Regional Conflict Insights

                                   HAITI - DOMINICAN REPUBLIC CONFLICT 

 A mass atrocity risk in the Caribbean?: the Dominican and Haitian strife and its regional repercussions

By Andrés Serbin* and Andrei Serbin Pont**

The decision on behalf of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic in September of this year to deny the right to citizenship to Dominican born descendants of Haitians has led to a series of repercussions that affect both the human rights of these citizens as well as the relations between Haiti and Dominican Republic, with serious effects on regional integration. It has also led to tensions with CARICOM (Caribbean Community and Common Market) that may impact the relationship between the English-speaking  Caribbean nations and Latin America in the framework of ongoing new regionalism mechanisms, with the eventual risk of an escalade that could lead to the perpetration of massive human rights violations in the Dominican Republic.

A Brief Background

The conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti dates back almost two centuries, and a short review of their relationship provides some key elements to understand why the current events are worrisome indicators of what may happen in a near future.

In 1822, a year after Haiti´s independence, and under the command of Jean Pierre Boyer, this country initiated an invasion on the east portion of the island. The Dominicans (which already recognized themselves as such), opposed no resistance, most likely in fear of what could have happened based on their experience of previous Haitian invasions. This led to a brutal dictatorship that ended in 1844 when a group of Dominicans, with the support of Haitian groups, managed to overthrow Boyer.

The following decades brought a long economic crisis and a US invasion to Dominican Republic which was followed by Trujillo´s arrival to power. Trujillo managed to secure the leadership of his country through the strengthening of the National Guard and his political party, the Dominican Party. En 1937 Trujillo ordered the massacre of almost 35,000 Haitians under the excuse that this population was conspiring against him, and under the framework of his national policy of “dominicanization” of the border. Trujillo´s end came with his assassination in 1961, which was followed by a second US invasion in 1965 backed by the OAS.

The Haitian occupations of the Dominican Republic, and the 1937 massacre are amongst some of the most relevant points in the violent history of the relations between these two neighboring countries. Today, it is worrisome to say that well into the 21st Century and under the scope of the international community, a new tragic chapter of violence seems to begin between these two countries that share the island of Santo Domingo.

The trigger and its effects

The recent decision made by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic (TC 0168/2013) established that the children of undocumented foreign immigrants born in Dominican Republic from 1929 and on, do not have the right to Dominican citizenship. This measure affects more than 200,000 people that live in the Dominican Republic, and that now have been arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship, violating their right to legal status, and subjecting them to conditions of extreme vulnerability.  This situation affects mainly people of Haitian ascendance, who are frequently identified through their afro-descendant physical traits. It is important to highlight that for many years identification cards in the Dominican Republic included ethnic background, and in general Dominican citizens, notwithstanding their mostly African background, identified themselves as “Indians”(in the sense of Native Americans) in order to establish a differentiation with Haitians. The current situation, and the decision of the Court, constitutes a violation to the right to equality and non-discrimination. Yet, in the last days of November 2013, the Dominican President Medina approved a decree which further supported the measure of the Constitutional Court by establishing the National Plan for the Regularization of Foreigners in Irregular Migratory Status. The plan dictates that all foreigners living in Dominican Republic in irregular migratory conditions that do not qualify or meet the requirements for the normalization of their migratory status will be subject to deportation. This creates a complex scenario and it is filled with worrisome indicators of government actions that approve and support systematic violations of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Dominican citizens. During the last two months several incidents between Dominican mobs and citizens suspected to be of Haitian descent happened, leading to the death of at least person and serious injuries to several others, under the indifference of Dominican authorities.

As a follow up of these events, on the 6th of December the Inter American Commission on Human Rights(IACHR) culminated an in loco visit to the Dominican Republic under the request of the Dominican government. The purpose of the visit was to observe the situation relating to the rights to citizenship, identity, equality and non-discrimination, as well as other rights. Following the visit, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights published a report with the preliminary observations on the situation in the Caribbean country. In this report, the IACHR highlighted that the following measures should be adopted in order to deal with the dramatic situation that is affecting the country and its citizens:

1)      Guarantee the right to citizenship to the people who have had this right under the internal regimes in place from 1929 to 2010.

