The Dominican Republic should revise its deportation policies to ensure due process and to avoid race-based discrimination, Human Rights Watch urged in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch also called on the government to protect Dominicans of Haitian descent from deportation, consistent with the constitution's rule of citizenship by birth.
Targeted because their skin color is often darker, "Haitian-looking" people are frequently deported to Haiti within hours of their detention, causing families to be separated and children to be left behind. Suspected undocumented Haitians - including Dominicans of Haitian descent - have no fair opportunity to challenge their expulsion.
Acknowledging recent steps toward reform, Human Rights Watch commended the government of President Hipólito Mejía for showing an unprecedented willingness to bring its treatment of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians into compliance with international human rights standards.
"The Dominican government needs to fully implement its own constitution and laws," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "It would make real human rights progress if its practice conformed to its rules."
The 34-page report, "'Illegal People': Haitians and Dominico-Haitians in the Dominican Republic," is based on research conducted in 2001 and includes extensive testimony from Haitian and Dominico-Haitian deportees, families denied proof of citizenship, lawyers, government officials, and human rights advocates.
Dominico-Haitians face great difficulties in proving their entitlement to remain in their own country, with the result that generations of ethnic Haitians are denied recognition as citizens, leaving them in what the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has
described as "permanent illegality."
The report describes the terrible impact of this denial of citizenship, particularly on the right of children to an education. Some children of Haitian descent have been barred from the classroom, particularly beyond the primary school level.
While recognizing the Dominican Republic's sovereign right to control immigration, Human Rights Watch called on the Dominican government to remedy its abusive practices. With this in mind, it commended the government's September 2001 decision to grant birth certificates to two Dominico-Haitian children whose citizenship had been in dispute.
"This was a good first step, but thousands of other people face the same problem," said Vivanco.
Human Rights Watch also hailed the government's agreement last week to establish a joint committee to monitor compliance with the rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a move announced after negotiations in a case involving Haitians and Dominico-Haitians currently pending in the Inter-American human rights system. Human Rights Watch expressed concern, however, about an apparent nationalist backlash against the creation of the body, including anti-Haitian graffiti that has appeared in recent days in the streets of Santo Domingo.
"The government's recent initiatives in the Inter-American human rights system are extremely encouraging," said Vivanco. "Although the question of illegal immigration is a difficult one, I'm hopeful that the government will continue making progress toward handling it in a fair and non-discriminatory way."
Selected cases from the report:
Detained by Dominican immigration officials in February 2001, Lucía François was not allowed to collect her two youngest children, ages four and six, before being deported to Haiti. When Human Rights Watch interviewed her six months later, she had still not seen nor spoken to them. Unable to return to the Dominican Republic, where her children were born, and with no possibility of telephone contact, François was totally cut off from her two girls. "I haven't been able to talk to anyone from home," François told Human Rights Watch. "I don't know if they're dead or alive . . . . Every day, when I wake up, I'm thinking about my kids."
By age twenty-three, Jorge Rene Méndez, a third-generation Dominican of Haitian descent, had been deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti twice. The first time, in March 1999, Dominican migration agents picked Méndez up on Máximo Gómez Street in Santo Domingo and put him on a bus holding about fifty other detainees, not asking to see his documents or questioning him about his legal status. The second time he was deported, in February 2000, the officials ripped up the photocopy of his identification that he showed them. Both times he ended up in Haiti penniless, having to beg for food and shelter.