Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Response to Roberto Alvarez, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the OAS

(I recently had an exchange of views with Roberto Alvarez, the Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the OAS, on the Dominican-issues discussion group moderated by author and journalist Michele Wucker. As it was an interesting opportunity to explore the thinking and rationale of the Dominican government with regards to their treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, and as it took place in a semi-public forum, I thought I would re-post some of it here. While it would seem to me unfair to post Mr. Alvarez's original comments (they were, after all, made in a subscription-required-though-open-to-the-public forum), I think that I am within my rights to post my response, addressing as it does several of the contentions of the government of Dominican president Leonel Fernandez with regards to its treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian-descent in that country, chiefly that demands that the Dominican state respect the decision of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I would stress, though, that I believe Mr. Alvarez is perfectly entitled to his opinions, and I, for one, would never attempt to silence them, no matter how disagreeable I may find some of their implications. Likewise, I am not casting aspersions on him as a person, but rather on the actions of the government he represents in an international capacity at the OAS. My response, with relevant links, is below.)

Michael Deibert, Journalist and Author, responds

I am glad that Roberto Alvarez - Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the OAS -has felt the need to step forward to put forth the Fernandez government's position on this issue. If Mr.Alvarez, an official representative of the Fernandez government, feels the need to respond in such a humble forum as ours, we must be having some kind of effect. Unfortunately, Mr. Alvarez's statements are but another attempt, in my view, to defend the indefensible, and to cast a sheen of legitimacy on apolicy that is not only inhumane, but illegal and detrimental to the long-term interests of the Dominican Republic to portray itself as a modern and stable member of the family of nations.

When Mr. Alvarez writes that "the IACHR did not order the Dominican government bestow Dominican nationality on anyone, regardless of what anyone may think," and then in his "summary" of the case writes that "the Dominican Supreme Courts decision of December 14th 2005 decided: first, that the Dominican Constitution does not grant Dominican nationality indiscriminately to all persons born in Dominican soil" he would appear to be trying to actually deflect attention away from the actual wording of the IACHR decision and the ways in which the government of the Dominican Republic was found in violation to an international pact - the American Convention on Human Rights "Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica" - to which it is a signatory.

As stated before, Article 11 of the Dominican constitution reads in the original Spanish as follows:

“Todas las personas que nacieren en el territorio dela República, con excepción de los hijos legítimos delos extranjeros residentes en el país enrepresentació n diplomática o los que están de tránsitoen él.”

Despite Alvarez's claims to the contrary, the actual official summary of the position of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights - which can be read here -states the following:

"On July 11, 2003, the Commission lodged an application with the Court against the Dominican Republic, in case 12,189, the first one ever brought to the Court against that country. The case is that of two young girls, Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico. The Commission is asking the Court to find that theState’s international responsibility has been engaged by the fact that the Dominican authorities refused to grant Dominican citizenship to Dilcia Yean and VioletaBosico Cofi even though they were born within the territory of the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Republic recognizes the principle of jus soli. In view of the foregoing, the Commission asked the Court to declare a violation of the right to juridical personality, the right to a fair trial, the rights of the child, the right to nationality, the right to equality before the law, and the right to judicial protection, set forth respectively in Articles 3, 8,19, 20, 24, and 25 of the American Convention, in conjunction with Articles 1 and 2 thereof. "

The Court delivered its Judgment in the case on September 8, 2005. It began by dismissing the State’s three preliminary objections and went on to declare that the State had violated the right to nationality and the right to equality before the law, upheld in Articles 20 and 24 of the Convention, in relation to Article 19 and Article 1.1 thereof, to the detriment of the two girls, Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico; it also found that the State had violated the right to juridical personality and the right to a name,recognized in Articles 3 and 18, respectively, in relation to Articles 19 and 1.1 of the Convention and to the detriment of the two young girls Dilcia Yeanand Violeta Bosico; it also ruled that the State had violated the right to humane treatment recognized in Article 5 of the Convention, in relation to Article1.1 thereof, to the detriment of Leonidas Oliven Yean,Tiramen Bosico Cofi and Teresa Tucent Mena."

