Saturday, February 24, 2018

Citizenship, Dominican Republic-style

 On September 23 last year the Dominican Republic (DR) Constitutional Court ruled, to quote the Open Society Justice Initiative, that “the provision of citizenship in the 1929 DR Constitution, which recognises as a citizen anyone born in the country, should not apply to the children of parents who were not ‘legal residents’ at the time of their birth, on the basis that their parents were ‘in transit’”.

The Court’s decision was taken to mean that a few hundred thousand persons, born in the DR and nearly all of Haitian origin, had suddenly been rendered stateless; they were now “in transit”, citizens of neither the DR nor Haiti. The Court disregarded the fact that eight years previously, in 2005, the Inter-American Human Rights Court had rejected the DR government’s attempt to re-define and expand the interpretation of the phrase how could you be “in transit” through a country where you were born and had lived all your life, in some cases perhaps since 1929? 

The Court also managed not to notice that decisions of the Inter-American Court are binding on the DR. What good is national sovereignty, after all, if you cannot ignore your international obligations? Perhaps we should ask Shanique Myrie to do a thesis on the subject.

The Court ordered the government to initiate a process to implement its decision. As part of that process, the government adopted a “National Regularisation Plan” to “regularise” the status of all undocumented foreigners living in the country. 

Regional and international reaction to the Court’s decision was overwhelmingly negative. Caricom, after a stuttering start which caused much embarrassment, finally found its tongue on November 26—two whole months after the judgment!—when its Bureau issued a strong statement of condemnation. A little more than three weeks later, our Prime Minister, in her capacity as Caricom Chairman, called on the DR President, Danilo Medina, “to take steps to restore immediately Dominican nationality to those who have been denationalised”. Medina paid no attention to either her or Caricom.

Internationally, criticism was voiced by, among others, the UN Human Rights Commission, the UN High Commission for Refugees, Amnesty International, and UNICEF. All stressed the violation of human rights inherent in the judgment. According to the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, the judgment “(violated) international human rights law (by) retroactively (modifying) the constitutional norm in effect from 1929 to 2010 that determined birthright access to (DR) citizenship...” (There was a constitutional amendment in 2010.)

For its part, the DR government stood firm against all these “interfering” foreigners. For instance, a December 2013 report by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission stressed that “persons entitled to citizenship, such as those denationalised under (the judgment) (my emphasis), (should not be obliged) to be registered as foreigners for recognition of their rights...” Medina waved aside this and other findings in the report as “subjective, partial and unilateral”.

The government protested that it was merely seeking “to put its house in order...” No racism whatsoever was involved, and in any case all the talk about hundreds of thousands of people being adversely affected was tommyrot and twaddle: only 24,392 persons in the entire country had not been properly registered. As for Caricom, it was a maker of “noise and smoke”, and was absurdly threatening to haul the DR before it to be “penalised”.

Strongly supporting the government was the Cardinal of Santo Domingo, Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, who deemed the Constitutional Court ruling “just”, and added: “No one is above the Court. Nobody. Not even the Catholic Church.” So now we know: at least in the DR, the Roman Catholic Church is subject to man’s law, not God’s. Pope Francis can put that in his pipe and smoke it. He should just make sure no videographer is present. 

The DR government promised new legislation on the matter for February 27. The legislation finally came in May, passed rapidly through the Congress, and was signed into law by Medina on May 23, eight months to the day after the Constitutional Court judgment.

In my next article I shall look at the legislation and at Caricom action. I mean inaction.

Look out for part II 

in Friday’s Express