Statelessness in the Dominican Republic: A Challenge to Achieving Peace
Author: Micely Díaz Espaillat
Translated into English by Silvana Gordillo González
September 23, 2013, marked a milestone in the legitimization of institutional racism in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Constitutional Court, supreme body for the interpretation and control of the constitutionality, issued Judgment 168-13, denationalizing more than 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent (IACHR, 2015).
As a precedent, in 1998, the case of the girls Yean and Bósico was presented to the Court Secretariat, to whom the Dominican State denied access to Dominican nationality despite being born in Dominican territory and that the Constitution established the principle of jus soli. In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the Dominican State for denying the issuance of birth certificates to Dominicans of Haitian descent.
Special rapporteurs of the United Nations asked the Dominican State to respect the right to nationality in 2007 (Díaz, 2016). Instead, the Central Electoral Board, an autonomous body in charge of the elections and the regulation of the acts of the civil status of Dominicans, issued Circular No. 17, demanding the Civil Registry Offices to examine all requests for copies of birth certificates for individuals whose parents have had irregular immigration status.
In December of the same year, Circular No. 17 was replaced by Resolution No. 12-2007. This resolution suspended the issuance of birth certificate copies that appeared to be flawed or improperly prepared. The Dominican State has implemented a series of arbitrary and retroactive legal-administrative measures regarding the access to nationality for people of immigrant descent, violating this and other human rights, such as access to healthcare, work, and education, and the right to equality and non-discrimination, human dignity, personal integrity, and freedom of movement among others (IACHR, 2015).
Belique (2018) expresses that the Judgment is a “civil genocide worse than a physical death; it was like a living death” (p. 182). This paper will illustrate the most significant challenges to achieve peace faced by Dominicans of Haitian descent. It will mention initiatives implemented by a nonviolent social movement called Reconocido to protect human rights. To conclude, a critical path to achieve peacebuilding will be suggested.
Challenges to Peace
Judgement 168-13 opened Pandora’s box that promoted long-running hatred and incited violence towards Haitians and their descendants, increasing their vulnerability and creating exploitable second-class citizens (Díaz, 2016). This case presents multiple and interdependent challenges to achieving peace by making it impossible for the targeted to access their civil and political rights, violating their security, welfare, identity, and freedom while preventing their full development and autonomy (see Galtung, 1990b).
The deprivation of fundamental rights due to statelessness impacts the construction of peace since the bond between the person and the State is broken, the welfare of citizens is nullified, and social identity is put at risk. The exclusion suffered by stateless persons impedes their human development, limiting their opportunities and their living conditions, negatively affecting the possibility of social cohesion, peace, and a sense of belonging.
According to the national immigration survey, 80.9% of the descendants of migrants in the Dominican Republic do not have health insurance (ONE, 2017). Not having an identity card affects various civil and legal procedures such as opening a bank account, marrying legally, entering university, getting a formal job, declaring children, voting, being elected, having a passport, and even filing a formal complaint with the authorities (Díaz, 2016). Belique (2018) states that even simple acts such as having a cell phone are impossible.
One of the main challenges for peace in this scenario is the anti-Haitian sentiment that persists in the Dominican Republic, historically fostered by political and economic elites. Anti-Haitianism refers to a malicious, intolerant, and offensive attitude towards Haitians and their African roots (Díaz, 2017). Anti-Haitianism has created a scenario that does not distinguish Haitians from Dominican of Haitian descent, and their presence is considered a threat against the nation (Moseley-Willians, 2004; Díaz, 2017).
Paradoxically, the importation of Haitian labor is promoted by the same elite who claim to feel threatened by its very presence. The economy of the agriculture, commerce and construction sectors depend on Haitian labor; their contribution is approximately 7% of the GDP (ONE, 2012; ONE, 2017). As Moseley-Willians (2004) states, Haitians are needed but unwanted.
Statelessness found an echo in ultranationalist sectors, reproducing a racist ideology and a hostile environment against the people affected (Díaz, 2016; Curiel, 2019). Many anti-Haitian groups considered statelessness a fair measure to protect the Dominican identity. In the Dominican imaginary, Dominican roots are primarily European, while blackness is exclusive to Haitians, also generating negrophobic feelings towards black Dominicans in addition to Haitians and their descendants.
