Dominican Republic out of step

The Caricom Community Secretariat has recently reacted to the decision of the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court on September 23rd that annuls a standing rule that had granted citizenship to anyone born in that country after 1929. The ruling of the Court, according to reports, “orders the government to fast-track residency papers for eligible people born in the DR to illegal parents and rejects applying the principle of jus soli, or granting nationality to children merely because they happen to be born in the DR”.

The decision has revived long-standing fears of extensive discrimination on the part of the people of Haiti who have migrated, a lot of the time illegally, to the DR in search of a better life, and who have had offspring in that country. And in response, the Government of Haiti, a member of Caricom, has recalled its ambassador from the DR, an act in diplomatic protocol which is a first step indicating displeasure by one state with an act of another.

It was obviously generally assumed by both the Haitian government, and Haitian residents in the DR, that the 1929 date had some degree of permanence, and that a decision contrary to it, would not be acceptable to the Government of the DR itself at this time. For the DR, since the Haitian earthquake of January 2010, has gone out of its way to visibly demonstrate its concern for the people of Haiti, and for the predicament of the Haitian authorities, even in the face of increasing numbers of Haitians moving across the border.

The Constitutional Court’s decision is obviously a reaction to domestic pressures being felt in the DR following the earthquake, and it seems obvious that a view had developed that the most expeditious way to deal with the matter in the face of concern from some quarters, was not to pass new legislation defining the status of Haitian migrants which would obviously raise substantial debate, but to simply annul the previous legislation. For the DR government has been well aware that United Nations and Inter-American Human Rights institutions have been well seized of the issue in recent times.

The Caricom statement, like those of others, rightly puts the issue in the context of human rights. Within the Community there has long been cognizance of what, over scores of decades, has been recognized as a certain contempt of regimes in the Dominican Republic for Haitians, leading in earlier times to massive sweeps of victimization or deportation of migrants.

In recent times, however, the DR, anxious to take part in the European Union’s reorganisation of its relations with the English-speaking Caribbean that has culminated in the EU-Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement, has been inclined to adopt what we can call a good behaviour posture, cognizant of the views of many human rights organizations in Europe that countries persistently involved in human rights abuses should not be beneficiaries of European aid or favourable relationships. That posture has paid off, in the sense that the EU has been favourable to a single relationship encompassing both Caricom and the EU.

In that context, it is probably fair to say that in recent times, Caricom – meaning the member-states’ governments – have been inclined to display a somewhat more partial attitude towards the DR’s push to benefit from EPA membership, and by extension, towards what would probably be perceived  by external parties as a DR desire to be a more active participant in a reorganizing Caribbean Community.

There is a view that such partiality, deriving from the DR’s determination to simultaneously engage with both Caricom and the Central American Free Trade Area nations, and a view in some quarters that Caricom should be more responsive at this time, might have induced delay in a formal Caricom response to the DR Constitutional Court’s decision of September 23rd.

The response by the Secretariat was made on October 17th, after a visit by the Haitian Foreign Minister to Georgetown on October 15th, but well after former Jamaica Prime Minister P J Patterson felt constrained to call for a statement from the Community on the matter. But surely, the preoccupation of the current Caricom Chair, Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, with election campaigning, should hardly have been an impediment to the necessary consultation between the Secretariat and herself.

It might well be argued that, in a period when Caricom governments are calling for reparations from the United Kingdom relating to the period of slavery, they also need to be cognizant of their relations with governments of countries where there is still insufficiency of clarity on the rights of persons of particular racial classification to a normal life wherever they reside.

This is not to suggest that Caricom governments necessarily have the leverage, at any point in time, to effect change in the behaviour of other governments. But it must be the case that their positions must be made clear, and with a certain urgency, when situations of contrary behaviour to norms which we recognize arise, particularly in our Region.

In that regard, former Prime Minister Patterson’s clarion call, in insisting that the DR Court’s decision was out of step with norms that we recognize in this Region, was most apt.

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