The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Dominican Republic is guilty of systematically deporting individuals of Haitian descent on a discriminatory basis, and that it must take steps to invalidate last year’s controversial ruling that left thousands of people effectively stateless.
Yesterday, the court published its ruling on “Expelled Dominican and Haitian people v. Dominican Republic,” condemning the D.R. for human rights violations committed against Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the 1990s. During this time the court found that tens of thousands of people had been made victims of arbitrary detention and expulsion, violating their rights to a nationality, to recognition as a person before the law and to freedom of movement and residence as laid out in the American Convention.
The decision has been a long time coming. The case is based on a petition first submitted on behalf of 27 victims to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in late 1999, which the Commission passed the case on to the Court after issuing its own recommendations in 2012.
But while the case focuses on violations that took place from 1990 to 2000, yesterday’s sentence goes beyond the specific facts involved, as Acento, Listin Diario and Spanish news agency EFE note.
On top of ordering the D.R. to sort out the legal documentation of the 27 victims, the court took aim at the 2013 Dominican Supreme Court decision that left the legal residency and citizenship status of as many as 250,000 people in doubt. In its recommendations, the court asserts that Dominican authorities should “adopt internal legal measures” to annul the 2013 domestic court ruling, as well as sections of a controversial May 2014 law meant to implement it.
Specifically, the Inter-American Court ruled that the D.R. should “take appropriate steps to void any rules of any kind; whether constitutional, legal, regulatory or administrative; as well as any practice, decision or interpretation; which establishes or has as its effect that the illegal presence of foreign parents causes the denial of Dominican nationality to persons born in the territory of the Dominican Republic.”
This is a significant victory for Dominican civil society groups that have advocated for the rights of Haitians and people of Haitian descent in the country. Because the Dominican Republic has accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court since early 1999, the ruling is legally binding. In fact, Article 74 of the Dominican Constitution establishes that in the event of a contradiction between a national court ruling and an international one, the ruling that is most favorable to individual rights-holders takes wins out.
However, in practice the Inter-American Court ruling is unlikely to bring any change, at least in the short term. As human rights expert Julia Harrington Reddy has noted, a similar judgment in 2005 went virtually ignored and did nothing to prevent last year’s Supreme Court ruling.
In a press conference last night, a spokesman for President Danilo Medina told reporters that the government would need time to analyze the 160-page ruling, but would likely present an official response to the decision by Friday.
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