Apartheid Dominican Style

September 25, 2007

Two international human rights bodies—the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Human Rights Court—are examining charges that the Dominican government is illegally expelling large groups of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent and is using what amounts to racial profiling to select those who will be deported. Arturo Carrillo, a human rights attorney working on the case, says this is the first time international courts have taken up such charges against a Latin American government; he called it an “unprecedented” examination of “discrimination, racism and xenophobia as a state policy.” Carrillo refers to the Dominican policy as “Caribbean-style apartheid.”

This legal scrutiny may open the door for people who were expelled from the Dominican Republic, allegedly on the basis of their race, to receive compensation. It could also force the government of President Hipólito Mejía to change national immigration policy and end the Dominican Republic’s long-time policy of mass expulsions.

Both the Commission and the Court are entities of the Organization of American States (OAS). The case is being litigated by the Human Rights Clinic of Columbia Law School, in conjunction with the Center for Justice and International Law and other groups. The Commission began its review after a large-scale expulsion in 1999. Late that year the Commission called on Dominican authorities to stop the deportations. In a Commission hearing in March of this year, the human rights advocates presented evidence that “the illegal mass expulsions of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent has not only continued, but has actually increased under the Dominican Republic’s new President Hipólito Mejía.” According to the human rights groups, 4,000 people were thrown out of the Dominican Republic in the month of January 2001 alone with no advance warning, no chance to prove their legal status, and no opportunity to contact their family or collect their belongings.

In the March hearing before the Commission, the investigators presented evidence that the Dominican government systematically deports Haitians and others regardless of their immigration status. They argued in a United Nations Human Rights Committee hearing the same month that “The Dominican Republic’s expulsion practice is inherently discriminatory, targeting black persons and those presumed to be Haitian, which amounts to racial profiling.” The U.N. Committee had earlier noted that such mass expulsions were a “serious violation” of internationally recognized human rights.

On May 26, the Inter-American Human Rights Court ordered the adoption of provisional measures designed to protect the victims of the Dominican expulsions. Until now, the procedures in the two OAS legal bodies have not focused on individual cases, but a complaint that will soon be heard by the Court focuses on five families and three individuals—28 people in all—who were affected by the Dominican expulsions. The petitioners are asking the court to call on the Dominican government to pay damages to these individuals as well as to revise Dominican policies and laws that permit the expulsions. The court has jurisdiction to do both, and the Dominican Republic is a signatory of the relevant regional human rights agreements.

“The potential impact of our case is both legal and human,” says Catherine Powell, director of the Human Rights Clinic of Columbia Law School, “we hope to change the ways governments treat their migrant work force, regardless of their race, color or descent.”

Jordi Pius Llopart is a Catalan human rights lawyer working at NACLA under a fellowship awarded by the government of Catalonia.

Tags: race, Dominican Republic, Haiti, immigrants, discrimination, IACHR, deportations

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