Thousands Remain in Limbo Six Months after Constitutional Court Revoked Citizenship (Webcast)

Panelists left to right: Manuel Dandre (MOSCHTA), Charles Abbott (CEJIL), Ana María Belique (Centro Bono), Wade McMullen (RFK Center), and Francisco Quintana (CEJIL). Photo by Elizabeth Gibson.

If you missed this panel, please check out the webcast.  The Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project also will be hosting a related event at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 11, in Hotung Room 2000 for the launch of a report on the immediate and devastating impact that statelessness has on the lives of children in the Dominican Republic.

By Shaw Drake*

Six months after the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic controversially redefined the scope of Dominican citizenship, thousands of futures remain in limbo as human rights groups take to the Inter-American Commission to demand respect for their rights.

“This decision is abhorrent and humiliating to human rights in the Dominican Republic,” said Manuel Dandre, a lawyer from the Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers (MOSCHTA).

Following their statements before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Monday, a group of international and Dominican organizations expressed their concerns during a panel at the Georgetown University Law Center today. Dominicanos por Derecho, the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights, and the Center for Justice and International Law(CEJIL), joined by coalition partners MOSCHTA and Centro Bono, presented arguments against the decision of the Constitutional Court and criticized the State’s lack of action in the six months following.

In September of 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic issued TC Ruling 168/13, which redefined the scope of Dominican citizenship to exclude those born in the Dominican Republic but descended from parents or grandparents who arrived in the country after 1929 and maintained an “irregular” immigration status. Many in the international community believe that the decision leads to arbitrary and discriminatory deprivation of nationality and has left thousands stateless.

MOSCHTA’s Dandre said the Constitutional Court decision flies in the face of well-established international legal standards and inter-American system jurisprudence.  For example, among Dandre’s colleagues at MOSCHTA is the lawyer who won the landmark Yean & Bosico case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, establishing that the Dominican Republic has violated international standards with respect to the right to nationality.  MOSCHTA’s experts believe the September Constitutional Court decision along with three recent affirmations of the decision in other cases demonstrate a judicial system unwilling to recognize the State’s international legal obligations.

Furthermore, notably absent from Monday’s hearings and yesterday’s panel was Juliana Deguis, the defendant in the September Constitutional Court decision.  The Dominican government denied Juliana’s exit from the country to come to Washington, D.C., for Monday’s Inter-American Commission hearings regarding her case. Just yesterday the Dominican Minister of Immigration stated that Juliana could only leave the Dominican Republic through Haiti, “her country” of nationality.  Inter-American Commissioners expressed serious concern over this denial as it directly contradicts the precautionary measures granted to Juliana by the Commission last year and denies Juliana the right to seek justice before the Commission.

Leaders of the coalition petitioning against the government believe that the denial of Juliana’s ability to pursue her rights through an international forum is a clear act of “bad faith” on the part of the State and demonstrates the structural discrimination that exists within the country.

Wade McMullen of the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights, represents Juliana and 79 similarly situated individuals before the Inter-American Commission.  During the panel McMullen outlined “myths” propagated by the Dominican government with respect to the issue of nationality in the Dominican Republic.  According to McMullen, the Dominican government has confused and conflated the right to nationality with migration issues. McMullen said that credit is due to the State for its efforts to address the “irregular” status of migrants; however, Juliana and many others were actually born in the Dominican Republic and should not be subject to “regularization.” Rather, they should be granted the citizenship to which they are legally entitled. McMullen argues the Constitutional Courts decision completely ignored Inter-American jurisprudence and violates myriad international rights, including the arbitrary deprivation of nationality, prohibition against discrimination, and statelessness. 

McMullen also noted that the Dominican Republic is a signatory to the 1961 Convention on Statelessness, meaning it cannot take any action to defeat the object and purpose of the treaty.

The Dominican government has repeatedly asserted that it is in the final stages of a “Regularization Plan,” which will address the situations of all those affected by the recent court ruling.  Another panelist, Ana Maria Belique, who is the leader of the social movement Reconocido, said that many oppose the assertion that those affected should be subject to any form of naturalization when they are in fact entitled to birthright citizenship.

“We did not discuss the regularization plan because we are talking about Dominicans,” she said. “I am Dominican, and there is no reason to discuss a plan that is not needed to recognize me as Dominican.”

Belique and other members of the coalition are working to bring the voice of affected individuals to the Inter-American Commission and to their own government.

“Now they don’t speak alone,” she said. “They speak with other affected people who are now empowered to demand their rights.”

The impact of statelessness in the Dominican Republic is precisely the focus of this year’s Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project. On April 11, 2014, the Institute will publish and launch this year's report, “Left Behind: How Statelessness in the Dominican Republic Limits Children’s Access to Education.”  The institute’s report is the culmination of a year-long project, including a fact-finding mission to the Dominican Republic to study the toll of statelessness on the most vulnerable population, children.  At the launch event on April 11, student researchers will outline their findings and recommendations to the Dominican government to ensure the rights of the children affected by the Constitutional Court decision.

The Inter-American Commission’s standing-room-only hearings, yesterdays panel, and the Human Rights Institute’s upcoming report demonstrate a growing level of international concern and condemnation of the situation in the Dominican Republic.



* Shaw Drake is a student researcher with the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute Fact-Finding Project. The views reflected in this post are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Human Rights Institute. You can reach Mr. Drake at shaw.drake@gmail.com.