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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers report of the Dominican Republic

25 February 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today completed its consideration of the combined thirteenth and fourteenth periodic report of the Dominican Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Rhadys I. Abreu de Polanco, Ambassador and Human Rights Officer, Ministry of External Relations of the Dominican Republic, said that the Dominican Republic worked to ensure that there was no promotion of racism for the purpose of governmental policies and that fundamental rights were guaranteed and upheld across the country. The State had taken many measures to ensure that the Dominican Republic was far removed from the practices of exploitation which had been employed in the past in the sugarcane fields. Efforts were also made to register undocumented migrants.

Committee Experts noted that the situation of those in an irregular situation required urgent attention. The lack of a national human rights institute and the absence of a Human Rights Ombudsman in the country were matters of grave concern. The Experts asked questions about the situation of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic and raised issues related to undocumented persons, trafficking, the prevention of hate speech, and the criminalization of discrimination in Dominican legislation.

In concluding remarks, Pastor Elias Murillo Martinez, Country Rapporteur for the Dominican Republic, commended the delegation for its efforts to answer all questions and said that the Dominican Republic was facing a structural problem with regard to racism and migration.

Rhadys I. Abreu de Polanco, Ambassador and Human Rights Officer, Ministry of External Relations of the Dominican Republic, thanked the Committee for their contributions and noted that the current registration process was instrumental in reaching undocumented people.

The delegation of the Dominican Republic included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Youth, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Public Health, the National Council for Children, the Senate, and the Permanent Mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Friday, 1 March, when it will adopt its annual report and its concluding observations and recommendations on the country reports that it reviewed this session, and then close the session.

Report

The combined thirteenth and fourteenth periodic report of the Dominican Republic can be read here (CERD/C/DOM/13-14).

Presentation of the Report

RHADYS I. ABREU DE POLANCO, Ambassador and Human Rights Officer, Ministry of External Relations of the Dominican Republic, said that Article 39 of the Constitution stipulated the equality of rights, freedoms and opportunities without any type of discrimination on the basis of age, gender, nationality, religion, family ties, social or personal status for all persons living in the Dominican Republic, which took the necessary steps to eliminate all types of discrimination. The Dominican Republic respected its obligations under international law and worked to ensure that there was no promotion of racism for the purpose of governmental policies.

The existence of minorities could not be ignored and immigrants in the Dominican Republic were not minority groups in the sociological sense of the term. The fundamental rights to education, health care, transport, free movement and freedom of expression and the ongoing ability of nationals and foreigners to live side by side as well as the right to equal access to the justice system were regular, not exceptional, and were guaranteed and upheld across the country.

For over half a century there was no other State on the American continent or outside that had been as welcoming to the Haitian people as the Dominican Republic. The population census conducted by the National Statistics Office in 2010 gathered information about the various attributes of Dominicans but did not focus upon ethnic groups. The population born in the Dominican Republic was just over 9 million, while persons residing in the Dominican Republic who had been born outside the country were almost 400,000.

Discriminatory practices were sanctioned and punished by the Dominican Constitution. The Dominican Republic did not defend, practise or foster any type of systematic violation of human rights. Everyone living in the country enjoyed free movement from one area of the country or sector of the economy to another. Of course, those who arrived in the country illegally did not have the same access to the labour market as legal residents. The population living in the sugarcane plantations was predominantly Dominican and Haitian and the total number of those working in the sugarcane fields stood at 14,500.

There was no structural racism in the Dominican Republic or segregation based on colour. The State had taken many measures to ensure that and the Dominican Republic was far removed from practices of exploitation which had been employed in the past in the sugarcane fields. Immigration now was free and occurred through social networks established by the immigrants themselves. More recently immigration had become mainly urban, with a smaller percentage engaging in agricultural activities.

Haitian and Dominicans were not ethnic groups in conflict. Haiti and the Dominican Republic had never had a military conflict to claim territorial boundaries. As dictatorships disappeared on both sides of the borders in recent years, both nations engaged in confidence-building so that items on the bilateral agenda could be dealt with to the benefit of both countries.

