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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 from the Dominican Republic 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."

David Pere Martínez, deported from the Dominican Republic that same month, faced a similar situation. Martínez was not just separated from his family, however, he was also sent to a country that he did not know, and whose language he did not speak.

While François was born in Haiti, Martínez was born in the Dominican Republic and was therefore a Dominican citizen under the country's constitution. Indeed, Martínez's parents and grandparents were born in the country. But the Dominican military officials who detained Martínez had little interest in ascertaining where he was born. They looked instead to the color of his skin, which is black, and decided to deport him to Haiti.

Over the past decade, the Dominican government has deported hundreds of thousands of Haitians to Haiti, as well as an unknown number of Dominicans of Haitian descent. On several occasions, most recently in November 1999, the Dominican authorities have conducted mass expulsions of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians, rounding up thousands of people in a period of weeks or months and forcibly expelling them from the country. Snatched off the street, dragged from their homes, or picked up from their workplaces, "Haitian-looking" people are rarely given a fair opportunity to challenge their expulsion during these wholesale sweeps. The arbitrary nature of such actions, which myriad international human rights bodies have condemned, is glaringly obvious.

The country's daily flow of deportations follows a similar pattern. Suspected Haitians are targeted for deportation based on the color of their skin, and are given little opportunity to prove their legal status or their claim to citizenship. As a rule, people facing deportation from the Dominican Republic have no chance to contact their families, to collect their belongings, or to prepare for departure in any way. They are frequently dropped off at the Haitian border within a matter of hours after their initial detention, sometimes with nothing more than the clothes on their back.

The summary procedures in use during these deportations fall far short of the due process requirements of international law, specifically those outlined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights. The race-based selection of deportees violates international prohibitions on racial discrimination.

Questioned by Human Rights Watch as to how undocumented Haitians are identified, the subdirector for Haitian affairs of the Dominican government's migration department insisted that they can be spotted "by their way of living." "They're poorer than we are," he said. "They have terrible homes." Noting that Haitians also have "rougher skin," the subdirector declared that "they're much blacker than we are. They're easy to recognize." Further evidencing his trust in ethnic stereotypes, the subdirector explained that his department's goal was to stem the "invasion" of young Haitian delinquents: "the ones who act like they're in the Haitian capital, drinking and dancing."

Dominico-Haitians - persons of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic - face serious difficulties in proving their entitlement to remain in their own country. Despite the constitution's conferral of citizenship to persons born on Dominican soil, Dominico-Haitians are systematically refused proof of Dominican citizenship. The denial often begins in the hospital where they are born, when hospital staff refuse to provide their parents with proof of the birth. Later in their lives, the obstacles to obtaining proof of citizenship become even more difficult to surmount. The result is that many Dominicans of Haitian descent live a precarious existence, perpetually at risk of deportation. 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." Their lack of legal status has a clear negative impact on their economic opportunities, as well as other central aspects of their lives.

This damaging situation has its defenders. Relying on a strained and opportunistic reading of one clause in the country's constitution, many Dominican officials claim that the Dominican-born children of Haitian migrant workers have no right to citizenship. Since the constitution contains a narrow exception to citizenship by birth - it does not cover the children of foreigners who are "in transit" at the time of the birth - they assert that all undocumented Haitians must be deemed to be "in transit." People who have lived in the Dominican Republic for years, decades, or even generations, are thus wrongly squeezed into a category meant for brief and casual visitors.

This unjust denial of citizenship negatively affects Dominico-Haitians from an early age. Although Dominican law does not specifically bar undocumented children from attending school, many Dominico-Haitian children have been barred from the classroom, particularly beyond the primary school level. The denial of educational opportunities has an obvious deleterious effect on such children's possibilities for future advancement.

In the past, the Dominican authorities have responded with undisguised hostility to international criticism regarding the country's treatment of Haitians. Indeed, former Dominican president Joaquin Balaguer once reacted to such criticism by instituting mass summary deportations, complaining of an "ominous campaign" by the international community against his country. There are real signs, however, that the government's approach is changing for the better. This is true both in the government's rhetorical response to international attention, and in the direction it appears to be moving in substance.

