The Dominican Republic’s Constitution Court ruling on September 23 to strip thousands of individuals born in that Caribbean island nation of citizenship has met with universal condemnation for threatening to create tens of thousands of “stateless” individuals. This contravenes international norms, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which prohibits states from depriving individuals of their nationality.
Article 15 of that Declaration reads: “(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.; (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”
The United Nations was quick to condemn the Dominican’s court ruling. “This decision deprives tens of thousands of people of a nationality, which will have a very negative impact on the rest of their fundamental rights,” Ravina Shamdasani warned in a statement issued in Geneva, Switzerland.
An estimated 250,000 Dominican people of Haitian descent are affected by the ruling.
The Dominican Republic’s neighbors were quick to decry the decision as well. La Celia Prince, the representative of St. Vincent and the Grenadines who is the spokesperson for the Caribbean community, a 15-nation member organization known as Caricom, condemned the ruling in that it “strips tens of thousands of people of rights which they have enjoyed from birth and gives them no recourse to appeal.” She went further, arguing that, “This issue, a domestic issue, is of interest to us in that it directly impacts the lives of fellow human beings, citizens of our Hemisphere and, more specifically, members of our Diaspora.”
The Dominican Republic’s neighbors are not the ones alarmed at this turn of events. From Spain to Peru, Mexico to Argentina the family of American nations have expressed outrage at this ruling and the implications.
“The court’s ruling, needless to say, is an aberration which seems to draw inspiration from Hitler’s laws, by which Jews who had lived in Germany for centuries were deprived of their nationality. More to the point, it contravenes repeated rulings in recent years by the International Court of Human Rights,” Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, wrote this week (November 8, 2013) in Spain’s El País newspaper. “The only logical argument the Dominican court could adduce is that Juliana's parents were ‘illegal immigrants.’ Thus the sin of illegality is made hereditary—presumably, as in archaic Biblical dooms, to the seventh generation.
The judges know well enough that immigration from Haiti to Dominican Republic has gone on for at least a century, being positively encouraged by Dominican landlords and businessmen in times of prosperity, and tolerated by the authorities. The country (or at least, its middle and upper classes) has benefited from the existence of a mass of cheap labor, with no job contracts, social security, or legal rights in general. One of the worst crimes committed during the tyranny of Generalísimo Trujillo was the indiscriminate massacre of Haitians in 1937, in which tens of thousands of these wretched immigrants were murdered, mostly by mobs enraged by populist rhetoric.”
The Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court issued a nuanced ruling, however. It determined that only individuals born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 whose parent had entered the nation illegally were subject to being deprived of their citizenship.
It presumably upholds as valid the citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian origin that entered the Dominican Republic as lawful migrants and immigrants.
The larger question, however, of a continuing bias against Haitians its Spanish-speaking and English-speaking neighbors. In the Dominican Republic children are admonished to behave themselves unless they want “a Haitian to take you away.” Associating Haitians with the “boogeyman” instills a cultural bias and encourages bigotries against French-speaking Haitians among Spanish speakers. The anti-Haitian bias of English-speaking West Indians is worse. It is not uncommon for English-speaking West Indian children in New York to taught and bully other students of Haitian descent by chanting, “Haitian! Haitian! Haitian creation! Go back, go back, go back to your nation!”
That most Dominicans and English-speaking West Indians are black undermined the reading of “racism” into the Dominican’s court ruling.
The Dominican’s court ruling’s distinction between lawful and undocumented immigrants suggests a changing idea of the right to citizenship.
“If you go back to the original intent of the drafters [of the U.S. Constitution] ... it was never intended to bestow citizenship upon (illegal) aliens," John Kavanagh, a Republic Arizona state senator who supports Senate Bill 1070, a law that granted Arizona authorities expanded immigration enforcement powers, said of a proposed 2010 Arizona State law that would deny birth certificates to children born in Arizona to illegal immigrant parents.
This coincidence, alarming and draconian, is seen by some as a shift around the world as extremist right-wing views gain currency. “Children born in France to parents illegally on French soil cannot automatically become French,” Jean-Francoise Cope, leader of the UMP party, promised his followers in France last month. “It’s incomprehensible and it’s hardly seen anywhere else in Europe.”
From Arizona state legislators to French political campaigns, the specter of creating stateless individuals should alarm us all. In the Dominican Republic, where that threat is now a legal reality, the challenge is how to reverse it. If the highest court in the land has ruled that the constitution renders an estimated 250,000 Dominicans suddenly “non-citizens,” then what is the solution?
Dominican president Danilo Medina has expressed his sympathy for those impacted, but his government remains at a loss to offer a legal remedy.
As the repercussions of this astonishing court ruling—which has been met with enthusiasm by right wing groups around the world—reverberate throughout the Americas, it is urgent that leaders throughout the hemisphere offer Dominican president Medina counsel, rather than denounce “racism,” they should acknowledge that it's a clear case of ethnic cleansing.
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