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United Nations Experts on racism and minority issues call for recognition, dialogue and policy to combat the reality of racial discrimination in the Dominican Republic



Preliminary Views
29 October 2007

Two UN Experts on racism and minorities have noted in their preliminary views that, while there is no official government policy of discrimination, there is nevertheless a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination against such groups as Haitians, Dominicans of Haitian descent, and more generally against blacks within Dominican society. While there is no legislation that is clearly discriminatory on its face, they highlighted the discriminatory impact of some laws including those in regard to migration, civil status and the granting of Dominican citizenship to persons of Haitian heritage born in the Dominican Republic. This situation requires urgent attention to ensure that the Dominican Republic conforms with its obligations under international human rights law including the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. As a first vital step they urged recognition of the reality of racism and discrimination and the expression of a strong political will at the highest level as well as the establishment of a programme of action to combat all forms of racism and discrimination in consultation with, and inclusive of, all groups within Dominican society.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mr Doudou Diene, and the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms Gay McDougall, concluded a week long visit to the Dominican Republic, during which they consulted with many senior government representatives, members of civil society and community members, academics and students, political parties, media and others. The UN delegation visited Santo Domingo, Dajabon and the border region with Haiti, Santiago and San Pedro de Macoris. They explained that their visit was a normal activity of their mandates and that they had visited numerous countries both in the region and globally to conduct similar investigations. They seek to cooperate fully with and assist the government to combat racism and discrimination. They welcomed the cooperation demonstrated by the government, however expressed regret over ill informed media reports and comments from political figures regarding the nature of their visit.

Mr Diene posed three questions to all of those with whom they met: Does racism and discrimination exist in Dominican society? If so, which groups are affected; what are the manifestations of racism; and what solutions are in place, or should be implemented in order to combat racism and discrimination? Ms McDougall noted her particular mandate’s requirement to investigate the situation of minorities in all countries that she visits, who may face discrimination, may be subject to ill treatment or even violence, and who may lack the opportunities to participate fully in all aspects of society including political life.

In response to their questions the Experts encountered a pronounced divergence in opinions and perceptions regarding the incidence of racism and discrimination between government officials and members of communities and representatives of non-governmental organizations and affected communities. While government representatives almost universally rejected even the possibility of racism in Dominican society, community representatives all spoke emotionally of the reality of racism that they had experienced. The Experts called for a wider and inclusive debate on issues of racism and discrimination within the country, particularly in regard to Dominicans of African descent with darker skin, Haitians, and those Dominicans of Haitian descent, to rebuild confidence across and within communities that there is not a policy of discrimination and exclusion targeted at such groups.

The UN Experts stated that the issue of racism is almost invisible in certain parts of society and in particular amongst elites. They considered that this invisibility may be the reflection or the consequence of several factors: the historical and cultural depth of racism in the whole hemisphere, from slavery and colonization until the present day, the occupation of the Dominican Republic by Haiti and the centrality of the racial factor during Trujillo’s regime. This legacy remains today and helps to perpetuate negative and racist perceptions of Haitians, those of Haitian descent, and more generally against blacks in Dominican society.

Ms McDougall stated: “When people in government refer to “Haitians” it is as if they are a monolithic group, all of whom crossed the border yesterday and illegally. This is patently not the case. We talked to people who are second and third generation born in the Dominican Republic, and who have helped to develop this country for many decades. They complained that they currently live in a climate of uncertainty and fear over their future in the Dominican Republic.” The Independent Expert considers that people of Haitian descent born in this country when the Constitution’s Jus Solis provision was interpreted to grant them citizenship, constitute a minority group with rights as elaborated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities. She has found that in the broad presentation of all people of Haitian descent as being illegal migrants, this settled minority group is experiencing unjustified expulsions, discrimination, denial of their rights and ultimately also denial of legitimate expectations of citizenship.

