IACHR: “Grave Violations” of Right to Nationality in Dominican Republic

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Above: OAS Headquarters

By the Caribbean Journal staff

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded its visit to the Dominican Republic on Friday, saying it had found “grave violations” of the right to nationality in the country.

The IACHR had visited the Dominican Republic amid a growing controversy over a Constitutional Court ruling that effectively strips hundreds of thousands of Dominicans, mostly those of Haitian descent, of their citizenship.

“The violations of the right to nationality that the Commission observed during its last on-site visit, in 1997, continue, and the situation has been exacerbated as a result of Judgment TC 168/2013 of the Constitutional Court,” the IACR said in a statement. “An indeterminate but very significant number of Dominicans, estimated by various sources at more than 200,000 people, have been arbitrarily deprived of their nationality as a result of the ruling.”

The ruling has led to serious tensions, both between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and between the Dominican Republic and the rest of CARICOM, with the latter suspending its consideration of the country’s bid for membership.

“These individuals have seen their right to legal personhood violated, and they live in a state of extreme vulnerability,” the IACHR said. “This situation disproportionately affects persons of Haitian descent, constituting a violation of the right to equal protection without discrimination.”

According to the Dominican Republic’s National Immigrant Survey, which was carried out last year, the total number of individuals born to Haitian immigrants was just under 210,000.

“This entire population could potentially be affected by the court’s decision,” the IACHR said. “This figure, however, does not include other generations of people of Haitian descent born in Dominican territory since 1929 whose parents were themselves born in the Dominican Republic.”

“With respect to a particular case, the Constitutional Court determined that even though the petitioner was born in Dominican territory and had been registered as such by the appropriate authorities at a time in which the Constitution recognized jus soli as a means to recognize nationality, the new interpretation of ‘foreigners in transit’— which pairs this concept with that of a foreigner with irregular status—stripped her of the right to Dominican nationality,” the IACHR explained. “Through this ruling, the Constitutional Court retroactively changed the interpretation of “foreigners in transit” in the constitutions in effect from 1929 to 2010, which established that category as a restriction to the acquisition of the right to nationality by jus soli. The court stated that “foreigners in transit” refers to those individuals who do not have legal domicile in the Dominican Republic because they lack a residency permit.”

The IACHR quoted one person affected by the ruling as saying they were now living a “civil death.”

“I walk down the street, but I don’t exist,” the person said.

For the full preliminary report, click here.