12/13/2013 10:53 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

For Diana: Boycott the Dominican Republic


Diana was a perfect baby. I remember sitting in my study room during law school, folding my laundry, reading constitutional law, and watching Diana as she slept that peaceful sleep that only babies sleep, unimpeded by the world's troubles.

When she awoke, she didn't cry; she just opened her eyes and looked at me, knowing, wise beyond her years. I smiled at her, kissed her all over her little face, and removed every trace of lip gloss before her parents picked her up. Her father Kerven is a close friend and an attorney, and her mother Angel will be a doctor any day now. Haitian father, African-American mother. The mix of law, life, reality. A perfect, whole, little being before me, her whole life before her.

As I read my constitutional law book, I never foresaw that by the time she was 4 years old, another nation would overlook its own Constitution to treat people like Diana as less than human. Why do I care about how persons of Haitian lineage are treated in the Dominican Republic? I care because I don't want Diana to grow up in a world where she would be recognized as less than human anywhere she steps foot.

The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic retroactively rescinded the citizenship of persons of Haitian lineage born in the Dominican Republic from 1929 until present day. If Diana had been born in the Dominican Republic, she would have been one of those children -- no longer a person recognized by any state, not entitled to an education or a vote, denied basic humanity and recognition of her existence.

Since I authored my initial blog post on this issue in October, "Dominican Republic's Disappearing People," tensions have escalated, and physical violence has been directed at persons of Haitian descent by citizens of the Dominican Republic empowered by the recent court ruling.

One particularly unnerving image depicted a man tied to a tree while a mob mercilessly beat him in broad daylight, eerily reminiscent of old lynching scenes in the southern United States. Although the violence does not appear to be state-sponsored, the Dominican Republic's judicial proclamation so devalued Haitian life that its nation's citizens feel comfortable publicly beating a man to death.

I recently read a story by a Holocaust survivor in which she describes one of the Nazis' first steps toward dehumanizing Jewish people: rescinding their citizenship and labeling them as persons of no nation in their passports. The Holocaust survivor further discusses the psychological impact that essentially becoming a "non-person" caused her as a child. We are obligated to learn from history, to learn to recognize the symptoms of social ills like genocide and racism, and manifestations of those ills, like public beatings and denial of basic humanity, and we must apply the antidote to prevent widespread social infection of the disease of inequity.

For Diana, we must entertain an economic boycott of business and the tourism industry in the Dominican Republic until the Constitutional Court reverses its decision and restores human rights to persons of Haitian lineage.

While I hold fast to the implementation of an economic boycott, I cannot speak without a discussion of the ramifications of a fiscal affront. As leaders, we too often speak with a misplaced confidence in notions of eternal truth -- we must uphold human rights at all costs. One should not lead with authority absent truth. The truth is that economic sanctions are an imperfect solution to a complex problem.

An economic boycott in the Dominican Republic to uphold the rights of displaced Haitians and restore international human rights norms will come at the cost of innocent suffering negatively impacting the poor and marginalized members of society. The legislatures and judges' children will still have food on their tables and uniforms to wear to school. The maids who work at the hotels where business will suffer from a boycott of tourism -- what will they feed their children when they lose their jobs?

Although the human rights violations warrant economic sanctions, I cannot in good conscience masquerade an economic boycott as a perfect solution when in reality, "helping" restore the rights of some will trammel the rights of innocent others. We must continue to advocate for human rights anywhere forces of inequity threaten justice, but we must also acknowledge our own imperfections, imbuing resolution with a greater sense of truth.

I pray for the persons of Haitian lineage who are suffering in the Dominican Republic, and for the innocent citizens who will be negatively impacted by people participating in an economic boycott to restore international human rights. I pray that one day Diana will visit the island of her father's birth, an island home to two nations, and whether she steps foot in the Haiti half or the Dominican Republic half, she will be treated as a whole person.