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Participants in meeting on human rights organized by JRS Dominican Republic and the Jano Sikse Border Network organization in the border town of Jimani, Dominican Republic, December 10, 2011. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

By Drew Hendrickson, JRS Dominican Republic

(Jimani, Dominican Republic) December 21, 2011 — In recognition of the International Day of Human Rights on December 10, Jesuit Refugee Service Dominican Republic and the Jano Sikse Border Network organized an open conversation among concerned parties here to discuss the situation of human rights violations in the area.

In recent weeks, a wave of violence has swept through Jimani and its surrounding towns, claiming the lives of three people. Two others have gone missing. Many have been injured in reprisal attacks, and threats have kept entire communities from leaving their homes. This violence began in mid-November when a person was killed over a dispute at an international market, and an alarming cycle of violence has continued since.

This human rights conference brought together human rights workers, church leaders, military authorities, environmental officials, and a commission of youth leaders.  

In his introduction, Leonel Florian, the legal representative for the JRS office in Jimani, framed the conversation by saying, "We know that human rights are regularly violated in and around Jimani. We need to investigate, document the information we find, and analyze every case so we can think of new ways to confront this problem."

Several human rights workers reported that immigrants are often forced to bribe migration authorities to avoid being forcibly repatriated. Many immigrants must also pay a heavy tax when they bring goods to sell at the international markets.

These violations, along with the structural violations of inadequate health care, education, and other basic services, were the primary complaints that emerged throughout the conversation.

In response to a suggestion that authorities intervene to stop abuses in another town along the border, an officer in the Terrestrial Border Security Specialists force (CESFRONT) said, "This is not a military issue. It is an issue where political authorities must intervene, not the military. The mayor of your town should do something."

"He is doing something," a JRS human rights observer replied, "He's the one making money off all these bribes and extortions."

To conclude the meeting, Florian announced that JRS would be publishing a monthly human rights report and would distribute it to all government offices and civil society agencies.

He also encouraged the participants to continue thinking of creative solutions to these problems and to bring their ideas to future meetings.

"Our role is to make everyone aware of these violations and to get everyone involved in making the situation better," said Florian. 

"That’s the idea behind International Human Rights Day, but it shouldn't stop here in this meeting. We will continue to speak out against these violations and continue working to create a more just environment."

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