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The Largely Ignored Human Rights Tragedy at Our Doorstep...

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Just a few weeks ago the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic, the country's court of last resort, decided to retroactively rescind the citizenship of persons of Haitian lineage born in the Dominican Republic. The Court's ruling stripped the citizenship of any person born on the soil of the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents from 1929 to today. In one stroke of the proverbial pen, the Dominican Republic has taken away the most basic of rights to hundreds of thousands of its citizens, leaving them without recourse or the most basic civil protections. They are thus stateless and accordingly powerless.

In addition, to the human tragedy within its border, the decision has put the Haitian government in a very delicate situation. Indeed, although the people affected are from Haitian descent, they are in fact Dominicans. Therefore, Haiti's authorities have to work a fine line in reacting to the situation in order not to interfere with the Dominican Republic's treatment -- or better, maltreatment -- of its own citizens. Hence, the twofold reaction of Haiti's government is one of shock in the face of unfathomable inhumanity, and concern over the practical repercussions of the decision's implementation on Haiti's already anemic economy, scarce social services and thin resources, should a mass easterly exodus or deportation were to occur on the island. It bears mentioning that Haiti is still recovering from the January 2010 earthquake, with thousands of people still living under makeshift tents, and a subsequent cholera outbreaks. Having to welcome an influx from the Dominican of hundred of thousands of refugees would compound both these already daunting challenges.

Haiti's civil society has also reacted to this decision. In a concert of vociferous cries of protest and indignation, the association of Haitian filmmakers recently called on the rest of the world to boycott Dominican products and tourism until the court retracts its villainous decision. On the other side of the border, a slew of remarkable personalities are also raising their voices against the decision. For instance, well-known and respected Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez of Middlebury College, called the decision shameful and racially motivated, stated that, "besides the principle of non-retroactivity of law and juridical security, this ruling violates at least 15 articles of the Dominican Republic's constitution and strays from international law." Unfortunately, few others in the media have given the attention to this inevitable tragedy that will affect all of our borders in the very near future.

Indeed, the likely consequences of this decision will be either the majority of these former citizens will be deported to Haiti; others will be forced to live in the shadows of both countries, or hide under the "benevolent" protection of sugar cane plantation owners who will then exploit their labor; or many of them will rightfully seek political asylum in neighboring countries like the United States. They will likely use makeshift boats, attempting the deadly trek to reach the shores of neighboring lands like the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and the mainland United States.

What can be done to address the tragedy: we can either ignore it only to witness the human toll in the not so distant future, ensuring the horrific fate of these people as well as Haiti itself, or we can act now while we still can have an impact. In addition to increasing awareness of the issue by avenues such as this one, and online petitions, letters need to be sent to congressional and other leaders to demand change, or face economic sanctions or boycotts. Finally, there may be a legal avenue of redress.

A claim with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights would be in order. A claim with the Commission, and then hopefully with the Inter-American Court could have a significant impact. Such actions could place the Dominican Republic in the uncomfortable position of having to explain their actions quite publicly and in a forum that the nation has agreed would hear any such claims, particularly when human rights are alleged to have been violated. In this case, establishing the violations of international human rights, Dominican Constitutional Rights as well as a host of other rights, will likely be not too difficult to prove. Something needs to be done.

By,
Ediberto Roman, Professor of Law & Director of Immigration Initiatives, Florida International University

Frandley Jullien, Class of 2015, Florida International University, College of Law