THE BLOG
11/13/2014 11:16 pm ET Updated Jan 13, 2015

The Dominican Government Is Cementing the Foundations of Apartheid

It is over a year since the highest court in the Dominican Republic issued Resolution TC 0168/13, a ruling that stripped the citizenship of up to 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Since this ruling, the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the Dominican government of have used numerous methods to avoid legal responsibility for their actions, which violate the very Constitution of the Dominican Republic and international human rights treaties to which the country is party. The depressing reality is that the Dominican state is 10 years into a process of constructing a system of legal apartheid for Dominicans born to Haitian parents. This group of second- and third-generation Dominicans has always faced opposition to being fully recognized as Dominican citizens, but their government appears intent on legally cementing this discrimination -- and is increasingly close to this goal.

Apartheid is best known as the system of racial segregation in 20th-century South Africa. It is defined by the United Nations as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them." These acts include "legislative measures that discriminate in the political, social, economic and cultural fields."

Race is a complex social construct and not a universally accepted concept, but the United Nations defines racial discrimination as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

There is a long and documented history in the Dominican Republic of prejudice against the Dominican children of Haitian immigrants. This exercised prejudice fits the United Nations' definition of racial discrimination, and recent legal steps by the Dominican government appear to be intent on advancing towards a legally segregated society that can be considered an apartheid state.

Until 2010, the Dominican Constitution granted citizenship to all children born in the country -- with a few exceptions. One of these exceptions was that children born to "foreigners in transit" are not Dominican by birth. In the Constitution, "in transit" referred to the children of individuals who were temporarily in the country for a period of up to 10 days.

The process of constructing a separate legal existence for Dominicans of Haitian descent began in 2004, when the definition of "in transit" was legislatively reinterpreted from 10 days to a broad definition that includes anyone born to two undocumented migrant parents -- irrespective of how long they have lived in the country. Since this initial step, the Dominican government has taken incremental steps to further restrict the ability of Dominicans of Haitian descent to live as recognized citizens, culminating in TC 0168/13, which effectively stripped multiple generations of their citizenship.

Dominicans of Haitian descent are a population that have been intentionally undocumented by the state. This is not a problem of bureaucracy or an immigration issue. This is a problem that the state itself has created. Many Dominicans born to Haitian parents do not have national identification cards or birth certificates because this documentation has been repeatedly denied by the authorities at the local and national level. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that many Haitian descendants live in rural agricultural areas where they are more vulnerable to discrimination and separation from government services.

The Dominican government has been successful in confusing the issue and obscuring the fact that the majority of the Haitian descendant community are Dominican citizens, not immigrants. The idea of defining Haitian ancestry as inherently foreign and incompatible with Dominican identity is so deep-rooted that it is not uncommon for sympathetic Dominicans and Dominican Americans to still refer to this group as Haitians, not as fellow Dominicans. There is evidence of government institutions routinely denying this community access to state-issued documents for arbitrary reasons like having a Haitian-sounding last name and for having non-straightened hair if you're a woman.

The actions of the Dominican state since 2004 are systematically creating a permanent stateless underclass in the country with severely limited rights. The court ruling TC 0168/13 was the defeat of a sustained legal effort by Dominican advocates who utilized every domestic legal process in order to confront this racial discrimination. It is hard to have any further hope for justice within the internal mechanisms of the country. Dominican civil society groups have been fighting for years, and the legal situation is deteriorating.

In the year since TC 0168/13, no single international organization has approved of or supported the legal interpretations of the Dominican government regarding the right to citizenship of Dominicans born to Haitian parents. Furthermore, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Forum, PetroCaribe, numerous human rights organizations, over 20 U.S.-based national Latino organizations, the U.S. National Bar Association, and prominent writers, activists and academics have spoken out against this discrimination and the troubling precedent that it sets.

The psychological, economic and social cost of this racial discrimination cannot be overstated. Thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent are not able to travel, marry, receive an education, practice law, or exercise other rights and live without an accepted nationality. The video below is a collection of firsthand testimonies describing the challenges of those affected:

In May 2014, the legislature of the Dominican Republic passed Naturalization Law 169-14, which was promoted as a "pathway to citizenship" for Dominicans of Haitian descent. The first step in the "pathway" is that Dominicans of Haitian descent would have to register as foreigners.

There are too many problems with the law and its implementation to give it space for real consideration. The naturalization law has not been legally verified by any organization or institution (besides the Dominican government) as a genuine effort to rectify the problems that the Dominican state itself has created. Furthermore, only 1 percent of the Haitian descendant community have received documentation from the state since the implementation of this law began in May. In response to the rejection of Naturalization Law 169-14 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the government of the Dominican Republic has taken the extreme step of withdrawing itself from the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, leaving the government legally free to continue the process of creating an apartheid society.

To summarize, the Dominican government has made numerous changes and reinterpretations of the Constitution and laws that determine citizenship over the past 10 years. These changes are targeted at marginalizing one specific minority group -- Haitian-descendant Dominicans -- and denying their access to the full rights of citizenship like education, marriage, property ownership, freedom of movement, and political participation. In response to internal and international pressure, the government has not significantly changed its course of action and has taken even more extreme measures to restrict this group's right to citizenship. The Dominican government now intends to withdraw from the international court that has consistently found it in violation of international human rights norms.

The most common response of the Dominican government to international criticism is to express the right of national sovereignty and to misconstrue the situation as immigration policy. This is bullshit, and it's apartheid in the Americas. This must be reversed, or the Dominican Republic will find itself isolated.

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I've specifically referred to the Dominican government in this blog post because it is their responsibility to honor the Dominican Constitution. There are varied opinions within Dominican and Dominican-American society around this issue, and a complex political context for why this is happening now. There would not be discriminatory practices against Dominicans of Haitian descent if there weren't domestic support for these policies. However, in a January 2014 survey, 58 percent of Dominicans polled supported the recognition of Dominicans of Haitian descent as Dominican citizens. Views in Dominican society are diverse, but it is clear that the advocates for discrimination are currently in control of the political agenda.

There are numerous Dominican and Dominican-American groups involved in the legal, academic, and social struggle against discrimination in both the Dominican Republic and here in the United States. This blog post would not be possible without the comprehensive research, news and resources that they provide:

Dominicanxs por Derecho (Spanish/English): Dominican Republic-based, with a branches in the United States

We Are All Dominican (Spanish/English): Active in the United States

Reconici.do (Spanish): Youth organizing movement based in the Dominican Republic

Border of Lights (Spanish/English/Kreyol): Active in the Dominican Republic, the United States and Haiti

Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees (English): Active in in Haiti and the United States

CentroBono (Spanish): Faith-based group in the Dominican Republic

Select readings:

"A Timeline of Denationalization"

"Legal Analysis of the Sentencia" (TC 0168/13)