“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

What should the European Union do about the mass and arbitrary deprivation of nationality in the Dominican Republic?

9 May 2014 | Bridget Wooding, Dominican@s por Derecho

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic were rendered stateless by a ruling of the Constitutional Court in that country of 23 September 2013. This judgment introduced a new interpretation of the criteria for acquisition of Dominican nationality with regard to children of irregular migrants born in the country. The Court decided to apply the new criteria retroactively to 1929 and, as a result, concluded that several generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent, many officially registered as Dominican citizens at birth, no longer meet the criteria for Dominican nationality.

The case concerned a Dominican-born woman and mother of four children, Ms. Juliana Dequis Pierre, whose Haitian migrants parents moved to the DR decades ago. The Tribunal concluded that Ms. Dequis Pierre, who is now 30 years old and was officially registered as a Dominican citizen at birth, did not in fact meet the criteria for the acquisition of the Dominican nationality.

An estimated 210,000 persons in the Dominican Republic were affected by the decision. This figure is based on an official survey released in May 2013 by the Dominican National Bureau for Statistics and refers to the estimated number of individuals resident in the country who belong to the first generation born on Dominican territory to Haitian migrant parents. No population data is currently available on subsequent generations born in the Dominican Republic.

International legal standards require that the Government automatically restores the nationality of all individuals affected by the ruling and respects their acquired rights. A simple and rapid procedure is needed so that they can obtain their identity documents.

 The role of the European Union and other international actors?

While the international community is moving towards ending statelessness worldwide, as outlined above, the Dominican Republic has decided to go in the opposite direction by stripping of their nationality tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent who were born in the country. Through a ruling of a high Court, the Dominican State has created a situation of statelessness with no precedent in the Americas, resulting in one of the top five largest stateless populations around the world.

International human rights bodies, including UNHCR, UNICEF, the UN High Commissioner for Human rights, and the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have expressed their deep concern about this mass violation to the right to nationality resulting in stateless. Individual States have also spoken loud and clear against these actions during the February 2014 session of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the Human Rights Council, the global UN forum where States directly evaluate the human rights records of their peers. Member States of the European Union were among the main advocates to urge the Dominican Republic to adequately address this situation, as evidenced by the following recommendations: 

    • Take urgent steps to ensure full respect for the right to a nationality, and ratify the August 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which it signed in December 1961 (Ireland);
    • Undertake all necessary measures to immediately recognize citizenship to those who had it at the time of their birth (Slovenia);
    • Ensure that international standards on nationality and statelessness continue to be fully applied in the country to all individuals without discrimination (Italy);
    • Give a special attention to children affected by the Constitutional Court ruling ensuring the provision of their basic rights, such as education, health and protection (Portugal);
    • Avoid the retroactive application of the norms that could result from the execution of the Constitutional Court’s judgment 168/13 and generate situations of statelessness for citizens holding the Dominican citizenship (Spain);
    • Take all necessary measures to prevent statelessness and allow all residents to fully enjoy their fundamental rights in particular persons of Haitian’s descent who have been affected by the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal of the 23rd of September 2013 (France); and
    • Ensure that its treatment of all affected persons is in line with its international human rights obligations and that it seek the technical advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to identify, prevent and reduce statelessness (Germany).

At the European Union level, the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement on 4 February 2014 encouraging the rapid implementation of measures by the Dominican Republic to protect the rights of persons of Haitian descent. A group of 15 EU Parliamentarians also addressed a letter to President Danilo Medina last April requesting swift action to recognize the right to nationality of those affected by the ruling of the Dominican Court. It has been observed, however, the need for the European Union to play a greater role with regard to the mass denationalisation of Dominican Republic citizens of Haitian descent, and more generally that the EU must more actively implement its pledge to develop a framework for raising issues of statelessness with third countries by 2014 (see submission by European Network on Statelessness).

Dominican@s por Derecho is urging EU institutions to right this wrong and request the immediate restoration of Dominican nationality to the population affected by the ruling of the Constitutional Court as part of its foreign policy and external relations with the Dominican Republic. European states must not stand idle in the face of mass denationalisation on this scale. Certainly not if we are to achieve the ambition recently articulated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to eradicate statelessness within a decade.

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