The corpse of a Haitian man was found hanging from a tree in a public park in the Dominican Republic’s second-largest city Wednesday morning, according the newspaper Listín Diario.
Local police said the killing in Santiago appeared to have occurred during a robbery. But human rights groups and other observers pointed out that the crime comes amid a furious debate over immigration from neighboring Haiti and a decade-long series of legal measures that have stripped birthright citizenship from thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The victim, identified by the newspaper only by his nickname Tulile, worked shining shoes in Ercilia Pepín Park, where his body was found, according to Listín Diario. His hands and feet were bound, according to Dominican daily Diario Libre.
A spokesman for the Santiago police tweeted that investigators had “rejected racism as a motive,” and said investigators believed the killing resulted from a robbery.
MP e investigadores descartan movil de racismo en caso de haitiano ahorcado en Santiago. Motivo habría sido robo de dinero de un Pale.
— damian arias matos (@arias_matos) February 11, 2015
Police declined to speak about the case by telephone with The Huffington Post.
Many view anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic as racist in nature because the vast majority of Haitians and their Dominican-born descendants are black. Most Dominicans are mixed-race or white, and 11 percent are black, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said investigators appeared to have discounted race as a motive too quickly.
"For the Dominican authorities to rule out racism as a factor less than 24 hours after a man of Haitian descent was hanged in a public square is not just irresponsible policing, it is an outrageous example of discrimination endemic to the Dominican Republic," McMullen wrote to HuffPost in an email. "And frankly it is all too reminiscent of the shameful denials of Southern officials during the decades of terror lynchings perpetrated against African-Americans here at home."
Anti-Haitian sentiment runs high among some in the Dominican Republic. A small group of Dominican nationalists gathered in Santiago the day before the Haitian man's body was found to burn a Haitian flag and call for deportations of Haitian migrants.
A series of legal measures since 2004 have done away with birthright citizenship, and a decision by the Constitutional Court in 2013 applied the new standard retroactively, requiring the federal government to strip citizenship from Dominicans born after 1929 to undocumented Haitian parents.
A law passed in 2014 created a pathway for those who lost their citizenship to normalize their status. Fewer than 9,000 people applied, however. Human rights organization Amnesty International says that as many as 110,000 qualify.
Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Americas, said the human rights watchdog was “monitoring the situation” and urged the authorities to vigorously investigate the hanging.
“Amnesty International recalls that authorities have the obligation to thoroughly investigate the case like in any case of allegation of homicide,” Gonçalves Margerin wrote in an email to HuffPost, “but given the particular context going on in the country, special attention should be given whether it was a hate crime based on the origins or racial characteristics of the person.”