Dominican Republic: new plan for ‘foreigners’

On Feb. 5 the Dominican government presented the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva with its National Regularization of Foreigners Plan, a program for determining the status of the tens of thousand Dominican residents who were stripped of their citizenship last September by a Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruling. The court's Decision 168-13 declared that no one born to undocumented immigrants since 1929 was a citizen. Human rights groups estimate that this affects some 200,000 people, mainly Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Apparently the regularization plan is the same as Decree 327-13, which President Danilo Medina signed on Nov. 29. The decree suspends deportations for 18 months and calls on undocumented immigrants and Dominican nationals affected by Decision 168-13 to apply to the government by providing personal identity documents, which will be entered into a "registry of evaluation." According to the decree, officials will consider applications based on such factors as ties with Dominican society (including knowledge of Spanish) and labor and socioeconomic conditions. Some applicants would qualify to be naturalized, while others would be given an immigration status. Those who don't qualify would be deported at the end of the 18 months. Deputy Foreign Minister Alejandra Liriano told reporters that the "government has set up, in record time, the most ambitious and comprehensive plan in the country's history in this area." She insisted that the government has a "strong stance" that "no person having Dominican nationality will be stripped of it." (Caribbean Journal, Miami, Feb. 5)

It isn't clear that President Medina's regularization plan will be enough to counter the international condemnations that followed the TC's September ruling. The 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) reacted on Nov. 27 by suspending the process of admitting the Dominican Republic to the group. On Dec. 5 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged the Dominican government "to rapidly take steps to restore the nationality of individuals affected" by Decision 168-13. Dismissing the government's plan for naturalizing former citizens, the UNHCR asserted that "[i]nternational legal standards require that the government automatically restores the nationality of all individuals affected by the ruling." (UNHCR press release, Dec. 5)

One day later, on Dec. 6, a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), said the TC ruling implied "arbitrary deprivation of nationality and lack of recognition of these individuals' legal personhood," which in turn "leads to a situation of extreme vulnerability in which violations of many other human rights arise." (IACHR press release, Dec. 6) The decision has also created tensions with the Haitian government, and the two countries have been holding "binational dialogues" on the situation; the most recent was held on Feb. 3 in the Dominican city of Jimaní, near the Haitian border in the western province of Independencia. (Adital, Brazil, Feb. 5)

The TC's decision has also led to bitter quarrels within the Dominican Republic. On Feb. 7 Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, the archbishop of Santo Domingo and the leading Catholic figure in the country, called Mario Serrano, a Dominican Jesuit, "shameless" because of his advocacy for the nationals deprived of their citizenship. The next day the president of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Manuel María Mercedes, said during a radio interview that the cardinal should be held responsible if Serrano suffers physical harm. Mercedes also revealed that he had written to the Vatican two months earlier asking for the cardinal's removal on the grounds that he'd passed the Church's mandatory retirement age of 75. "If there's anyone who has to leave his post in the Catholic Church to give way to a new generation, it's the cardinal," he said. (Hoy Digital, Dominican Republic, Feb. 8)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 9.