SANTO DOMINGO, Aug 28 (IPS) – Authorities in the Dominican Republic are denying growing numbers of people of Haitian descent identity documents on the argument that their parents are illegal immigrants.
The founder and director of the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA), Sonia Pierre, complained that the civil registrar’s office continues to demand that Dominican citizens of Haitian descent present their parents’ documents as a requisite for obtaining copies of their birth certificates.
The Haitian-Dominican activist who defends the rights of immigrants said the officials are fully aware that the applicants were registered at birth by their parents on forms handed out by the authorities to Haitian "braceros" or sugar cane cutters.
Copies of birth certificates are necessary to register in school, obtain an identity card, take out a passport, and acquire a voter registration card.
Under the constitution, anyone born in the Dominican Republic has a right to citizenship, with the exception of the children of diplomats or children born to parents in transit.
Pierre herself is all too familiar with the problem. In March, officials at the registrar’s office attempted to revoke her Dominican birth certificate based on questions about the legal status of her parents and the validity of their identification documents. After her case made international headlines, the investigation into the legality of her documents was called off.
Dominican authorities have recurred more and more frequently to this practice "since the announcement that my documents were going to be annulled," Pierre told IPS.
The activist, who received the annual award of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Centre for Human Rights last year, has drawn up a list of over 200 cases of Haitian-Dominicans who have been denied birth certificates.
She plans to present the list to the registrar’s office to get the authorities to correct the situation, and will continue to press the case if she fails in her endeavour.
It would not be the first battle waged by MUDHA in court. In 1998, the group turned to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of two Dominican girls of Haitian descent who had been denied birth certificates.
In October 2005, the Court ordered the Dominican Republic to pay monetary damages to the two girls and their families.
It also ordered the government to reform the country’s birth registration system and create an effective procedure to issue birth certificates to all children born within the national territory regardless of their parents’ migratory status; open school doors to all children, including children of Haitian descent; publicly acknowledge its responsibility for the human rights violations committed against the girls within six months of the sentence date; and widely disseminate the sentence.
Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico had been refused birth certificates even though they were born and raised in the Dominican Republic. They remained without birth certificates and stateless until September 2001. One of them, Bosico, was prevented from attending school for one year as a result.
The government paid 22,000 dollars in indemnification but has not yet implemented the other measures contained in the Court sentence.
"The new cases are largely a result of an attempt to take revenge after the Court verdict," said Eddy Tejada, coordinator of the Mesa para las Migraciones, whose organisation is part of the Regional Network of Civil Organisations on Migration.
In March, the civil registrar’s office issued a circular instructing officials "to thoroughly examine birth certificates when issuing copies or any document related to civil status," given that documents "were issued irregularly in the past (to individuals) with foreign parents who had not proven their legal residency or status in the Dominican Republic."
Pierre said the circular has led to an increase in discriminatory treatment.
Many local and international human rights groups have protested the treatment received by Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in this Caribbean island nation.
A report released in March by Amnesty International, "Dominican Republic: A Life in Transit – The Plight of Haitian Migrants and Dominicans of Haitian Descent", details the London-based rights watchdog’s "human rights concerns regarding discrimination, racism and xenophobia against Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic."
One of the chief concerns expressed by Amnesty referred to mass expulsions of Haitians. The report states that: "Many of these expulsions breach international human rights law. Haitians and Dominico-Haitians are often rounded up and expelled with no chance to appeal, purely on the basis of their skin colour. Many have valid work permits and visas and some are in fact Dominicans, with no family ties in Haiti."
(Haitians tend to be darker-skinned than Dominicans).
Mass deportations of Haitians by the Dominican authorities are on the rise. In 2003, 14,700 people were sent back to Haiti; in 2004, 15,464; and in 2005, 20,811, according to a report on "Haitian Migration and Human Rights" by the Support Group for Refugees and Repatriated Persons (GARR).
"It is absurd for Dominicans of Haitian descent to be asked whether their parents came to the country as legal or illegal immigrants," said Tejada.
The Dominican Republic has a surface area of 48,000 square kilometres, and shares the island of Hispaniola and a 380-km border with Haiti, which has a territory of 30,000 square kilometres. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas.
Unofficial statistics indicate that there are more than 800,000 Haitians, including legal and undocumented immigrants, living in the Dominican Republic, which has a population of over 9.1 million.
"They are here and the government has to seek mechanisms and policies in line with international law," said Tejada. With regard to the denial of birth certificates, he said the practice "is not based on any law or statute. They do it even though they know fully well that they can’t. But they’re doing it anyway." (END/2007)