The world is now paying attention to developments in the Dominican Republic where a much publicized decision of the Constitutional Court has served to strip people born in that country, of Haitian descent, of citizenship. But are we here in the Caribbean taking notice?
“Juliana Deguis initiated a constitutional review in 2008 after her birth certificate was seized by the Central Electoral Board when she applied for an identity card, on the basis that her name was “Haitian”.
“On 23 September 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court ruled against Juliana Deguis and said her rights had not been violated by the Central Electoral Board.
According to the ruling, Juliana, who was born in the Dominican Republic in 1984 to Haitian parents, had been wrongfully registered as Dominican at her birth. Her parents were considered “foreigners in transit” because they could not prove their legal status in the Dominican Republic. Therefore, Juliana should have never had Dominican nationality and must now be stripped of it.
“There are at least 40 similar cases awaiting a decision from the Constitutional Court. However, it is unlikely that the Court will rule on them, as the Court specified in the ruling that the effects of the ruling apply to a wider group of people.”
The ruling has been condemned by Amnesty International, which says the ruling should not be implemented, as it would have a devastating effect on hundreds of thousands of people.
“If implemented in this way, the ruling would violate the (Dominican Republic’s) human rights obligations. It also contravenes a 2005 landmark decision of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights and breaks a basic principle of law, explicitly stated in Dominican Constitution, which prohibits retroactive application of the law,” says Amnesty.
Protests have come from a range of other organisations such as the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF which says:
“The ruling by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic depriving Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent of their right to citizenship could have a devastating impact on thousands of children. Without a nationality, stateless children can be denied access to basic social protection programmes, cannot earn education certificates or graduate, or obtain an identity card or a passport. Without these basic protections and opportunities, these children are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
“The decision contradicts numerous court decisions and treaties to which the Dominican Republic is party, and contravenes basic principles of human rights.”
The Anglican Bishop of the Dominican Republic Julio Holguín has also criticized the decision, saying “the constitutional court has decided to establish an ‘apartheid’ in the Dominican Republic.”
Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson has called for CARICOM to speak out strongly on behalf of those being deprived of their nationality, as Haiti is a full member of CARICOM.
Well, here is CARICOM’s response. In a statement, it declared itself “deeply concerned,” noted with regret that the decision went against pronouncements of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, proclaimed itself to be “particularly concerned” about the humanitarian effects of the ruling and called on the Dominican Republic “to adopt measures to protect the human rights and interests of those made vulnerable by this ruling and its grievous effects.”
Even in the diplomatic world of international relations, the statement seems somewhat muted. But that is perhaps hardly surprising. The people of the Caribbean have been paying little, if any attention over the years to the plight of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
This ruling of the constitutional court has catapulted the issue into the international headlines, but this crisis has been years in the making.
In 2007, Refugees International called for policies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to ensure the rights of stateless people.
“In theory, the Dominican constitution grants citizenship to everyone born on its territory, but the Dominican Supreme Court has ruled that Dominican-born Haitians are ineligible for citizenship because they are “in transit,” despite the fact that many of them, their parents and grandparents have lived and worked in the country for decades. According to one Haitian government official, these children could theoretically be registered at the Haitian embassy in the Dominican Republic, but according to individuals who have tried this, they get turned away for various reasons, including not having proper documents or witnesses. When they try to get required documents from local hospitals where their children were born, they are also unsuccessful,” said the organization.
It is not that voices have not been raised. It is that we have not been listening. It’s time to listen. And then to speak.
Next time: the landmark 2005 ruling of the Inter American Court of Human Rights