On September 23, 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic decreed that all persons born to non-Dominican parents after 1929 are denied Dominican citizenship; this measure has stripped more than 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent of Dominican citizenship. Several individuals and entities, from human rights groups to prominent members of the Dominican diaspora, have condemned this action.
Supporters of the decision explain the ruling with the need to regularize people within the country and clarify ambivalent citizenship rules. Opponents of the decision explain it as an act of xenophobia and racism, which they also consider have intensified since September.
In a notorious case, the murder of an elderly Dominican couple in an apparent burglary resulted in mob violence that killed a Haitian man; consequently, 244 Haitians were deported, many of whom willingly left in fear of such violence.
Furthermore, the ruling violates Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 20 of the American Convention on Human Rights, both of which state that every person has a right to nationality and that this right cannot be arbitrarily deprived.
The latter document also states that every person has the right to the nationality of his or her place of birth if he or she does not have the right to any other nationality. Technically, the descendants of Haitians have a constitutional right to the citizenship of that country, but actually obtaining it can be difficult or almost impossible.
Then, as the Constitutional Court ruling is clearly a human rights issue, it requires the response of human rights organizations around the world.
One prominent HRO, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has just released a report on the effects of the ruling. The Inter-American Commissions’ investigation should be the first step in a much wider involvement in the situation by the international human rights community.
Some might wonder just how much impact HROs could have on the issue and, therefore, how important it is for them to act. This impact lies in the mere purpose of an HRO, which is to provide reliable information on human rights to influence major policy-making, research, and communications entities.
In the case of the Dominican Republic, collecting more accurate information about the effects of the controversial ruling and reporting it to the world would result in positive effects on the situation.
They include providing opponents of the Dominican injustice with more evidence to further their cause, regional or international entities with the materials necessary to act, or powerful sectors of Dominican society with the information necessary to rethink the issues.
The Dominican government has already shown to be responsive toward national and international pressure. It has proposed a plan to allow those affected by the ruling to apply for naturalization, stated that it has no current plans to continue deportations, and created a National Migration Institute to be headed by a human rights lawyer.
Furthermore, for HROs to not act would be to lose perceived reliability, and therefore credibility, in the eyes of the important figures and entities against the Constitutional Court ruling. Credibility determines whether or how much an HRO impacts regional and global views and affairs; no HRO can afford to lose it in the opinion of such important public actors.
If the situation deteriorates into a full-blow human rights crisis, failure to act now would not only severely endanger the lives of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, but could result in permanent loss of credibility for HROs; for example, any discussion of the 1994 Rwandan genocide mentions how the UN’s lack of timely action demonstrates the inefficacy and unreliability of this organization in crisis situations.
More HROs should act quickly and effectively to try to restore and better the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent and others affected by the ruling. Immediate action should be taken not only before these same organizations present themselves as unreliable in such situations (and therefore lose the credibility that fuels their activities), but before things get much worse for those already struggling.
Patricia Pou Jové is a Columbia University student (Class of ’17) from San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is interested in history, education, international politics, and Latino and Latin American issues.