Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dominican Republic Overturns Recognition of Inter-American Court

In a ruling that suspiciously coincides with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ condemnation of the country’s immigration practices, the Dominican Constitutional Court has ruled that the country’s 1999 recognition of the regional human rights court’s jurisdiction was not properly ratified by lawmakers. Effectively, the decision amounts to the Dominican Republic’s immediate withdrawal of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, as El Listin Diario and Acento report.

In a 59-page decision posted online yesterday evening, which was supported by 10 of 13 judges, the Dominican court ruled in favor of a 2005 challenge to the regional human rights court’s mandate. One of the primary pieces of evidence used by the court was a certification that “in the Senate archives there is no resolution ratifying the jurisdiction of the IACHR.”

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ recent ruling ordering the D.R. to invalidate last year’s citizenship ruling that left thousands of people stateless put Dominican authorities in a tight spot.  On top of the country’s human rights obligations under the American Convention, 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 precedence. So from the Dominican government’s perspective, yesterday’s Constitutional Court decision makes things much simpler. The ruling gives authorities a green light to continue their discriminatory policies towards Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent without worrying about their legal consequences.

According to the OAS database the Inter-American Court has issued no fewer than four judgments (and one clarifying interpretation) regarding the Dominican Republic since 1999.  Yesterday’s ruling essentially strips these of their legal weight, though -- as the Associated Press notes -- the D.R. has failed to fully comply with them anyway.

The AP also reports that the decision will make the Dominican Republic the third country in the hemisphere to withdraw from the regional court’s jurisdiction (after Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago), but in fact the Dominican case is more nuanced. By finding that the human rights court’s jurisdiction was never properly ratified, the Dominican Republic is not technically denouncing the American Convention, and will not have to wait a full year for its withdrawal to take effect as Venezuela recently did.

It will be interesting to see how the United States government reacts -- if it reacts at all -- to the decision.  While the Obama administration has pushed Dominican officials to resolve the contradictions stemming from last year’s citizenship ruling, the fact that the U.S. has not ratified the American Convention (let alone the Inter-American Court’s jurisdiction) means it is not in a place to criticize the Dominican Republic.

News Briefs
  • Following yesterday’s announcement that fugitive Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, had been arrested in Mexico City, the Attorney General’s Office has released more details on the operation that led to their capture. As El Universal and the AP detail, investigators were keeping an eye on various properties owned by the couple and were tipped off when a female accomplice kept making visits to an apparently empty house.
  • The murder of a Brazilian military police officer in Belem yesterday was followed by a string of shootings in the northern city, killing at least nine. The incident appears to be the latest illustration of an apparent lack of police oversight in Brazil, as Globo and Veja report that local residents in neighborhoods around the city took to social media last night to claim that police were launching a retaliatory “massacre” in response to the death of their own.
  • In the latest editorial in support of improved relations with Cuba, Sunday’s New York Times featured a call for the Obama administration to swap three Cuban spies held in the U.S. for imprisoned USAID contractor Alan Gross.
  • Bolivian ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) Rolando Villena has issued an official statement expressing concern over the levels of sexual violence against women and girls in the country following a series of high-profile attacks, the BBC reports.
  • President Juan Manuel Santos is in Europe this week, on a marathon tour of EU countries with the stated aim of securing economic support for a post-conflict development initiative that he has described as “a kind of Marshall Plan.” But in an analysis of his schedule by La Silla Vacia, the news site suggests that the tour is more about obtaining political support for ongoing peace talks with FARC rebels. Coinciding with the tour, the Financial Times has published an editorial laying out three reasons to support the FARC talks, pointing to their ability to improve regional cohesion, security and economic growth.
  • Spanish news agency EFE reports on a Monday meeting of representatives from all branches of the Paraguayan government in Asuncion, in which authorities resolved to crack down on the influence of drug trafficking and criminal networks. Among the measures passed is a resolution to try all drug trafficking-related cases in Asuncion courts rather than in more vulnerable courts in the country’s periphery.
  • The Miami Herald reports on a new immigration practice that recently took effect in the Bahamas, which migrant rights advocates say has led to the detention of dozens children, mostly of mostly Haitian origin.