No nationality, no rights – Statelessness affecting Dominicans of Haitian descent

Laura Quintana Soms, Minority Rights Group
/ 5 mins read

Two years ago the Dominican Constitutional Court judgement 168/13 deprived hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality, a nationality they acquired by being born in Dominican territory as established in the Dominican Constitution when they were born (before 2010). The Dominican authorities tried to solve the denationalisation by passing the naturalisation law 169/14. This law divided this minority community in two groups and has left thousands of people officially stateless.


The Dominican Republic has a mixed population from different origins. That is why it is considered that 90% of its population is afro-descendant. However, since 2004 with the new migration law, the Dominican authorities have tried to denationalise a whole community. The community of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Back in 1920s the Dominican Republic lacked a workforce and the dictatorships of this country and Haiti reached an agreement on exchanging labourers. These people were hired by state-owned or private companies. All of them were Haitian men who moved to live in “bateyes”, slums near sugar cane plantations. However, with time they settled in these bateyes and brought their wives and children, or married Dominican women. In that period, Trujillo’s government in the Dominican Republic gave “pink cards” to those Haitians working as sugar cane cutters in the Dominican Republic as a way to legalise their situation in the country. The government does not accept these documents anymore.

Currently, this community is the most numerous minority group in the Dominican Republic. Now it is the descendants of Haitian migrants who are threatened with statelessness; they are affected by different policies and a judgement that has denationalised them. The current government has failed to solve the situation of many within this community.


After the Dominican Court judgement in 2013 (168/13) hundreds of thousands of people were left at risk of statelessness. These are Dominicans of Haitian descent who were deprived of their Dominican nationality which they previously acquired by jus soli. However, the judgement has resulted in consistent violations of the right to nationality of that community, including both those registered under the Civil Registry but also those without any registry.

A year later, in August 2014, the government started applying the naturalisation law (169/14) which tried to solve the registration of this community and the recognition of its members as Dominican nationals. However, its application has left a numerous group of people officially stateless.

This law divided the community in two groups depending on whether they were registered or not under the Civil Registry. For those registered, Group A, it automatically restored their Dominican nationality. For those not registered, Group B, it allowed them to go through a process that was criticised as controversial and complicated due to its time limitation (90 days extended to 180) and the difficulties in getting the required (notarised) documents.

One year after its application:

-        55,000 people have been identified under Group A.

-        8,755 people completed their registry under Group B.

However, there are several problems with this law to highlight. Concerning group A, local civil society organisations have denounced the fact that people, including some human rights activists, are missing from that 55,000 list. Additionally, this automatic restoration of nationality is being carried out by producing duplicate registry entries in a “transcription book” as part of a complex bureaucratic process that may cause difficulties for these people to renew their documents in future.

In the case of group B, those 8,755 are being given ID documents that identify them as irregular migrants (under the regularisation process). These documents include contradictory information (under place of birth it is written a city or province in the Dominican Republic while under nationality it is written Haitian). Moreover, a lot of people from the community could not register as they lacked the economic means to be able to take part in the process. These people face arbitrary detentions and deportation to Haiti, a country with which they have no connection.

For thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, not having access to their documents means that they cannot study after eighth grade, legally work, get married, or receive health treatment for diseases. Their lives are left in limbo.

MRG’s work

The Minority Rights Group (MRG) has been defending the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent for 10 years. In 2005, MRG submitted an “amicus curiae” at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as part of the “Yean and Bosico” case. Since 2010 MRG has been implementing a cultural and advocacy project with its local partner Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (MUDHA).

In the coming weeks MRG will launch its documentary film “Our lives in transit” where the audience is able to follow the daily live of Rosa Iris, a young lawyer of Dominican of Haitian descent who is defending the rights of her community. The documentary is the result of two years of filming and the trailer will be available on MRG’s website early November.

MRG organised a preview of this documentary at the United Nations in parallel to the 30th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva to raise international awareness on the situation of the community. The event, moderated by MRG, had Rosa Iris on the panel as main character of the documentary and Dominican of Haitian descent lawyer, but also Ms Mireille Fanon-Mendes France, Chairwoman of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of Africa Descent; Mr. Marco Formisano from UNHCR Bureau for the Americas; and Ms. Chiara Liguori, researcher at the Caribbean team of Amnesty International. All speakers focused their interventions on the current situation of statelessness of the Dominicans of Haitian descent. Over 20 country representatives attended this side-event.

All this work aims at raising awareness about and improving the situation of those affected. Previous posts on this blog have addressed the role of the EU and European states in helping to address this issue, and much further work is required in this regard.


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