During the catastrophe of 2010, the Dominican people and government had actively demonstrated their solidarity with the Haitian population.

JOSE RICARDO TAVERAS, Director-General of Migration of the Dominican Republic, said that geopolitical and historical factors placed the Dominican Republic in a complex situation. During the colonial period, the Dominican Republic was not as economically strong as Cuba. Foreign manpower had reached the Dominican Republic at the start of the twentieth century and, as the economy grew stronger, the population also grew. Slavery had contributed to creating a mixed nation, which had now come to constitute the Dominican identity. Dominicans, therefore, did not understand attempts to stigmatize the Dominican Republic for supposedly having a racist culture, although there might have been symptoms of racial discrimination in the country like everywhere else in the world. There had been no single incident of prosecution for racial discrimination, and since the abolishment of slavery there had been a legal framework in place that maintained a firm prohibition on slavery, now a thing of the past.

The Dominican Constitution today was in line with international instrument obligations. Any foreigner living in the Dominican Republic had the same rights as Dominican citizens. Almost all Dominican citizens were to one degree or another of African descent and the country was the perfect example of integration of all ethnicities. There was also a Jewish community in the Dominican Republic which was totally integrated too. Dominicans were proud to be a melting pot of different races, which was also reflected in the ethnic background of delegation members.

Questions by Experts

PASTOR ELÍAS MURILLO MARTÍNEZ, Country Rapporteur for the report of the Dominican Republic, said that the Government should try other ways of tackling the situation in the Dominican Republic. Among other things, it would be useful to carry out a large national survey including questions on ethnicity, organizing a workshop with the participation of civil society, and appointing an ombudsman responsible for issues of racial discrimination.

The Dominican Republic played an important role in the broad Latin American region, which was characterized by a “racialized” social system in which persons with darker skin had been placed at the bottom of the social ladder. Democratization and the consolidation of the indigenous peoples movement were important recent developments in the region. Today there was growing awareness that the problem of discrimination was a structural systemic issue which demanded daring actions not only on the part of the States concerned but also on the part of the international community.

Ten per cent of the Dominican population lived in extreme poverty and unemployment stood at 14 per cent. Dominicans wanted to keep their distance from Haiti, which had been hampered by economic circumstances in the post-colonial period. In the Dominican Republic a strong national sentiment had been combined with an anti-Haitian sentiment as a means of boosting national identity. Above and beyond a State policy there was widespread social resistance and opposition to the Haitian presence in the Dominican Republic, which was a major obstacle in the eradication of racial discrimination. The requirement of establishing a civil registry was urgent, because the percentage of undocumented persons in the country stood at 12 cent, 25 per cent among the poorer segments of the population. The lack of documentation was primarily associated with foreigners, the vast majority of whom were considered to be a population in transit. Dominican legislation made registration of non-Dominicans particularly difficult and had left many persons, especially of Haitian origin, stateless.

Mr. Murillo Martínez noted that the Dominican Republic had been the first country to show its solidarity with neighbouring Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010. Regarding compliance with the Convention, many measures had been adopted in recent years in a number of areas, such as education, healthcare, cultural policy, and constitutional reform.

Nevertheless, there remained many issues which required attention. What had the Dominican Republic done to promote the cultural integration of African persons and persons of African descent? What was being done to prevent hate speech in the media and in society in general? What measures had been adopted to speed up the review of the Criminal Code? What type of sanctions had been applied in cases of discrimination? Did Haitians working in the Dominican Republic have the right to demand a written employment contract? How did the Dominican authorities assess the right to nationality of persons, particularly those of Haitian origin? What measures had been taken to improve the civil registry conditions? Why did the Dominican Republic refuse renewing the identification documents of Dominicans of Haitian descent? What was the State doing to render effective the Human Rights Ombudsman in line with the Paris Principles? What profile was being sought for the Ombudsman? What was the current regulation in force applying to deportations?

An Expert requested further details on the Dominican strategy adopted to combat trafficking in persons. He expressed grave concern at the dire living conditions of undocumented persons of Haitian origin and said that it was in the interest of the Dominican Republic to provide specific information and examples of efforts made to tackle that issue.

