|Jesuit Refugee Service/USA calls on Mr. Ki-moon to emphasize that the new nationality law must be implemented, and that the international community, including all UN agencies, will continue to monitor the situation closely.|
(Washington, D.C.) July 14, 2014 — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits the Dominican Republic Tuesday to meet with President Medina, other government officials, and representatives of the various UN agencies in the country. While the Dominican Republic has taken some positive steps in recent months, that progress is fragile and much work remains to be done. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA joins our Jesuit partners in the Dominican Republic in calling on the Secretary-General to include in both private meetings and his public remarks concerns about the ongoing denial of nationality rights to Dominicans of Haitian descent in the country.
While discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent has been widespread in the Dominican Republic for more than a decade, the issue gained international attention last year as the result of a ruling from the Dominican Constitutional Court (TC 168-14).
Although being born in the Dominican Republic was previously sufficient to be recognized as a Dominican national, much as it is in the U.S., the ruling redefined the country’s citizenship laws such that the children of undocumented migrants, despite being born on Dominican soil, were no longer considered citizens. The ruling further applied this new standard retroactively back to 1929, affecting up to four generations of Dominicans and as many as 240,000 people.
Under great pressure from civil society within the Dominican Republic, including the Jesuit social center Centro Bono and Reconocido, a movement of affected young people that is accompanied by Centro Bono, as well as the international community more broadly, the President of the Dominican Republic pledged to create legislation to address the situation.
On May 23, the Dominican Congress approved legislation offered by President Medina. This legislation divided Dominicans of Haitian descent into two groups — those who had been able to attain a birth certificate or other form of identification document from the Dominican government, and those who had not. For those individuals with some documentation, the legislation is a long overdue source of relief as it recognizes their nationality.
However, of those who were never able to attain any form of documentation — either because their parents did not attempt to formally register their birth with the government, something that is relatively common among poor rural families, or because the local civil registry official refused to grant a birth certificate as the result of discrimination — the legislation falls short. It says that, far from being recognized as citizens, this second group can apply to be naturalized after two years, itself a difficult process given the documentation requirements.
Despite the shortcomings of the law, it has been recognized as an important first step toward resolving the nationality crisis. Unfortunately, much work — including careful monitoring by civil society in-country and by the international community — remains to ensure that these small gains are cemented and that the law is implemented in a reasonable and non-discriminatory manner.
While the law was passed in May, the government only recently issued draft implementing regulations, providing a ten day comment period. We call on the Dominican government to strongly consider the comments from civil society to strengthen these regulations so that the process is truly accessible to all Dominicans of Haitian descent who might be eligible.
Particularly important are the need to extend the period of implementation beyond 90 days and to locate offices geographically close to communities with large numbers of eligible individuals. Given significant challenges regarding transportation and access to information — especially accurate information about a highly technical process — the 90 day period currently envisioned is entirely unrealistic.
It will also be critical for the government to provide strong oversight to ensure that there is no discrimination at the local level, especially given the inherently discretionary nature of whether or not someone has provided sufficient documentation to prove their eligibility.
In a separate, but quite positive process, the Dominican government is currently implementing a regularization plan for undocumented migrants in the country, the majority of whom are Haitian. However, the initial document needed to begin the process must come from the government of Haiti (or other country of birth). Unfortunately, the Haitian government, to date, has not met its responsibility to provide documentation to its citizens. Haiti must work harder to enhance the capacity of its civil registry to meet this important need.
While the Secretary-General’s trip to the Dominican Republic is short, we hope that he will highlight the needs of both migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the country, challenging the Dominican government to continue to move forward on both fronts.
In particular, we call on Mr. Ki-moon to emphasize that the new nationality law must be implemented, and that the international community, including all UN agencies, will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Advocating for Stateless Dominicans in the Dominican Republic