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St. John's Law Professors Nelson and Baynes Take Action to Redress Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Monday, March 3, 2014

In a September 23, 2013 opinion, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling that established new criteria for acquiring Dominican nationality. Under the ruling, which was made retroactive to 1929, anyone born in the Dominican Republic to parents who were not legal at the time is not entitled to citizenship. The ruling quickly met with vocal opposition from human rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH). They asserted that it would have a disproportionate impact on thousands of Dominican citizens of Haitian descent, effectively stripping them of citizenship and rendering them stateless.

There is a well-documented history of discord between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and Dominicans of Haitian descent have long faced inequalities in their home country. But human rights experts assert that the enforcement of the Constitutional Court's September ruling will have an unprecedented impact on this already disenfranchised group.

Taking action through advocate Gedeon Jean and Professor Ediberto Roman of Florida International University College of Law, on October 9, 2013, CARDH filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requesting a finding that the Dominican Republic, through the decision of its Constitutional Court, violated the human rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent by making them stateless. The petition is supported by a memorandum of law setting out the legal foundation for the requested relief. St. John’s Law professors Janai S. Nelson and Leonard M. Baynes, who head The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development as associate director and director, respectively, are signatories to the memo of law along with 127 other faculty members from law school across the globe.

“It was important as a matter of conscience—as well as to advance the social justice mission of The RHB Center and the University’s Vincentian mission—to respond to this call to action by lending our voices to this effort to bring light this clear human rights violation, and to redeem the dignity of Domincans of Haitian descent,” said Professor Nelson.

Together with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the IACHR is a central institution for the international enforcement of human rights in the Americas under the umbrella of the Organization of American States. In this capacity, the IACHR ensures that OAS and signatories of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights comply with obligations they have undertaken. Both the Dominican Republic and Haiti are OAS members and parties to the Inter-American Convention.

Pursuant to this authority, the IACHR sent a delegation to the Dominican Republic in December 2013 to investigate firsthand the situation of those affected by the Constitutional Court’s ruling, in light of the standards of the Inter-American Human Rights System. Earlier this month, the IACHR issued its preliminary observations, concluding in part that “the Constitutional Court’s ruling implies an arbitrary deprivation of nationality” and “has a discriminatory effect, given that it primarily impacts Dominicans of Haitian descent.” The IACHR is slated to deliver its final report shortly, including recommendations for next steps.

In the meantime, during a recent debate on the issue by the Permanent Council of the OAS, a representative of the Dominican Republic delegation assured that nationals who were born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parentage will not be stripped of citizenship.