Dominicans of Haitian descent, and Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, are still living under the extraordinary threat of deportation, with, as has been reported, tens of thousands “self-deporting” so as to avoid the constant street hassle executed by the DR’s security forces. Those security forces are funded and trained by the US, a point that for all their good work on the issue, groups like Amnesty International and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (the awkward rebranding of what used to be the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights) have thus far avoided—even though those funds could be used as leverage to pressure rightwing anti-Haitians in the DR to back off.
That is, no prominent human rights group in the US has yet to make the obvious point that Washington could enact the so-called “Leahy Amendments,” which cut US aid to foreign security forces if there is credible information they are involved in significant human rights violations. Washington did this before with St. Lucia in 2013, after its police force went on a rampage and killed over a dozen citizens (obviously the US needs a domestic Leahy amendment).
Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth practically begged Obama to bomb Syria. José Miguel Vivanco, the head of HRW’s Americas Division wrote an impassioned, detailed, public letter to the Pope, imploring him to act on behalf of Leopoldo López, the jailed Venezuelan opposition leader. Readers would be forgiven if, after a quick perusal of HRW’s Venezuela page, they came away with the idea that the organization’s main mission was to serve as López’s personal barrister.
Poor Dominicans and Haitians? Not so much. Thousands are now jammed into “squalid” camps on the Haitian side of the border, yet the most HRW can do is insipidly ask Washington to “support civil society groups to help monitor the deportation process, and protect the rights of denationalized Dominicans” and “work with the Dominican government to develop a process that will enable denationalized Dominicans to effectively regain their nationality.” Okay, then.
By avoiding pushing for the application of Leahy, Amnesty and RFK are circumscribing the debate on potentially effective policies to respond to anti-Haitian racism from the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is, after all, an important “free trade” partner.
But according to CNN, over 500 former Peace Corps volunteers, including three former DR Country Directors, have sent a letter—striking in its contrast to the timidity of AI, HRW, and RFK Human Rights—to Secretary of State Kerry urging for the enforcement of Leahy, citing State Department reports documenting extrajudicial killings, torture, and the case of 31-year-old Haitian immigrant Jean Robert Lors, whose home was invaded by Dominican security agents (in 2013) and who was beaten so severely—allegedly “with the butts of their weapons”—that he died. “We must no longer abet such actions in the Dominican Republic, much less be complicit in an impending intensification of human rights abuses,” argued Carly Perez, who volunteered from 2010 to 2012. “It’s time for the State Department to act on its own information, bring the United States into compliance with U.S. law, and send a strong signal to the Dominican Republic by suspending military aid.”
Here’s the letter:
August 7, 2015
Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
cc: Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs
cc: Honorable Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont
Dear Secretary Kerry,
As 560 returned Peace Corps volunteers and three Country Directors who served in the Dominican Republic, we are grateful for the privilege of having spent years living, working with, and learning from the Dominican people. It is due to our deep and abiding concern for the most vulnerable members of Dominican society that we are writing to you about the crisis of statelessness among Dominicans of Haitian descent. We urge you to end U.S. involvement in the violation of their human rights: enforce the Leahy Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act and annual Department of Defense appropriations.
The Leahy laws state that no U.S. assistance shall be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if there is credible information that such a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. Given the Dominican government’s disregard for international law with respect to the status of its citizens of Haitian descent; the violent track record of Dominican security forces receiving funding and training from the United States; and the Dominican Armed Forces’ readiness to execute a potentially massive campaign of rights-violating expulsions, we ask that the United States suspend its military aid to the Dominican government.
In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court issued a ruling (168-13) that effectively stripped hundreds of thousands of people, primarily those of Haitian descent, of their Dominican citizenship. This ruling stands in direct contravention of international human rights law—specifically the American Convention on Human Rights, which the Dominican government ratified in 1978. This convention enshrines the right to a nationality and prohibits its arbitrary deprivation. Many Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, including those whose families have resided in the Dominican Republic for generations, were rendered stateless and face forcible deportation to a country where many have no ties whatsoever. A subsequent Dominican law (169-14), which addressed the court’s ruling, further entrenched the negation of the right to citizenship on the basis of one’s place of birth, and retroactively conferred citizenship on the basis of the immigration status of one’s parents.
In 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled in a binding decision that the Dominican government practiced “a systematic pattern of expulsions of Haitians and persons of Haitian descent based on discriminatory concepts, including collective expulsions.” The decision called for redress to victims who suffered illegal deportations, the denial of identity documents, and arbitrary deprivation of nationality. The IACHR furthermore deemed Dominican Law 169-14 “an impediment to the full exercise of the right to nationality of the victims” and a violation of “the right to identity, and the right to equal protection of the law recognized in Article 24” of the American Convention on Human Rights, which are binding obligations.
The Dominican government’s dismissive reaction to the IACHR ruling demonstrated a “shocking disregard for international law,” according to Amnesty International. Dominican security forces have been tasked with implementing these illegal migration policies, according to the declarations of Dominican Defense Minister Máximo William Muñoz Delgado and the head of the General Directorate of Migration, Rubén Darío Paulino Sem. The security forces that appear poised to carry out mass deportations within the country, including the U.S.-trained border patrol agency, CESFRONT, have received more than $17.5 million in assistance from the United States since 2013, the year that the Constitutional Court handed down its ruling.
The Department of State has acknowledged that Dominican security forces have committed gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings and torture. In one instance, according to a 2013 State Department report, migration agents and National Police officers “forcefully entered the home of 31-year-old Haitian immigrant Jean Robert Lors during a mass repatriation round-up” and beat him so severely—allegedly “with the butts of their weapons”— that he died shortly thereafter. A “widespread perception of official impunity” for such egregious acts coupled with routine discrimination against Haitian migrants and their descendants makes it a virtual certainty that darker-skinned Dominicans will suffer severe violations of their human rights as a result of the government’s unlawful policies on migration and citizenship. Indeed, the State Department concluded that within the Dominican Republic, “the most serious human rights problem was discrimination against Haitian migrants and their descendants, including the Constitutional Tribunal’s September 2013 ruling.”
It is exactly this sort of financial assistance to security forces that the Leahy Amendments are designed to curtail, as the State Department demonstrated when it suspended police aid to Saint Lucia in 2013. If the United States is serious about protecting universally recognized human rights, we must no longer abet such actions in the Dominican Republic, much less be complicit in an impending intensification of human rights abuses. In our view, it appears impossible for the Dominican government to move forward with the implementation of its human rights-violating, internationally condemned citizenship laws without involving its security forces in yet more widespread and severe abuses.
We wish to clarify that we make our recommendation not in opposition to the people of the Dominican Republic, but rather against an official U.S. policy of funding and training Dominican security forces that are both responsible for gross human rights violations and positioned to commit many more abuses without a sharp signal from the United States that such practices are unacceptable. By continuing to offer its military aid to the Dominican security forces, the United States is undermining internal efforts by a variety of organizations and individuals in Dominican civil society to protect vulnerable people, defend human rights, and bring the country into compliance with international law. We urge you to suspend U.S. assistance to Dominican security forces and stand up for human rights in the Dominican Republic at this critical moment.
We would greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak with your office about this matter; to this end, a small group of us kindly request a meeting with Assistant Secretary Jacobson at her convenience to further discuss our proposal and address any concerns you may have.
Art Flanagan, Peace Corps Country Director (2011-2014)
Romeo Massey, Peace Corps Country Director (2005-2011)
Dan Salcedo, Peace Corps Country Director (1999-2002)