Monday, October 24, 2011

Retroactive Denationalization of Haitians in Dominican Republic

Haitian men sell hats in a Dominican Market -Photo by Dominic Arizona Bonucceli
Between dictators, natural disasters and crushing poverty, life in Haiti has been incredibly rough for years. (Maybe even the last 400 years or so, but you can ask France about that.)  So its no surprise that the country sees a number of migrants leave its borders seeking a better life. Perhaps no country is more aware of this than neighboring Dominican Republic, home to a large Haitian migrant community as well as to a significant population of people of Haitian descent. Now, in an effort to cut down on illegal immigration, the Dominican Republic has taken drastic measures that have rendered many from this population effectively stateless.

The border between the two countries is very porous, and for decades there has been significant labor migration from Haiti to Dominican Republic (often legally and by invitation). There was seasonal migration between to the two countries, particularly for seasonal sugar-cane workers, but many other families in the last century have settled permanently in the DR. These families benefitted from a generous nationality acquisition policy: descendents were entitled to citizenship based on jus soli, i.e., being born on the territory made them Dominican citizens. However, in January 2010 there was a change to the Dominican constitution that effectively put a grandfather clause on citizenship.
Article 18: Nationality. They are citizens:
...(3) Persons born on natural territory, with the exception of sons and daughters of foreign members of diplomatic or consular services, foreigners that are in transit or reside illegally in Dominican territory. They are considered in transit all foreigners as defined in the laws of the Republic. (Translation mine.)
Now, in order to take advantage of D.R.'s jus soli territorial citizenship, one must not only be born in the country, but also born to legally residing Dominican parents. The effect was to instantly render up to 1 million people stateless, including many whom are 3rd and 4th generation Dominican residents.

Understandably given the magnitude of the population, this policy has been difficult to implement in practice. After all, many of Haitian descent already have identity documents, were registered at birth, and until this time considered themselves Dominican citizens. The government now seems to be using piecemeal tactics to denationalize- denial of document renewal, refusal to issue copies of birth certificates, erasure from civil registries, and other insidious means to take rights away from people of Haitian descent. 

But although the tactics are sporadic, Haitian-Dominicans are feeling the effects. Without access to documents they have limited freedom of movement, can't attend to college, drive, or marry. In short, they are deprived of the right to a legal personality.

There has been a recent upswing in attention to this issue. In fact, today there is a brief hearing on the subject at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with appearances by the government and representatives of NGO's. In a few days there will be a conference at Georgetown University on the same subject. Also there will apparently  be a conference at the end of the year in concert with UNHCR aimed at reducing statelessness. However, where I'm standing, this case is very similar to Kuric (the civil registry erasure case) and is ripe for litigation under any number of international legal documents which the Dominican Republic is clearly and wantonly violating.

Here is the 2010 Constitution of the Dominican Republic (in spanish): Consitution de la Republica Dominicana
Here's a very enlightening PBS video on the subject: In Dominican Republic, Haitians Grapple with Stateless Limbo
***Update: Here is the press release from the State Dept. after the event at Georgetown University: Statelessness and the Dominican Republic

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