By Doris Abdullah, Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations
The Sept. 25 Dominican Republic court ruling denies Dominican nationality to children of undocumented migrants who have been born or registered in the country after 1929 and who do not have at least one parent of Dominican blood. This comes under a 2010 constitutional clause declaring these people to be either in the country illegally or in transit.
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This court ruling has caused many to speak out in concern across the Americas, the Caribbean, and the international community, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights based in Geneva, Switzerland. Demonstrations against the court ruling have been held in New York, which has a large population of Haitian and Dominican residents.
The Church of the Brethren has concerns about the new law, expressed particularly through the Global Mission and Service office headed by Jay Wittmeyer, because the ruling will disproportionately affect brothers and sisters of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic. I expressed the church’s concern about the court ruling at the Oct. 21 New York NGO briefing with the assistant secretary general for Human Rights and wrote a brief summary on the ruling based on reports and documents available from the Office of the High Commissioner.
First it should be noted that the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination, which is one of the oldest of the UN treaty bodies, has declared that no nation is free of racial discrimination. As such we are not to judge the Dominican Republic any less or more harshly than our own country or any other country.
The ruling in the DR infringes on other international covenants and agreements as well as the one on racial discrimination including the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Rights of the Child; and most glaringly the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1990). That any country may not have signed a United Nations agreement does not make their noncompliance valid.
The population of the Dominican Republic is around 10 million, of whom it is estimated about 275,000 thousands are of Haitian descent and are affected by the court ruling. The country’s racial mix is overwhelmingly of African and European background. According to a report from April of this year, the racial and structural denial of the country’s African origin in its population is a factor limiting measures to overcome racial discrimination, and there appear to be attempts to not allow people to identify themselves as Black. The report requested the government to “amend their electoral law to enable Dominicans to identify themselves as negro, mulatto.” The report further notes that terms such as “indio-claro (light skinned Indian) and indio-oscuro (dark skinned Indian) fail to reflect the ethnic situation in the country and renders invisible the dark skinned population of African descent.”
It is not by chance or arbitrary that “after 1929” was chosen as the year persons born of Haitian parentage should be denied citizenship. The bulk of Haitian migrants to the DR came to the sugar plantations in the early part of the last century. Most would be dead by now, but declaring their offspring noncitizens would be another means to rid the country of persons born of Haitian origin and by extension African descent.
Dec. 18 was the United Nations International Migrant Day. A joint commemoration statement on the plight of migrants, that would include those of Haitian descent in the DR, was issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Francois Crepeau; the chair of the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant workers and their Families, Abdelhamid El Jamni; and the Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Felipe Gonzales. They once again reminded the world that "migrants are first and foremost human beings with human rights." Migrants "cannot be perceived or portrayed only as agents for economic development" nor "helpless victims in need of rescue and/or criminal frauds.”
Let us continue to pray and hope that the government and people of the Dominican Republic embrace their entire cultural heritage as we give support to our brothers and sisters of Haitian origin. We will rejoice on the day that the Dominicans recognize the African contribution to their country, and allow their citizens the freedom to choose their racial and cultural identity without prejudice.
-- Doris Abdullah of Brooklyn, N.Y., is the Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations and chair of the UN NGOs’ Human Rights Sub-Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.