New York, April 16, 2009 — Today, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women (MUDHA), and the Haitian Support Group for Refugees and Repatriated Persons (GARR) jointly filed a landmark human rights law brief against the Dominican Republic on behalf of 28 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. They charge the Dominican Republic with violating international human rights law through its policy of mass expulsions, and seek an end to routine deportations without notice or a fair hearing by Dominican immigration authorities. The brief was filed before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in Washington, D.C.
“Dominican officials rounded up innocent civilians, including children, in some cases in the middle of the night, and held them in buses and prisons for hours without access to food, water, bathrooms, or telephones, before sending them across the border,” said Caroline Bettinger-López, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. “The Dominican government targeted the victims in this case—many of whom speak Spanish and not Haitian Creole—for deportation simply because they were dark-skinned or had Haitian-sounding names. At no point was there any attempt to accurately determine their nationality before exiling them to Haiti,” Bettinger-López said.
In 2000, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued provisional measures to protect the petitioners, who are victims of mass expulsions from the Dominican Republic conducted by Dominican authorities in 1999 and 2000. They were deported without notice, fair hearing, or opportunity to collect belongings and contact their families. In some cases, Dominican officials tore their birth certificates to pieces while yelling racial slurs. The petitioners, whose names are withheld for confidentiality purposes, now live in the Dominican Republic and Haiti under the temporary protective measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The provisional measures have been updated six times to expand the scope of protection, most recently in 2006. The measures require the Dominican government to permit the petitioners to return to and travel freely throughout the Dominican Republic, and order the Dominican government to take steps to protect the petitioners and their local representatives.
The government has consistently failed to comply with its legal obligations under the measures. Continuing patterns of abuse include the destruction by border guards of identity documents created under the protective measures and the refusal of the government to replace the documents, leaving the petitioners without the ability to enter the Dominican Republic. Reentry rights are part of the explicit order of the court.
“This case presents the Commission with an important opportunity to rule for the first time that collective expulsions violate fundamental human rights obligations. This is a pressing human rights issue in the Americas and around the world,” said Francisco Quintana, Associate Director of CEJIL’s Washington office.
The IACHR and the Inter-American Court are the organs of the Organization of American States that are responsible for monitoring and promoting human rights in the Western Hemisphere. Five cases have been brought against the Dominican Republic in the Inter-American human rights system. The first case resulted in the landmark 2005 case of Yean and Bosico vs. Dominican Republic, in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the Dominican government had illegally denied citizenship—and the concomitant right to education—to Dominican-born children of Haitian descent. Another pending case concerns the Massacre of Guayubín, in which the Dominican military is accused of opening fire on a truck full of civilians, including many migrant workers from Haiti.
At the IACHR, seven international human rights experts will ultimately rule on the fundamental question in the case: whether the arbitrary deportation violated petitioners’ rights to liberty, property, nationality, family unity, due process, and non-discrimination under the American Convention on Human Rights, a human rights treaty to which the Dominican Republic is party.
“A favorable ruling from the Commission could lead to meaningful change, not only in the lives of our clients, but for all Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic,” said Crystal López, a third-year law student at Columbia Law School who has worked on the case for the past two years.
If the government flouts the Commission’s recommendations, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights—whose decisions are binding and enforceable—may ultimately hear the case.
To contact Caroline Bettinger-López, please call the Columbia Law School Public Affairs office at 212-854-2650. Reporters can also arrange interviews with the petitioners in the case through the Public Affairs office.
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