Amnesty International has just published a report on the ongoing statelessness crisis in the Dominican Republic (DR). In September 2013, a DR Constitutional Court issued a ruling that stripped citizenship from Dominicans of immigrant descent all the way back to 1929. The vast majority of these Dominicans are of Haitian descent, making this also a crisis on the two countries’ border once people started fleeing or being deported from DR.
Part of the report is below. Click HERE for the full text.
‘Without Papers, I Am No One’: Stateless People in the Dominican Republic
November 19, 2015
Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic face a series of obstacles to the
full enjoyment of their human rights to a nationality, to recognition as a person before the
law and to identity. The denial of these rights has increasingly been codified into Dominican
laws and regulations, creating an ever more complex web of restrictions and entrenching and
institutionalizing discriminatory attitudes and practices.
The intensification of discriminatory attitudes and practices has taken place in the context of
changes in migration into the Dominican Republic, primarily from Haiti, in recent decades.
From the 1920s to the 1980s, Haitian migrant workers were drawn into the Dominican
Republic as seasonal workers in the sugarcane industry. The workers, mostly men, were
confined to settlements called bateyes within the plantations. For a considerable part of
that time (1952-1986), they were contracted as braceros (cane cutters) for the sugar cane
harvest in their own country through bilateral agreements between the Dominican and Haitian
Following the fall in sugar prices on the international market from the mid-1980s onwards,
the demand for sugarcane workers fell drastically. New migrant workers from Haiti began
to make their own way to the Dominican Republic. They, together with other Haitian
migrants who previously worked in the sugarcane plantations, increasingly sought and found
employment outside the bateyes in the diversifying agricultural sector, in the construction
sector and in the developing tourism industry. These changes in migration patterns started to
be used by some nationalist groups to stoke a fear of a “peaceful invasion” of Haitians.
In recent decades, the widespread use of such rhetoric, steeped in discriminatory views,
has dominated public and political debate about Haitian immigration. One consequence
of this development has been that since the early 1990s Dominican-born children of
Haitian migrants have been the target of a number of administrative, legislative and judicial
decisions aimed at restricting their access to Dominican identity documents and ultimately
to Dominican nationality. With no automatic access to Haitian nationality, many have been
left stateless, not recognized as nationals by either the Dominican Republic or Haiti. Certain
Dominican institutions, such as the Central Electoral Board and the Constitutional Court,
have played a key role in approving or implementing such discriminatory measures.
Although the current government has shown some willingness to mitigate the harshest
consequences of such measures, the Dominican authorities have yet to acknowledge that the
problem of statelessness exists, let alone provide comprehensive and effective measures to
prevent and end it.
The road to statelessness
Between 1929 and 2010, successive versions of the Dominican Constitution granted
Dominican nationality to all children born on national territory (ius soli). The only exceptions
were the children of diplomats and of people “in transit”. Long-standing and authoritative
legal interpretations limited the definition of people considered to be “in transit” to those
present in the country for fewer than 10 days. Irrespective of the migration status of
their parents, therefore, for many decades the Dominican Republic formally recognized
Dominican-born children of Haitian parents as citizens and issued them with Dominican birth
certificates, identity cards and passports – at least in the vast majority of cases.
However, during the 1990s, nationalist groups started to promote a restrictive interpretation
of “in transit” and as a result many civil registry officers started denying the children of
undocumented Haitian migrants their right to birth registration. In 2004, a new Migration
Law formally considered temporary foreign workers and undocumented migrant workers as
foreigners “in transit”. This effectively meant that the children of the majority of Haitian
migrants could no longer access Dominican nationality by virtue of being born in the
The Central Electoral Board, the body in charge of the civil registry, started applying this
law retroactively. In 2007 it systematised these practices by issuing two administrative
decisions which had the effect of preventing identity documents being issued or renewed for
Dominican-born children of Haitian migrants who had not regularized their migration status
at the time of their children’s birth. These practices continued despite the concerns raised
by several international human rights bodies and a 2005 binding judgment by the Inter-
American Court of Human Rights.
On 26 January 2010, the current Dominican Constitution entered into force. Under the
Constitution, children of irregular migrants born in the Dominican Republic whose parents
were irregular migrants no longer had the automatic right to Dominican nationality. This was
followed in 2013 by a Constitutional Court judgment (168-13) which stated that children
born in the Dominican Republic to foreign parents who did not have regular migration status
had never been entitled to Dominican nationality. The judgment was applied retrospectively
to people born since 1929. Judgment 168-13 constitutes a retroactive and arbitrary
deprivation of nationality. It disproportionately affects Dominicans of Haitian descent and is,
The main consequence of this judgment is that a large number of people have been left
stateless who identify the Dominican Republic as their own country; it is where they were
born and where they have lived all their lives. They often have no ties with Haiti, have never
been there and barely speak the local language. Many are the children or grandchildren of
people who were also born in the Dominican Republic. For these families the Dominican
Republic has been home for generations.
The statelessness crisis
While the Dominican authorities have never acknowledged that Judgment 168-13 resulted in
mass statelessness, the President and other officials have indicated a level of awareness of
the ruling’s harsh impact on the lives of those affected.
Click HERE for the full report.