By Robin Guittard, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Robin Guittard is Caribbean team Campaigner at Amnesty International. The views expressed are his own.
“I don’t feel free,” Franklin Jaque José told me. “You’re in a circle where they get you trapped.”
Franklin is just one of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who face significant legal barriers that prevent them from going about their day-to-day lives. Over the last decade, Franklin says he has not been able to continue his education, has had to leave school, and is now being denied access to formal jobs.
He is not alone. For years, Dominicans with Haitian parents who were raised in the country had been registered as Dominicans, which gave them the right to bear Dominican identity documents. Indeed, Franklin says that back in 1994, he was registered in the national Civil Registry and given a Dominican birth certificate. But about a decade ago, Franklin and many others of Haitian heritage began having difficulty accessing their official documents, including birth certificates, identity cards and passports.
Franklin says he first went to a civil registry office in Sabana Grande de Boyá, in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. At that time, he was 18 years-old and finishing his secondary education when school officials asked him to present his ID card. But he didn’t have one. After several visits to different civil registry offices, including in the capital, Santo Domingo, the decision came: “We cannot deliver you an ID because your parents are foreigners.”
Such issues, and the often deep-rooted discrimination against those of Haitian descent that they reflect, were exacerbated last September, when the Dominican Republic’s national Constitutional Court in effect retroactively deprived thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their Dominican nationality. In blatant contradiction with the country’s international human rights obligations, and more specifically with a 2005 judgment from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Dominican constitutional court found that “children of undocumented migrants who have been in the Dominican Republic and registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929 cannot have Dominican nationality as their parents are considered to be ‘in transit.’”
Franklin was born in an impoverished “batey” – a village in the sugar cane region – where his parents settled after migrating from Haiti. And while the Haitian constitution states that the children of Haitians are themselves Haitians, there are numerous practical obstacles to people like Franklin securing Haitian citizenship, even if they wanted to simply abandon the country they have grown up in.
For a start, the earthquake in Haiti back in 2010 devastated record keeping. But the Haitian constitution also suggests that those who have held another nationality, as Franklin did despite the difficulty in obtaining documentation, forfeit their right to Haitian citizenship.
“We are extremely concerned [the ruling] may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their other rights,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said following the court judgment.
During my recent visit to the Dominican Republic with Amnesty International, I interviewed dozens of people who, like Franklin, have been deprived of their nationality and therefore of many other human rights. But Franklin’s story left a particularly bitter taste. Like me, Franklin was born in 1984. But unlike me, he hasn't been able to get on with his life since his country has denied him access to his identity documents.
“It’s tough what happens to us, to grow up with no future, because someone else denied it to you, in your own country. This hurts, it hurts a lot,” Franklin told me during a visit to the country last month. “From my point of view, [this is] persecution…If we could study, we could overcome obstacles, pass our exams and go to university. This is outrageous, to have a youth who wants to progress, but who is denied. It seems to me inhuman.”
Six months have now passed since the constitutional judgment. Last October, Dominican President Danilo Medina recognized the “human drama” the constitutional judgment caused, and promised to initiate national consultations in hopes of finding a solution.
But hope that anything concrete will come of such consultations is fading. Earlier this month, Medina carried out yet more consultations, yet there still seems no end in sight for the limbo people such as Franklin find themselves in. And while President Medina’s seeming interest in the issue is welcome, any path forward must be consistent with the recent observations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which called on the Dominican Republic to restore Dominican nationality to those denationalized by the constitutional judgment, without requiring them to register as foreigners as a prerequisite for their rights to be recognized.
President Medina has the opportunity to put an end to the 12 long years of despair for Franklin. He has the opportunity to ensure that when Franklin turns 30 this June, he will do it with his Dominican nationality fully returned. It is more than time now to give him back his life.
The path forward for the Dominican Republic must be built on respect for the country’s people. Denying tens of thousands of people basic human rights such as basic recognition is no way to achieve this.