Another Committee Expert commended the Dominican Republic on its high-level delegation and asked whether the population was still identified by their colour of skin, which would run counter to the State’s reluctance to gather information on the ethnicity of Dominicans as a means of promoting national unity.

Reports had been received by the Committee about racial discrimination on the basis of colour and national origin in the Dominican society, said another Expert, including a Dominican television programme which drew attention to the refusal of night clubs to allow entry to persons of a darker skin. Given that that sort of discrimination was illegal under Dominican law, what remedies were there available to persons who had been subjected to discriminatory behaviour? Moreover, information had been received from non-governmental organizations that following the cholera outbreak in Haiti massive deportations of migrants had taken place in the Dominican Republic under the pretext that the deportations were necessary in order to protect the local population from the cholera epidemic.

An Expert noted that there were major differences between the official report of the Dominican Republic and reports submitted by United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, which mentioned a widespread practice of exclusion and discrimination in the country, and stressed the lack of adequate policies to combat the problem. What could the Dominican Republic do to change the situation and uphold human rights? Concerning legislative matters, it was crucial for international laws to prevail and take precedence over domestic legislation. Further, the Dominican Republic needed to review its provisions in the legislation under Article 4 of the Convention and also needed to provide a clear definition of discrimination. The situation of those in an irregular situation and of undocumented children required urgent attention. The lack of a national human rights institute and the absence of a Human Rights Ombudsman in the country were matters of grave concern.

An Expert noted that in its report the Dominican Republic frankly identified ongoing challenges and acknowledged that there was still a lot to be done in certain areas. He said that there was a lack of precision in the criminalization and definition of the terms “discrimination” and “act of discrimination” in Dominican legislation, and pointed out that the lack of complaints was not necessarily a sign that discrimination did not exist but could be symptomatic of a number of other problems which needed to be dealt with. What measures was the Dominican Republic taking or planning to take in order to prevent the confiscation or destruction of identity documentation which could lead to statelessness? Additional information was requested on the political party which aimed to bring together Dominicans of Haitian origin. Also, what was the Dominican Republic doing to strengthen the status of the Ombudsman, who had not been appointed yet?

An Expert said that racism had deep roots in the history of the Dominican Republic. To many Dominicans racism was closely linked with Haitians, who were often unfairly blamed, for example for the recent spread of cholera from Haiti into the Dominican Republic, and deported. Was the importance of persons of African descent taught in Dominican education?

Another Expert commended the delegation on its recent report and said that the discussion so far had been constructive. She pointed out that, contrary to what was stated in the Dominican report, the Committee had never said or suggested that apartheid existed in the Dominican Republic but had merely made recommendations and highlighted outstanding issues that required attention.

The issue of the lack of court cases concerning racial discrimination in the Dominican Republic was raised by an Expert, who said that not seeking legal remedies did not mean that there was no problem. Recognizing a problem was the first step to resolving it. Policies required inputs and target groups, and complaints could help to develop effective policies after identifying vulnerable groups. Was there political will in the Dominican Republic to tackle racial discrimination?

An Expert asked who had the burden of proof in criminal cases of racial discrimination. Also, was the Dominican Republic going to make a declaration in connection with Article 14 of the Convention? What was the position of the Dominican Republic in relation to the ratification of the amendment to Article 8 of the Convention, which was very important?

Responses of the Delegation

Responding to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that the cases of two undocumented children brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights were closed after they received their birth certificates in 2001. Steps were then taken to change the procedure to register children and to ensure they acquired the Dominican nationality. During the Universal Periodic Review of the Dominican Republic, in November 2009, the country committed to ensure that the rights of people from African descent would be guaranteed and upheld. The National Commission for Human Rights was responsible for drafting human rights reports and giving recommendations on the ratification of human rights international instruments. This institution complied with the Paris Principles.

