Human Rights Developments
The government of the Dominican Republic was responsible for serious human rights violations in 1996, including extrajudicial executions and other police abuses and substandard prison conditions. Human rights activists highlighting these and other concerns found themselves the targets of government intimidations.
Dominican security forces, including the police, military, and the National Directorate for Drug Control (Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas, DNCD), were responsible for the extrajudicial killings of more than thirty-five persons, including minors, from January to November. Government investigations of these cases were rare, and at this writing, the Dominican courts had not convicted any state agent for the crimes. Among these cases, on April 22, members of a National Police (Policía Nacional, PN) unit killed José Luis Alvarez and Juan Villegas Castillo in the Villa Agrícolas section of Santo Domingo. On July 15, two police officers asked seventeen-year-old Valentín Vargas Martínez, a resident of the El Capotillo section of Santo Domingo, to give them money; when he did not, both officers opened fire, killing him. Police shot to death another minor, nine-year-old Anthony Martínez, in Villa Altagracia on August 6. A DNCD unit in Santo Domingo chased Crispin Tiburcio to the shore of the river Isabela on May 26. When he fled into the water, the DNCD agents prohibited rescuers from assisting him, and he drowned.
Common inmates in Dominican jails and prisons suffered extreme overcrowding, food shortages, poor physical conditions, and beatings, knifings, and bullet wounds at the hands of guards and other prisoners. The government routinely failed to separate minors from adults in the prison population and, in a number of cases, reportedly denied minors sufficient protection from older prisoners, who forcibly prostituted them. At the country=s largest prison, La Victoria, outside Santo Domingo, approximately 90 percent of the detainees had never been tried, according to the Dominican Human Rights Committee (Comité Dominicano de los Derechos Humanos, CDDH), some despite having spent up to six years in the facility. Prison authorities rarely separated pre-trial detainees from convicted prisoners.
The poor prison conditions led to frequent protests and prison violence. On May 11, for example, prisoners at the jail in Najayo rioted, leaving eleven inmates dead and fifty injured. In September, prisoners in several regions coordinated strikes, leading to one death at La Victoria and one each at prisons in El Seibo and San Francisco de Macorís.
Although prison conditions changed little in 1996, the government took positive steps by establishing a Children=s Tribunal (Tribunal Titular de Menores) and a children=s detention center in La Vega. Several hundred children remained in adult prisons as of this writing, however.
Two rounds of presidential elections in 1996, leading to the August 16 inauguration of Leonel Fernández Reyna, occurred without significant violence or irregularities. However, the government undertook several illegal, discriminatory measures in the pre-electoral period. In conjunction with public criticisms of an opposition candidate=s alleged Haitian heritage, the government expelled over 3,000 Haitians, many of whom were legal residents and others who were Dominican citizens of Haitian descent. Dominican authorities seized and destroyed the national identity cards of numerous Dominicans of Haitian descent. The cards also served as proof of voter registration. The police and military conducting the expulsions routinely denied detainees their right to a hearing before expulsion. They also mistreated detainees and failed to allow them to notify family members or retrieve belongings. Shortly before the elections, then President Joaquín Balaguer made public statements challenging the right to citizenship of children born to Haitians residing in the country, in apparent contradiction to constitutional citizenship rights.
On May 27, the Dominican government refused Dr. Josefina Juan viuda Pichardo, the former attorney general for the national district, the right to return from Miami to the Dominican Republic. Doctor Juan, who had been receiving treatment for cancer in the U.S., was known for speaking out against alleged involvement of high-ranking Dominican government officials in drug trafficking. With the second round of presidential elections scheduled for June 30, a legal advisor to the government justified barring Dr. Juan=s return on the grounds that her presence in the country would create Airritation, controversy, and conflict@ at election time. In mid-June, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights took action on her case, urging the Dominican government to permit her return. Shortly after the presidential election, the government announced that she could return, and she arrived in Santo Domingo on July 21.
Journalists also suffered pressures at election time. Television producer Nuria Piera and a photographer, Iris Lizardo, were attacked by ruling party members and accused of being Atraitors@ at June electoral rallies. Juan Bolívar Díaz, the author of Electoral Trauma (Trauma Electoral), a book making accusations of fraud in the 1994 presidential elections, lost a defamation suit brought by Generoso Ledesma. The June 19 sentence appeared excessive: a six-month jail term and order to pay 3 million pesos (approximately US$214,000) indemnization.
Late in the year, the May 26, 1994 Adisappearance@ of university professor Dr. Narciso González Medina drew increasing national attention, largely due to the October 11 hearing on the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Shortly before his Adisappearance@ González had published an article criticizing then-President Balaguer as Athe most perverse@ leader in the Americas and had called for civil disobedience in response to alleged fraud in the 1994 presidential elections. One year later, an investigating judge (juez de instrucción) had opened the case, but witnesses refused to comply with subpoenas, and police did little to enforce them. Late in 1996 however, the president reaffirmed his commitment to resolving the case and several witnesses provided declarations, including the Chief of the Armed Forces, Lt. Gen. Juan Bautista Rojas Tabar. Shortly after his appearance in court, Rojas made public statements leading the president to fire him on November 1. Two representatives of organizations working on González=s case received telephone death threats near the time of Rojas= removal, in one case blaming their efforts for his firing. Other González supporters, family members, and witnesses also had faced death threats. Information emerged in 1996 that one witness, José Pérez, who reportedly saw Dominican soldiers detain González on May 26, 1994, was Adisappeared@ a few days later.
The Right to Monitor
Repeated threats from the Dominican government, as well as intimidatory incidents such as robberies of homes and vehicles without any items of value being taken, created a tense environment for Dominican human rights activists. In June, in full view of a crowd, two National Police officers fired repeatedly on Danilo de la Cruz, a member of the CDDH. De la Cruz had just spoken at a press conference in El Capotillo denouncing the police role in the drowning death of Crispin Tiburcio (see above). The police reportedly opened an investigation of this incident but had made no progress as of this writing. Police publicly threatened to kill the president of the CDDH, Virgilio Almánzar, in October, shortly after he videotaped them roughing up several youths.
The Role of the International Community
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights took swift action in the case of Dr. Josefina Juan viuda Pichardo (see above) in June 1996, urging the Dominican government to permit her return and guarantee her safety. In October, the commission heard Narciso González=s case (see above) but had not reached any decision or settlement at this writing.
The U.S. State Department=s section on the Dominican Republic in Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 provided a detailed and reliable review of human rights concerns in the country.