The IACHR thus found the government of the Dominican Republic in violation of the following articles of the American Convention on Human Right "Pact of San Jose,Costa Rica" (which can be read here):

Article 3. Right to Juridical Personality "Every person has the right to recognition as a person before the law."

Article 5. Right to Humane Treatment “1. Every person has the right to have his physical,mental, and moral integrity respected. 2. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.3. Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the criminal. 4. Accused persons shall,save in exceptional circumstances, be segregated from convicted persons, and shall be subject to separate treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons. 5. Minors while subject to criminal proceedings shall be separated from adults and brought before specialized tribunals, as speedily as possible,so that they may be treated in accordance with their status as minors. 6. Punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty shall have as an essential aim the reform and social re adaptation of the prisoners.”

Article 19. Rights of the Child "Every minor child has the right to the measures of protection required by his condition as a minor on the part of his family, society, and the state."

Article 20. Right to Nationality "1.Every person has the right to a nationality. 2.Every person has the right to the nationality of the state in whose territory he was born if he does not have the right to any other nationality. 3. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or of the right to change it."

Article 24. Right to Equal Protection "All persons are equal before the law. Consequently,they are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection of the law."

Mr. Alvarez may thus find my statement that "the decision of the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic...followed and came in direct contravention of the decision by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights Court (IACHR) of the Organization of American States(OAS) in September 2005" to be, in his words,"wrong" and "arrogant," but, alas for his argument, the evidence supports my position.

The treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent by the government Mr. Alvarez represents has been not only "wrong" and "arrogant," but also brutal, stupid and against the long term interests of the Dominican Republic to establish itself as nation under the rule of law and a responsible member of the international community. It is a precedent which will be to the long-term detriment of all Dominicans,whether they are of Haitian or "Spanish" descent, ebony-hued or lily-white, rich or poor.

One need only to review , in addition to the IACHR decision, the statements of organizations such as Amnesty International, Christian Aid and Human Rights Watch over the last few years to see the effect this policy is having on an international level. In its April 2002 release "Dominican Republic: Deportations Conducted Unfairly," Human Rights Watch wrote "Targeted because their skin color is often darker, ‘Haitian-looking’ people are frequently deported to Haiti within hours of their detention,causing families to be separated and children to be left behind. Suspected undocumented Haitians -including Dominicans of Haitian descent - have no fair opportunity to challenge their expulsion." In her May 2006 open letter to President Fernandez, Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan bemoaned the fact that "since May 2005, Haitian and Dominicans of Haitian descent have been subjected to collective and arbitrary expulsions by the Dominican authorities in violation of the Dominican Republic’s obligations under international standards including the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights." In its October 2006 release "Christian Aid protests human rights abuses against Haitian migrants," the UK-based Christian Aid wrote that "numerous cases have been documented in which immigration officials have broken into homes and forced people at gunpoint onto buses giving them no chance to collect documents or inform relatives. When they reach the Haitian side of the border, many have been able to prove that they were in the Dominican Republic legally.”

I fear that this issue will follow Mr Alvarez's and Mr. Fernandez's every step until the government of the Dominican Republic chooses to acknowledge the fundamental rights and humanity of all its citizens,not just those with access to the levers of power.

In closing I would like to say that I thank Mr.Alvarez for giving me this opportunity to address in some detail the Dominican government's rather tortured logic on this situation. In the face of the seemingly endless march of violence in Haiti, and the equally endless assault on the rights of the disenfranchised we are currently watching in the Dominican Republic,those of us who love those two countries can often feel powerless to effect change in the face of such brutal machinery. As Graham Greene once wrote, though, perhaps after all "a writer is not so powerless as he usually feels, and a pen, as well as a silver bullet, can draw blood."


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