Great achievements were under progress in the education sector. The budget devoted to education, which was a key element of development, increased last year from 0.7 per cent to 4 per cent of the national budget. This issue was on top of the Government’s agenda and major investments were made in this regard. There were five major lines on which the money would be spent: illiteracy, school drop-outs, and the improvement of the training of teachers, of school curricula, and of the school buildings themselves. The State provided lunches, uniforms, and books to pupils. Any child in the Dominican Republic had to go through very simple procedures to attend a school, even in the absence of a birth certificate.

The delegation said that the Dominican Republic had implemented most of recommendations it received from the Committee during the previous review. There was a national action plan against racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance. Significant efforts were made in this respect. The Dominican Republic made sure that administrative documents were given to all residents, of which many were foreigners. No ombudsman was nominated yet, but the budget allocation and all criteria for its implementation were now in place. Latin America covered two thirds of the American continent and all countries in this region were very different countries with different contexts. The developments that led to independence in the nineteenth century allowed the extinction of slavery in the Dominican Republic. This situation had led to the current melting-pot of races. The approach to racism and slavery was such an important issue, it could not be taken out of the historical context of the Dominican Republic. Poverty and structural insufficiencies were unacceptable realities that the State fought every day.

When Haiti was struck by the 2010 earthquake, the Dominican Republic invested about 15 per cent of its health budget to treat Haitians. Some 55,000 foreign students attended Dominican schools, without paying any fee. During the dictatorial era, which ended in 1961, a strong anti-Haitian sentiment spread in the population. But this was 40 years ago and these past mistakes were now part of history. The Dominican society now enjoyed a complete integration between the races. The Dominican Republic abided by national and international law establishing how the registered alien must be treated. Regarding the issue of nationality, the delegation noted that it was at the discretion of each State to decide how to attribute its nationality. Despite the fact that the issue of nationality was a sovereign matter, the Dominican Republic had signed an agreementwith Haiti on this question. In this framework, seasonal workers were registered with the help of the International Organization for Migration. The sugar cane fields of the past, with deplorable conditions, were no more a reality. People with an identification card could access medical centres and other facilities. In addition, freedom of movement was guaranteed for temporary workers.

Regarding the civil register, the Dominican Republic was fully aware of its rights and duties, both at the national and international levels. An important concern was the national plan for the regularization of foreigners, which was currently in the process of its adoption by relevant authorities. The delegation denied erroneous allegations of spread-out anti-Haitian sentiments in the Dominican Republic. Except in special circumstances, there were no major tensions between the Dominican and Haitian communities. The State had not been informed of any assault against Haitians or deportation in the context of the cholera epidemic. In connection with refugees, the Dominican Republic now had a National Refugee Council, which would soon conclude the review of asylum seekers’ applications.

Questions by Experts

ALEXEI S. AVTONOMOV, President of the Committee, assured the delegation that the Committee was a group of experts set up to help the States parties and not a judicial body. Sometimes, the Committee asked difficult questions, but this was in order to solve problems. He noted that in each country, laws and the situation on the ground were not the same thing.

An Expert said that the challenge was to find a common ground between the Committee and the delegation. Sharing some of his conclusions, the Expert said that the many censuses, except one, had not taken the ethnic groups into account. Therefore, the data regarding the proportion of people of African descent in the overall population was not accurate. In particular, there was a major inconsistency in the report with the different figures regarding the Haitian community living in the Dominican Republic. He hoped that the Dominican Republic would draw the conclusion that the views of the Committee were in line with the views of many citizens in the Dominican Republic.

An Expert said that international guidelines existed on how to attribute nationality. The fundamental human rights instruments called upon States to fight against discrimination in this context. If the delegation looked at recent reports to other Committees, they would find references to the question of racial discrimination. What was the truth in these reports? He also noted that there were different views between the Committee and the delegation on how the State implemented its obligations under the Convention. The starting point of any country analysis should stem from day-to-day life. The question of “consent vis-à-vis discrimination”, mentioned in the report, had still not been addressed.

