OUR CARIBBEAN: Racism challenge for Caricom, EU
FOR ALL the outcrY, regionally and internationally, the Dominican Republic (DR), which is seeking membership of the Caribbean Community, seems bent on perpetuating anti-black racism, particularly in relation to immigrants of Haitian descent. At least 240 000 of these citizens of this region have been rendered stateless by a ruling of its Constitutional Court last September.
Ironically, the ruling of the court had resulted from an appeal by a DR-born woman of Haitian descent – Juliana Deguis Pierre – against the decision of a lower court in 2012 that rejected her claim to DR nationality and for protection by the country’s constitution.
Since then, despite strong concerns expressed against the Constitutional Court’s ruling by the European Union (EU) and CARICOM – having been earlier denounced by the Inter-American Human Rights Court – the government in Santo Domingo continues to reveal contempt for public opinion, at home and abroad, by failing to take any decisive action, such as new legislation to effectively address the problem resulting from the court’s ruling.
Now has emerged a new challenge to both the Haitian government and CARICOM from Reggie Dumas – the retired head of Trinidad and Tobago’s public service and former diplomat, currently a respected commentator on social and political issues in the Trinidad Express.
Dumas chose the occasion of the 14th memorial lecture in honour of the Grenada-born West Indian legal luminary, Sir Archibald Nedd, to focus attention on his topic of choice State-Revoked Citizenship – The Case Of The Dominican Republic And Haiti And Its Implications For CARICOM.
Having outlined the origin of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, Dumas released to those in attendance some quite pertinent information as well as raising questions that both Haiti and CARICOM should address.
For a start, he observed that as far back as 1991, on a “country visit” to the Dominican Republic, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had become aware that immigrants of Haitian descent were “being denied their documents on the basis of race” – the basic documents being ID and birth certificate, the latter having to be revalidated every 90 days, without which the citizenship certificate “will not be issued”.
It is relevant to note that this “official” practice was maintained for decades and when personnel of the Inter-American Commission visited the DR again in 1997, they noted an “increase in this discrimination”.
In the face of increasing treatment of Dominicans of Haitian origin being categorised as “intransit persons” and arbitrarily interpreted, the Inter-American Human Rights Court felt obliged to rule, when engaged, that the phrase “intransit” meant a short period of about ten days, not several years, as is the prevailing experience.
Further, that the migratory status of parents cannot be “inherited by children”. Instead of expected amendments, the DR’s Supreme Court ruled that “intransit” could be interpreted as “absence of legal residence”. That bit of legalistic chicanery expediently changed the argument from “length” of stay to “legal validity” of stay.
Dumas’ research and preparation for the lecture led him to raise some critical questions about the positions of both Haiti and CARICOM. For some months, he lamented, the Haitian government of President Martelly kept behaving as if it “wished the whole thing would just blow away . . .”.
Well, it hasn’t. The situation has worsened as recognised by the EU, CARICOM and the OAS with serious implications for fundamental human rights. Dumas chose to remind CARICOM of its Charter of Civil Society in his effort to influence movement from words to action.
Well, he would also be aware that inspiring as the lofty provisions are in that Charter, proclaimed back in 1997, it lacks legal status since no member state of CARICOM has yet enacted legislation to make it enforceable against violators.
Yet, we need to hear from CARICOM and its member state Haiti, when they intend to act in shaming the DR’s government into changing a racist imbedded law that has resulted in rendering stateless so many thousands of immigrants of Haitian descent.
l Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.