The right to identity is essential to achieve peace. Abdalla & Sender (2019) argue that “identity becomes problematic when it is not acknowledged, seen as inferior or threatened” (p. 37). Dominicans of Haitian descent are forced to question their identity daily, influencing their personal and collective identity formation.
Although the Dominican State alleges that they are Haitians, they feel they are Dominican. An affected person expressed that “my parents are foreigners, but I am from here” (Civolani, 2011, p. 25). Sometimes, they are forced to be ashamed or hide their origins. Dominicans of Haitian descent have cultural traits from both countries, and even though their ancestry is Haitian, most of them do not know Haiti. In many cases, family ties have even been broken by time and distance with those who live in Haiti (Curiel, 2019).
Peace in this context will continue to present challenges while xenophobic attitudes and discriminatory laws threaten their multicultural identity, negatively impacting their affections, human relationships, sense of belonging and pursuit of happiness. Depression, suicidal ideas and deep pain are some of the feelings mentioned by affected people (Díaz, 2016, Curiel, 2019, Reconocido, 2018).
For example, a young woman states that she could not bear the tears and started crying when her birth certificate was annulled. She “no longer knew what to do; and even thought about killing [her]self” (Reconocido, 2018, p. 76). Civolani (2011) states that “each of the episodes of discrimination, rejection, and denial is part of their memory and makes it difficult for them to advance in any area of their lives” (p. 74).
These traumas are then passed on to descendants of the affected, creating protracted intergenerational trauma. Feelings of frustration have triggered family conflict, resulting in heated arguments, accusations, and sentiments of guilt, weakening family ties and encouraging direct violence (Civolani, 2011; Curiel, 2019).
Civolani (2011) found that statelessness can have “emotional implications that have led to family and interpersonal problems” (p.73). A woman fought with her mother and asked her: “Why the hell did you come to this damn country of the devil? Haitians go everywhere. Why didn’t you go anywhere else?” (Curiel, 2019, p. 119).
Galtung (1990a) states that “the main manifestation of the cultural violence of the dominant elites is to blame the victims of structural violence and accuse them of aggression” (p. 156). In this case, victims themselves accuse each other, ignoring the responsibility of systemic oppression that surrounds them.
The search for an explanation could end in accusation, anger and guilt between family members. Even in cases where children do not blame their parents, the guilt of the parents persists. One affected person expressed the following: “I never felt that my parents were guilty. [However] they did. My mother, poor thing, at some point she said that it was her fault” (Civolani, 2011, p. 39).
A process of forgiveness, reconciliation and restorative justice seems urgent to help establish more harmonious family relationships. However, reconciliation will be hampered until the right to nationality is guaranteed. Direct violence is not limited to the family environment. Affected people have been victims of police repression and arrests. The IACHR (2015) reported “arbitrary deportations and collective expulsions of black Dominicans” (p. 13).
The most recent event occurred during a peaceful protest against racism in solidarity with the “Black Lives Matter” movement for the murder of George Floyd. The police arrested anti-racist protesters for no reason. Ultranationalists were also present at the event and started shouting racist comments against the protesters. However, the police supported and protected this group, which shows how the needs for freedom are still violated through detention and repression processes (see Galtung, 1990a).
Therefore, peacebuilding initiatives need to ensure that national police officers and migration authorities stop reproducing violent attacks against black Dominicans. Furthermore, many Dominicans of Haitian descent have also been victims of abuse at school by their teachers and classmates. Dominican education promotes the idea that everything that comes from Haiti is terrible.
An affected person recounts that her classmates used to beat her at school and make fun of her for being the daughter of Haitians (Reconocido, 2018). However, the school can also become a safe learning space if peacebuilding is promoted through inclusion, respect for diversity and interculturality. Therefore, although schools could represent a challenge to achieve peace, it also offers an opportunity to promote it. The right to education and access to a decent job is fundamental to achieve peace transformation, peacebuilding and social cohesion.
In 2014, the State issued Naturalization Law 169-14 due to international pressure and alleged that statelessness has been solved. This Law considers denationalized people as foreigners and assumes that the Dominican State made a “mistake” in registering them in the civil registry. Reconocido recently declared that the Law had been a failure and that people feel they have fewer rights than they had before the Law (see Acento, 2021).