Responses by Delegation

The delegation said that there was no conflict on the ground based on skin colour. No complaint had been lodged in the context of racial discrimination. There were some incidents involving State officials, who should be prosecuted. Freedom of movement was guaranteed to every resident and there was no institutional segregation between the communities.

The delegation said that the Haitian community was very reticent to be registered, so the statistics were not very accurate. The issue of the presence of Haitians in the country was highly sensitive. Two million Haitians could be living in the Dominican Republic, according to unofficial figures. Haiti was undergoing serious institutional difficulties and faced a complicated situation. Regarding the acquisition of nationality, the Supreme Court amended the law to exclude individuals that were "in transit" and to include "non-residents" (individuals with expired residency visas and undocumented workers).

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked if the delegation could explain who the poorest people were in the Dominican Republic, adding that one had to remain aware of the particular context of the country. Even if the historical background was important, it was what was happening now that was of crucial importance. It was worrying that the delegation insisted on the fact that there was no racial discrimination in the Dominican Republic. When would the new system of birth registration, based on the “pink certificate”, enter into force?

An Expert asked why the report of the delegation contained no tables with figures on the economic and social situation, notably regarding Haitians in the Dominican Republic. With tables containing indicators, the facts on the ground would be unquestionable. He asked if undocumented migrants received information about the possibility to regularise their status. The delegation had no figures that would show that discrimination did not exist in the country.

Another Committee Expert said that several articles of the Criminal Codes were mentioned in the report. However, article 4 of the Convention obliged States to criminalize a series of action regarding racist propaganda. He asked if the Dominican legislation was in line with the Convention’s specific provision in that matter.

Another Expert noted that many national instruments mentioned in the report had been adopted before the adoption of human rights international instruments. He said that the retroactive application of the nationality law had given rise to a situation where people who were acknowledged as Dominicans were no more citizens and vice versa. Regarding discrimination in the job market, he asked what remedies were available for victims. When no complaints were lodged on the ground of racial discrimination in a Member State, the Committee generally considered that this meant other problems existed, notably in terms of access to justice.

An Expert said that today there were no complaints, but there had been complaints in the past. So why were there no complaints now? He asked the delegation for information on the repartition of ethnic groups according to the last census.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that many of the historical heroes and founding fathers of the Dominican Republic were black people. Many workers were Haitian or of Haitian descent and there was no institutional discrimination. Moreover, the Constitution guaranteed the fundamental rights of every Dominican, irrespective of their origin or skin colour. Isolated incidents could happen anywhere, but there was no structural racial discrimination in the Dominican Republic. The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic was open to all, including those who felt discriminated against. He noted that the new Constitution provided that children of undocumented migrants could not acquire Dominican nationality. But they were not stateless, as their nationality were that of their parents.

Many studies were carried out by the National Council for Children, which yielded figures on the programmes currently fighting poverty. The “hunger map” identified about 46 per cent of the population as poor. Based on this study, targeted steps were taken. “Pink certificates” were given in order to provide some kind of certification that a child was born alive.

The delegation said that figures and documentation on the issue of poverty could be provided to the Committee. The Criminal Code contained elements related to the discrimination of people, including on the basis of their religion or ethnic groups. There were also provisions against hate crimes and hate speech. All areas would be covered by the new Criminal Code that was currently being drafted. He noted that the Direction of Migration only had four buses, so it could not engage in any mass deportation. The judicial system, pursuant to the 2010 Constitution, was free and complaints could be received even in the most remote areas. When the delegation said that there was no racism in the country, it was not saying that there were no minor incidents. But there was no institutional racism or racist culture in the Dominican Republic.

Concluding Remarks

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Country Rapporteur for the Dominican Republic, said that nobody had ever said that there was a State racism in the Dominican Republic. But there was a structural problem in that regard and with migration. The members of the Committee noted these situations, as did other Committees. He said that the approach towards undocumented migrants coming from Haiti was not in line with international regulations.

RHADYS I. ABREU DE POLANCO, Ambassador and Human Rights Officer, Ministry of External Relations of the Dominican Republic, thanked the Committee experts for their contributions. She noted that the current registration process was instrumental in reaching undocumented people.

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