The government of Hipólito Mejía, in power since 2000, has taken several important though incomplete steps toward compliance with international law. In July 2001, his secretary of education announced that schools would no longer require children to show birth certificates in order to enroll, and President Mejía stated that this was a likely first step granting such children full citizenship. In September, as the result of negotiations with the Inter-American Commission, the authorities provided Dominican birth certificates to two Dominican-born children whose citizenship had been in dispute. Most recently, in a welcome move announced in March 2002 after negotiations with the petitioners in a case involving Haitians and Dominico-Haitians currently pending in the Inter-American human rights system, the Dominican government agreed to establish a joint committee to monitor its compliance with the rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


Human Rights Watch joins a number of regional and international human rights bodies in calling on the Dominican Republic to improve its treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. We make the following recommendations:

To the government of the Dominican Republic


* Dominican migrations officials should ensure that suspected undocumented aliens are afforded, at a minimum, the due process safeguards guaranteed by Law 95 and Regulation 279, including the opportunity to defend against deportation.

* Low-ranking migration and military officials should not be permitted to render final, on-the-spot deportation decisions. Pursuant to Law 95 and Regulation 279, such officials' initial deportability determinations should be subject to review by a hierarchical superior. Judicial review of these decisions should also be permitted, at least in cases in which a claim of Dominican citizenship is asserted.

* Dominican migration officials should not limit the opportunity to defend against deportation to the presentation of Dominican identity documents, since Dominicans of Haitian descent are frequently unable to obtain the identity documents due them. Dominican officials should also be required to question potential deportees regarding their status. Officials should ask questions such as: "Where were you born?"; "Do you have any identity documents?"; "Did you ever have any identity documents?"; "Did you ever try to apply for identity documents?"; "When did you come to the Dominican Republic? How?"

* The Dominican government should abide by the terms of the 1999 Protocol of Understanding between the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti on the Procedures for Repatriation. In particular, the Dominican government should avoid separating nuclear families; allow deportees to collect their personal belongings and retain their identity documents; provide each deportee with a copy of his or her order of deportation; and give Haitian authorities advance notice of repatriations.

* Military officials should not be permitted to conduct deportations independent of trained migration officials. Their role in deportations should be an auxiliary one, limited to providing transportation and logistical support.

* The Dominican government should ensure humane conditions of detention for all deportees, providing sufficient food, sanitary facilities, and separate accommodations for immigration detainees and convicted criminals. Conditions of detention should conform to international and regional standards, including the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the U.N. Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons Under Any Form of Detention.

Citizenship and Proof of Dominican Identity

* The Dominican government should publicly recognize that, in accordance with Article 11 of the Dominican Constitution, the Dominican-born children of Haitian migrant workers are Dominican citizens.

* The Dominican government should take immediate and concrete steps to provide identity documents to each of the many thousands of Dominican individuals of Haitian descent who have been unable to obtain proof of Dominican citizenship.

* Dominican civil registry officials should not require the parents of children born in the Dominican Republic to present Dominican cédulas (identity cards) in order to obtain birth certificates for their children. To ensure that officials stop imposing this requirement, the Central Electoral Board should issue a directive to this effect. It should also train registry officials regarding the eligibility of children of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic to Dominican identity documents.

* The Central Electoral Board should issue a directive to all hospitals informing hospital staff that they should issue maternity papers for all children born in their facilities, regardless of whether the children's parents are documented or undocumented.

* The Central Electoral Board should eliminate the requirement that a late applicant for Dominican nationality documentation must obtain certifications from all fourteen official registries, verifying that he or she was not already registered in another district.

* The Central Electoral Board should issue a directive cautioning civil registry officials against allowing racial discrimination to taint decisions regarding the provision of identity documents.


* The Dominican Republic should ensure that all children, documented and undocumented, have equal access to Dominican schools. To that end, the Dominican government should take steps to ensure that local schools comply with the secretary of education's July 2001 resolution regarding access.

* The Dominican government should launch a public awareness campaign to invite the parents of undocumented children to send them to school.

International Treaties

* The Dominican government should ratify the international treaties relating to the protection of migrants, in particular the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

To the government of Haiti

* The Haitian government should take steps to ensure that its citizens are provided Haitian identity documents, in accordance with the terms of Protocol of Understanding signed with the Dominican government in December 1999.

To the United Nations

* U.N. agencies such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) should provide technical and financial support to the Dominican government to encourage it to bring its treatment of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians into conformity with international standards. They should coordinate their activities with the local Dominican and Haitian nongovernmental organizations whose work on these issues is crucial.

To the International Labor Organization

* The International Labour Organization (ILO), specifically its International Migration Branch, should assist the Dominican government in reforming its legislation, policies and practices relating to labor migration.

To donor and other governments

* Representatives of donor and other governments should raise the issue of the Dominican Republic's treatment of Haitians and Dominico-Haitians in their bilateral meetings. They should press the Dominican government to bring its relevant legislation, policies and practices into conformity with international standards.

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