Ms McDougall and Mr Diene talked with many individuals who explained the problems faced by blacks, both Dominicans and Dominicans of Haitian descent, and witnessed first hand the fact that blacks typically live in worse conditions, are employed in manual and low paid work and suffer a high degree of prejudice. Disturbing references are made to blacks as being “pig feed”, ignorant or unhygienic, and many spoke of their daily experiences of racism, including by administrative officials in registration offices, on public transport and elsewhere. Many reported that, because of their colour or their Haitian looks or name, it is impossible to obtain documents and they are left vulnerable to deportation or expulsion to Haiti, even as Dominican citizens with no connection whatsoever with that country.

The issue of documentation emerged as a major concern for Haitian migrants and those Dominicans of Haitian descent. Many described being left in a ‘legal limbo’ following the Immigration Act of 2004 and subsequent directives for such key issues as birth registration and provision of Identification Documents (Cedulas). Without exception those Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent that the Experts interviewed spoke of their difficulties in obtaining documents, registering their children or gaining copies of previously issued documents, and their fear that their previous legal status could be revoked. Many commented that “circular 17” relating to “suspicious documents” allows low level officials to question or confiscate documents belonging to blacks and those of Haitian descent and that instructions had been given to officials to that effect. Valid identity documents are crucial to accessing a wide variety of rights which many feel are now being arbitrarily withheld from them, such as access to university and the opportunity to find skilled work.

Having analyzed legislation, policy and practice, Ms McDougall and Mr Diene consider that Migration Law No. 285-04 presents problems of conflicts with the Dominican Constitution, retroactivity and discriminatory application.

Young people who were born in Dominican Republic of Haitian parents spoke of their concerns regarding their ability to attend university since they are unable to obtain the required Cedula. Some expressed deep frustration and anger over their treatment noting that they wanted to study, work and make a full contribution to Dominican society but are being prevented from doing so.

The UN Experts visited the border area around Dajabon where Haitians with many varied histories live in fear and conditions of vulnerability and super-exploitation of their labour in a system where all of their rights are subject to the arbitrary rejection and abuse by low level officials, police and military with power, limited instructions and little accountability. They visited communities of Haitians living in extreme and appalling conditions of poverty in marked contrast to their Dominican neighbours. The UN delegation also visited bateys in the San Pedro de Macoris region where sugar cane workers explained their situations and expressed their frustration that having given their lives to the sugar cane plantations they are left in conditions of extreme poverty, with no pensions or social security due to their lack of full legal status.

Mr Diene noted: “A cultural and ethical strategy is needed to uproot the very deep structures of discrimination and address the invisibility and silence of minority groups and others facing discrimination. Education is a key component in this long-term project and the media also has an important responsibility. The struggle against racism must be closely linked to building a multi-cultural society based on the principles of democracy, justice, equality and human rights for all.”

Ms McDougall stated: “Under international law non-citizens have rights that must be respected, protected and enforced by all States and due process must be ensured in the application of domestic law. The human rights obligations of government must also be observed by private actors and the state has a responsibility to also monitor such actors in all sectors of society, including agriculture and construction, to ensure that violations of human rights do not take place.”

Haitians have made an important contribution to the development of Dominican society and the economy of the Dominican Republic, increasingly in diverse sectors. The Experts recognize the current dilemma of sharing a border with Haiti and noted measures taken by the Dominican authorities in the area of humanitarian assistance including, for example, to provide health care facilities to Haitian migrants. The UN Experts believe that finding solutions must be the shared responsibility of both governments, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and that the international community should fully support that process.

The Independent Expert and the Special Rapporteur will present their findings and recommendations to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

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The mandate of the Independent Expert was established in 2005 by the Commission on Human Rights to promote implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and to identify successful practices on the issues. A former member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Ms. McDougall is the first expert to hold the mandate. In this capacity she has conducted official visits to Hungary, Ethiopia and France.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on racism was established in 1993 by the Commission on Human Rights to examine incidents of contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as well as governmental measures to overcome them. A former director of UNESCO Department of Intercultural Dialogue, Mr. Diène is the second Special Rapporteur to hold the mandate. Since his appointment in 2002, he has conducted official visits to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Canada, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Côte d’Ivoire, Guatemala, Japan, Brazil, Switzerland, Italy, the Russian Federation, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

For more information on the roles and functions of the Independent Expert and the Special Rapporteur, please visit the following web pages: http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/minorities/expert/index.htm and http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/racism/rapporteur/index.htm