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Challenging statelessness in Dominican Republic

February 2013

Many people born on Dominican Republic soil to Haitian parents are having their Dominican Republic citizenship taken away from them, despite being born and raised in the country.

The result is that they become 'stateless' – they do not have rights as a Dominican despite having never lived anywhere else, and they are not Haitian either.

This situation is a result of a series of orders put into practice by the Central Electoral Board – an arm of the Dominican government. These regulations limit thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent from having access to copies or renewals of their identification documents.

In the Dominican Republic, identification documents (birth certificates, identity cards etc) are needed if you want to apply for a job, register your baby or enrol at school or university.

Therefore, without their documents, Dominicans of Haitian descent have no way to access education, apply for secure jobs or have a legitimate family.

They live a life in limbo; part of an underclass of unrecognised non-citizens in the only country they call home.

Statelessness conference

The discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent is being challenged by Christian Aid and its partners.

From 6-9 February 2013, Christian Aid (along with other organisations, including ACT Alliance partners Norwegian Church Aid and Church World Service) organised a 'nationality, human rights and statelessness' conference to discuss these issues.

The conference was held in Santo Domingo and built on the success of a previous conference held in Washington in October 2011. Its objective was threefold:

1. to raise awareness of the issue of statelessness by bringing key actors (including government officials, lawyers, civil society organisations, academics and Dominicans of Haitian descent) together 

2. to enable dialogue between these actors and promote a common understanding on the issue

3. to begin to explore national-level solutions to address the issue.

First-hand accounts

An important part of the conference involved hearing first-hand from Dominicans of Haitian descent. Delegates travelled to communities to meet people affected by statelessness.

These community visits gave delegates an opportunity to see and hear for themselves the problems that these people face.

In addition, a two-hour meeting with MPs included three testimonies from Dominicans of Haitian descent, and Christian Aid partners Centro Bono and MUDHA were involved in coordinating panel discussions and including the voices of affected people.

Successes

On 7 February, Christian Aid staff and partners took part in a very successful two-hour meeting with over 15 MPs. They heard three testimonies from Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Following the meeting, government officials agreed that the issue of statelessness is a violation of human rights and will present the issue to the Chamber of MPs on 27 February.

Conference delegates

MP Demóstenes Martínez (centre) will present the issue of statelessness at the next 'Chamber of Delegates' on 27 February 2013

At this meeting they will demand that the Central Electoral Board – the state body that is perpetuating the situation - attend a hearing at which they will have to explain their bad practice. They will also include the subject of statelessness on the legislative agenda for 2013.

Another immediate success resulting from the event has been that journalists have started to change the way they talk about Dominicans of Haitian descent in the media.

Before they would refer to them as 'Haitians reclaiming nationality' but now they are referring to them as 'Dominican children of Haitians' – a big step.

Frankelly Martinez, Christian Aid’s representative at the conference, said: 'Affected people spoke out during this event and that was very important to understand their point of view of the situation.

'One outcome is that participants realised that the President of the Dominican Republic must be more involved in order to solve this situation.'


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Gallery - One country, two rules

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