The DR’s racist politicsBy Rickey Singh
Apr 23, 2014
FOR all the outcry, the Dominican Republic (DR), which is seeking to join the Caribbean Community, seems bent on perpetuating anti-black racism, particularly in relation to its citizens of Haitian descent. At least 240,000 of these people have been rendered stateless by a ruling of its constitutional court last September.
Ironically, the ruling of the DR’s court had resulted from an appeal by a DR-born woman of Haitian descent—Juliana Deguis Pierre—against the decision of a lower court in 2012 that rejected her claim to DR nationality and for protection from the country’s constitution.
Since then, despite strong concerns expressed against the ruling by the European Union (EU) and Caricom—it having been earlier denounced by the Inter-American Human Rights Court—the government in Santo Domingo continues to show contempt for public opinion by failing to take any action, such as new legislation, to effectively address the problem resulting from the contentious ruling.
While the Haitian government of president Michel Martelly seems too overwhelmed by domestic problems to seriously engage the DR government, both Caricom and the Organisation of American States also appear to lack the commitment to lean heavily on the DR to correct the obnoxious ruling.
Among Caricom leaders the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, has been outstanding in his interventions to expose the racist dimension of the ruling and implications for both Caricom and the European Union (EU) to carry on “business as usual” with the DR.
Prof Norman Girvan was vigorously involved in coordinating regional responses against the ruling before his death following a fall in Dominica.
A new challenge has now emerged to both the Haitian government and Caricom from Reginald Dumas—the highly respected retired head of Trinidad and Tobago’s public service and former diplomat, currently a commentator on social and political issues in the Express.
Mr Dumas chose the occasion of the 14th memorial lecture in honour of the Grenada-born West Indian legal luminary, Sir Archibald Nedd, to focus attention on his topic of choice: “State-Revoked Citizenship—The Case of the Dominican Republic and Haiti and its Implications for Caricom.” The distinguished lecture series is a sponsored project of the Grenada Bar Association.
Having outlined the origin of the DR court’s ruling that resulted from the initiative of the courageous Juliana Deguis Pierre —Mr Dumas disclosed quite pertinent information and raised questions that both Haiti and Caricom should address—perhaps also the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the EU.
For a start, his observation that as far back as 1991, on a visit to the Dominican Republic, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had become aware that DR citizens of Haitian descent were “being denied their documents on the basis of race”—the basic documents being ID card and birth certificate, the former having to be revalidated every 90 days, without which the citizenship certificate “will not be issued”.
It is relevant to note that this official practice was maintained for decades and when personnel of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited the DR again in 1997, they noted an “increase in this discrimination”.
In the face of Dominicans of Haitian origin being categorised as “in transit persons”, the Inter-American Human Rights Court felt obliged to rule that the phrase “in transit” meant a short period of about ten days, not several years, as is the prevailing experience. Further, it ruled that the migratory status of parents could not be “inherited by children”. Instead of the expected amendments the DR’s supreme court ruled that “intransit” could be interpreted as “absence of legal residence”. That bit of legalistic chicanery expediently changed the argument from “length” of stay to “legal validity” of stay.
Mr Dumas raised some critical questions about the positions of both Haiti and Caricom. For some months, he lamented, the Haitian government kept behaving as if it “wished the whole thing would just blow away...”
Well it hasn’t. The situation has worsened as has been recognised by the EU, Caricom and the OAS, with serious implications for fundamental human rights. Mr Dumas, in his effort to influence movement from words to action, chose to remind Caricom of its Charter of Civil Society.
He would also be aware that, inspiring as the lofty provisions are in that Charter, it lacks legal status since no member state of Caricom has enacted legislation to make it enforceable.
We need to hear from Caricom and its member state Haiti, about when they intend to act in shaming the DR government into changing a racist law that has resulted in rendering stateless so many thousands of people. Nor should it be business as usual for the EU in its relations with the DR government.
After all, the DR is a member of the Cariforum group of states (Caricom plus DR) that have institutionalised business relations with the EU.• Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born, Barbados-based Caribbean journalisthttp://www.trinidadexpress.com/commentaries/The-DRs-racist-politics-256269791.html