Belique (2018) refers to the Law as discriminatory and that the State has managed to “politically and legally neutralize those who fight to claim their rights” (p. 186). In this sense, institutional violence from the State represents the most critical challenge to achieving peace. Since the right to nationality is a prerequisite of other rights, the greatest challenge for the achievement of peace is the restitution of nationality and the certainty that a similar situation will never happen in the future. As long as Judgement 168-13 is not revoked, peace will not be achieved.
Signs of Resistance
Nonviolent resistance emerged from the denationalization created by the Dominican State. Reconocido is a social movement of young Dominicans of Haitian descent who fight for the right to nationality. It has promoted peacebuilding among those affected and has contributed to social networking, feelings of belonging, and group support.
Civolani (2011) conducted in-depth interviews with affected people and was able to verify “the importance of conflict as a lever for change and positive transformation” (p.65). Reconocido has denounced the violation of human rights through nonviolent actions during the last ten years. Its activism has consisted of creating awareness through human rights training and people’s empowerment (for more detail see documentary “Hasta la Raíz”).
Reconocido has created reflection groups in many bateyes, nonviolent protests, marches to the Presidential Palace, vigils, and carried out data collection on the number of victims. With the support of international donors and social and faith-based organizations, Reconocido has offered psychological support, medical assistance, legal actions, and advocacy with strategic actors, decision-makers and the media.
Many affected people allege that, although the Judgment suspended their lives, Reconocido gives them hope (Reconocido, 2018, Díaz, 2016). Reconocido presented a complaint procedure against the Dominican State to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for violating the American Convention in 2013. This complaint symbolized hope for many stateless victims.
Several United Nations agencies and dozens of countries have condemned the Judgment as discriminatory and helped affected people feel supported (Díaz, 2016). Various civil society organizations, such as MUDHA, Centro Montalvo, One Respe, and MOSCTHA have become a safe space full of hope and community struggle that facilitates reflection and empowers people to defend their human rights (Wooding & Moseley-Williams 2004).
Reconocido has continued its fight through fundraising, food support to low-income families, and anti-racist online reflections and conversations during the pandemic. Resistance movements such as Reconocido give a sense of belonging to marginalized populations. Anti-racist collectives provide the opportunity for vulnerable groups to share their life stories, dreams and aspirations. It allows creating solidarity ties, support networks and closeness with other realities. Belonging to a group provides the certainty of knowing that you are not alone.
The interconnection between social cohesion and peacebuilding is undeniable. Social inequalities faced by those deprived of their right to nationality and without feelings of belonging could also mean that they would not have to submit to the social order that discriminates against them. Peacebuilding requires multidisciplinary teams that can offer diverse mechanisms for the restitution of rights to stateless people.
Therefore, peacebuilding needs a critical conflict analysis. Understanding the roots of this conflict is key to allowing peacebuilders to implement actions that generate significant changes. Above all, it must include the voices and experiences of those who have been the victims of violence.
In this context, sustainable peace must place historically oppressed people and their needs at the center of its initiatives. Institutional racism facilitates the materialization of individual racist practices. However, it can also lead to collective resistance and the creation of anti-racist movements.
Nonviolent resistance is in itself a path to peace. Alliances, networking, the construction of messages that defend human rights, the mapping of actors, protests, among others, are possible tactics to achieve social justice through peaceful resistance. When all rights have been violated, the possibility of sharing experiences and belonging to social movements could foster feelings of security, trust, closeness and tranquility.
Statelessness is not unique to the Dominican Republic. It is necessary that in places where there are mechanisms that legalize statelessness, mechanisms to eliminate it are established. These mechanisms must integrate legal, psychological and educational actions to ensure restorative justice. A culture of peace must be fostered through decolonial and anti-racist initiatives that impact media, schools, academia, civil society, state institutions and public servants.
Sustainable peace will be ensured when this population achieves the complete restitution of rights and public recognition of the mistake. Repairing harm is essential to achieve sustainable peace. Honnet (2006) argues that “institutional and social recognition” is the only way to allow the transformation of laws, attitudes and guarantees of rights” (p. 146).
