000 detentions between 20 March and 30 June, for alleged non-compliance with the evening curfew. Abortion remained criminalized in all circumstances. The authorities failed to pass the comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation demanded by civil society for years.

Arbitrary detention

In March, the authorities declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew to try to contain the spread of COVID-19. According to data published daily on Twitter by the National Police, law enforcement carried out an estimated 85,000 detentions between 20 March and 30 June for alleged non-compliance with the evening curfew. The authorities did not respond to requests for information about the conditions in which people were held, including whether people were physically distanced in detention or had access to a lawyer and other due process guarantees.

Video evidence suggested that the police used detention as a first rather than last resort to enforce lockdowns and routinely rounded up groups of people in the back of police vans, without taking any COVID-19 preventive measures like physical distancing or mask wearing.

Videos also showed the authorities stopping or detaining people on their way to get food or other basic items, despite evidence from previous public health emergencies that coercive enforcement, including criminalization, can be counterproductive and have a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups.

The authorities often used tactics designed to humiliate people for allegedly breaking curfews, such as forced group exercise, and employed unnecessary force during detentions, a trend documented in previous years in reports on the arbitrary detention of women sex workers and young people.1

Violence against women and girls

In the first weeks of the curfew there was a significant drop in the number of reports of gender-based violence, according to news reports. This raised concerns that women were suffering violence in silence in a country with one of the highest rates of gender-based killings of women in the world, according to the UN Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean. Between January and December, 130 women were killed, 66 of which were femicides, according to preliminary statistics published by the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Women’s rights

Women facing discrimination on multiple and intersecting grounds, such as transgender women and low-income cisgender women, continued to experience discrimination in accessing formal employment and many continued to sell sex as their primary method of income.

Following the implementation of the evening curfew in March, many transgender sex worker women were unable to work, which left many of them struggling to pay rent and without access to key social protections such as a range of health services, according to the NGO Transsa. Although the authorities put in place financial assistance programmes for workers, sex workers faced barriers when trying to access them, according to Transsa, which, working with other NGOs, was able eventually to get assistance for some transgender women.

The authorities also failed to implement a national protocol for the investigation of torture, despite evidence presented to the authorities by Amnesty International in 2019 that the police routinely raped, beat and humiliated women engaged in sex work in acts that may amount to torture or other ill-treatment.

Sexual and reproductive rights

The country failed to decriminalize abortion, including in instances where the pregnancy poses a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or girl, in cases of foetal impairments or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

In February, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights admitted for review the case of “Esperancita”, a 16-year-old girl who died in 2012 after being denied life-saving treatment for leukaemia because she was pregnant.

Arbitrary deprivation of nationality

Thousands of people born to foreign parents who were registered as Dominicans at birth but later unrecognized as nationals, most recently through a 2013 ruling that left tens of thousands without nationality, remained unable to obtain Dominican identity documents, leaving them stateless and at risk of expulsion.

In his last week in office, former President Danilo Medina ordered the naturalization of 750 Dominicans of Haitian descent who had been stripped of their nationality, a symbolic gesture, but insufficient to resolve the country’s long-standing statelessness crisis.

In August, civil society organizations called on President Abinader to embrace dialogue with Dominicans of Haitian descent and the organizations that accompany them to put an end to the conditions that drive statelessness and the barriers that it poses for access to health care, education and other rights. At the end of the year the President had not responded publicly.

Discrimination

Despite accepting the recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council, the authorities failed to pass the comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation demanded by civil society organizations for years.


  1. Americas: Authorities must protect people from COVID-19 instead of resorting to repressive measures (Press release, 15 May)