April 21st, 2014
11:57 AM ET

Life in limbo for Dominicans of Haitian descent

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.

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Topics: Latin America

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. chrissy

    Racism is everywhere! When will people see this as a disgusting flaw and NOT a quality at all!

    April 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
  2. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    April 21, 2014 at 6:42 pm |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    Franklin's feeling that he is not free is rational, became, where he is living, he is not free.
    He seems to be ambitious. Perhaps he should come to the USA, where at least the laws would be on his side, in spite of our national reality.
    Racism is one of the most destructive forces in America.

    April 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm |
    • Nicolas Tremblay

      @ Joey
      I know Franklin personnaly and I confirm he is pretty ambitious.
      How can he go to the USA if his government deny is cedula, he can't have passport. That's part of the contradiction... Dominican from Haitian descent are not welcome in their own country, but they are not allow to leave the country neither.

      April 21, 2014 at 10:45 pm |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ :Nicolas Trembled" I am suspending disbelief to address you as a non-troll.
        My first (rejected) post addressed possible obstacles to Franklin's leaving the Dominican Republic, where I have traveled to work.
        I knew people who escaped Germany as Hitler came to power, and Russians who fled as the Czar fell. It was not easy, but they got out, crawling under barbed wire and bullets. One couple skied. They did not need passports.

        April 22, 2014 at 5:18 am |
      • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

        @ Nicolas: I typed your surname correctly, but my phone "fixed" it to a word that it knew.
        I apologize.

        April 22, 2014 at 5:24 am |
  4. chrissy

    AMEN @ Joey! Isnt that a tragedy?

    April 21, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    There are some 800,000 Dominicans of Haitian immigrant origin. With unemployment running at around 40%, many Haitians seek work and a better life in the US or other Caribbean nations.
    Distrust has soured relations between the Dominican Republic and its troubled neighbour, Haiti, and the government has carried out mass deportations of Haitian immigrants at various times.

    April 23, 2014 at 5:18 am |
  6. chrissy

    But....@j von, if one is born in the Dominican Republica that makes them Dominican no matter who their descendants are!!!

    April 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm |
  7. Rainiel Sierra

    Chissy, if you are born in the Dominican Republic and your parents are living here legally meaning they are either Dominicans or are legal residence holding a residency card then their kids are Dominicans because their parents are legal in the country, now if you both your parents are here on vacation, illegals, working as a foreign diplomat or flying through then your kids will not be illegible for Dominican citizenship.

    April 25, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
    • ArielFornari

      You've been brainwashed by Dominican ultra-conservatives.

      April 30, 2014 at 11:56 pm |

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