Reparation also needs to integrate a reconciliation process that allows compensation for the damages caused to the victims, psychological support, and the implementation of legal, social, political, and economic measures that guarantee the satisfaction of their essential needs and access to all their civil rights. Such measures could help affected people regain their self-esteem and reestablish broken trust with public institutions to achieve social cohesion.
Some of the necessary actions to ensure the restitution of rights and repair the damage created through the implementation of anti-discrimination laws should include but are not limited to:
- Public apology to the victims and recognition of the damages caused by the Dominican State.
- Delivery of identity documents.
- Participatory process of dialogue where victims can share their needs with decision-makers.
- Address gender-sensitive reparations.
- Psychological support to victims and their families.
- Monetary compensation.
- Implementation of public policies that guarantee social cohesion through positive discrimination initiatives to affected people such as scholarships and employment opportunities, health care, and access to government social programs.
- Facilitation of peace circles to emphasize active listening, healing and collective learning.
- Implement decolonial and intercultural teachings at all levels of Dominican educational curriculums.
- Reconstruction of national history and dissemination of results in the media, education system, private and public institutions and cultural events.
- Provide intercultural training to civil registry officers, immigration agents, and police officers to ensure peace and respect for the human rights of all people.
- Elaboration of laws against discrimination and implementation of effective complaint mechanisms.
- Deconstruction of institutional racism by implementing disciplinary measures for public servants who could racially discriminate citizens from their positions of power and implementing anti-racist code of conduct in public institutions.
Finally, spaces for dialogue are essential in peacebuilding processes. Opening spaces where affected parties can share their stories could sensitize others and help identify the most urgent needs of victims to ensure individual and collective healing. Stateless people carry a hefty backpack full of discrimination and violence, but they also carry hopes, dreams, desires for justice and resistance that needs to be addressed.
List of references
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Acento. (2021, June 24). Piden a Abinader garantizar nacionalidad de dominicanos desnacionalizados.https://acento.com.do/actualidad/piden-a-abinader-garantizar- nacionalidad-de-dominicanos-desnacionalizados-8958305.html
Belique, A. (2018). Genocidio civil de dominicanos y dominicanas de ascendencia haitiana en la República Dominicana. Meridional, 10, pp. 179-186.
Civolani, K. (2011). Vidas Suspendidas. Santo Domingo: Editora Búho.
Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. (2015). Informe sobre la situación de derechos humanos en la República Dominicana. República Dominicana: CIDR, (OEA/Ser.L/V/II. Doc.45/15).
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Díaz, M. (2017). The Manifestation of Anti-Haitianism in the Dominican Republic Through the Lens of “Coloniality”. [Masters Dissertation, University of Bath].
Galtung, J. (1990). La violencia: cultural, estructural y directa. Journal of Peace Research, 27 (3), pp.291-315.
Galtung, J. (1990). International Development in Human Perspective. In Burton, J. Conflict: Human Needs Theory. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Chapter 15: pp. 301-335.
Honneth, A. (2006). El reconocimiento como ideología. Isegoria, 35, pp.129-150.
Oficina Nacional de Estadística. (2013). Primera Encuesta Nacional de Inmigrantes en la República Dominicana. Santo Domingo: ONE.
Oficina Nacional de Estadística. (2017). Encuesta Nacional de Inmigrantes en la República Dominicana. Santo Domingo: ONE.
Reconocido. (2018). Nos Cambió la Vida. Memorias personales de jóvenes de ascendencia haitiana afectados por la Sentencia 168-13. Santo Domingo: Centro Montalvo.
Wooding, B., & Moseley-Williams, R. (2004). Needed but unwanted. Catholic Institute for International Relations, London.
Author’s Short Bio
Micely was born in Santiago, Dominican Republic. She loves cultural exchanges and has been awarded several scholarships in the USA, Canada, England, Israel, India and Costa Rica to further her studies abroad. She graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work from Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo and has a strong passion for social justice. Her previous work experience focuses on community development, human rights, volunteerism, activism, health and education in Centro Montalvo, Ciudad Alternativa, Peace Corps, Courts for Kids and Friedrich Ebert Foundation. She holds a Master of Science in International Development from Bath University which she pursued through a Chevening Scholarship. Currently, she is a DAAD Scholar completing a Master of International Peace Studies at the University for Peace in Costa Rica.