2)      People with the right to citizenship, as well as those who have been deprived of their citizenship under court sentence 168-2013 cannot be required to register as foreigners in order to recognize their rights.

3)      The measures taken to guarantee the right to citizenship affected by court sentence 168-2013 must be widespread and immediate. Such mechanisms must be simple, clear, quick and fair. They may not be discretional or implemented in a discriminatory fashion.

4)      The mechanisms must be accessible in economic terms.

Also, the Commission declared that  “ . . .all people have the right to protection and judicial guarantees, in an accessible and effective manner, in order to safeguard the rights to citizenship, identity, equality and non-discrimination . . .”

The Commission also expressed concerns about the statements and the actions against journalist, intellectuals, lawyers, legislators, human rights defendants, public figures and high level government officials that criticized the court sentences by categorizing them as “traitors”. For such reason, the Commission has called upon the government authorities to promote tolerance and respect so people can express their thoughts freely.

Nevertheless, on the 10th of December, Dominican Senator Adriano Sánchez Roa presented a resolution in the Senate asking to condemn the report presented by the Inter American Human Rights Commission, by declaring that it lacks criteria of impartiality and implies meddling in internal Dominican affairs. He also denies allegations of the grave human rights violations occurring in the country.

The Consequences

The situation in the Dominican Republic is a reflection of a surging environment of bloated nationalism with clear racists connotations that promotes the violation of the rights of a large portion of Dominican citizens, and it may lead to the escalation of the conflict to violence and the eventual perpetration of mass atrocities.

But it also has serious repercussions in the regional environment.

First of all, both Dominican Republic and Haiti are recipients of the benefits of the Venezuelan Petrocaribe oil assistance program. On the 21st of November the Venezuelan government convened a meeting between representatives of both counties in order to promote a dialogue amongst DR and Haiti with the aim of reducing tensions that were beginning to have regional effects, especially in the Caribbean region but also at a wider Latin-American and hemispheric level. Yet, Haiti broke the agreement to keep the dialogue in bilateral terms by requesting the CARICOM to condemn the recent events occurring in the Dominican Republic and also to cease negotiations for the incorporation of the Dominican Republic to CARICOM. The first organization to condemn the Dominican Republic´s actions was the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) which gathers the smaller islands of the region that are also members of CARICOM. Under the pressure of the OECS members and strong statements on behalf of civil society organizations and social movements from the non-Hispanic Caribbean  countries condemning Dominican Republic, on the 26th of September the CARICOM Secretariat declared that it found that the decisions made by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic to be “aberrant and discriminatory” and that it would reconsider and cancel  Dominican´s Republic application to become a member of CARICOM. CARICOM also demanded a strong condemnation to DR by organizations such as CARIFORUM, the Organization of American States (OAS),  and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States(CELAC), as well as a resolution from the United Nations condemning the Dominican government´s actions.

In this framework, the mutual distrust and the rather reduced mutual knowledge between the English speaking Caribbean and the Dominican Republic makes it quite difficult for both parties to advance in a dialogue that will not affect the regional integration process. While CARICOM countries have a strong emphasis on their African roots and their highly developed sensibility towards any form of discrimination or xenophobia of racial traits, the Dominican Republic is tainted by a harsh history with Haiti. This past has led to a negative ethnohistoric perception of Haitians  not only in racial terms do to their African ascendance, but also by differences based on historic and cultural traditions, language and ethnicity. These differences are also exploited by different Dominican groups and the mass media in order to pressure the government to take actions such as the ones taken by the Constitutional Court.

Yet, above all, the most worrisome of issues in the Santo Domingo island is that the current scenario could lead to further human rights violations, and also to further violence and the potential perpetration of mass atrocities.

*Andrés Serbin is Presidente of CRIES (Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales)

**Andrei Serbin Pont is Research Coordinator at CRIES (Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales)

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