On December 10, International Human Rights Day, the government of the Dominican Republic is set to promulgate a constitutional reform measure that could leave large numbers of Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless. The changes to nationality provisions, first approved in October 2009 by the country’s legislators, will redefine Dominican citizenship and deny children born on Dominican soil to immigrant parents “residing illegally” in the country their legal claim to Dominican nationality.
Over the past year the Dominican Republic has been de-nationalizing many of its citizens of Haitian descent, despite their constitutional right to nationality. Under the amended Constitution, there is fear that thousands more Dominicans of Haitian descent will be retroactively stripped of their Dominican nationality, placing them at risk of losing their fundamental rights to attend school, access adequate housing, health care, property, and freedom of movement. Further, the constitutional change will leave thousands of Dominicans suspected of Haitian ancestry vulnerable to the intermittent mass expulsion campaigns carried out by Dominican authorities, in which military and immigration police have been known to deport thousands of people who “look Haitian” or who have French last names, over the border into Haiti.
Human rights organizations throughout the Dominican Republic and around the world are alarmed by this decision because of the impact it will have on this already marginalized community. The new constitutional provisions on nationality are incompatible with international law, as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held that the migratory status of a person is not transmitted to their children. Any attempt by the Dominican Republic to apply this constitutional reform retroactively would constitute a clear violation of international law.
“The Dominican Republic has witnessed a steady drumbeat of discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent. Prior to this constitutional change, thousands have had their identity documents denied, or confiscated for no reason other than their ancestry,” said Monika Kalra Varma of the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights.
Sonia Pierre, director of the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA) and 2006 RFK Human Rights Laureate emphasizes that “The Dominican Government is not respecting peoples’ rights and dignity. Instead, the government is making a mockery of the population by promulgating this constitutional reform taking away rights to nationality precisely on human rights day.” Ms. Pierre adds that “Generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent have grown up as Dominican citizens – speaking Spanish, playing baseball, dancing merengue – with no links to Haiti, a foreign country to them. States cannot give citizenship to a person and then take it away.”
“This Constitutional amendment will sentence many members of an already vulnerable population to statelessness,” contends Melanie Teff of Refugees International. “The Dominican authorities cannot assume that all people of Haitian descent have the right to Haitian nationality. Many will be left in limbo, with no citizenship.”
“We are fearful that newly approved Article 16 of the Dominican Constitution will be applied in a way that denies people’s human right to a nationality and leave thousands of Dominicans of Haitian ancestry stateless,” said Dominican Jesuit Regino Martinez, SJ of Jesuit Refugee Service-DR (JRS-DR) and the Border Solidarity Network. JRS-DR, JRS-Haiti, and JRS-USA have all registered their concern over the new nationality provisions in the Dominican Constitution over the last month. Father Regino explains, “To leave children stateless is a grave violation, one that we are called upon to denounce in the name of justice and in the name of our faith.”