DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Gov't Turns Deaf Ear to UN Experts on Racism
By Diógenes Pina
SANTO DOMINGO, Oct 31 (IPS) - Discrimination against Haitians and their descendants "only exists in the minds of a few sick people" who wish to do the Dominican Republic harm, said governing coalition legislator José Taveras in response to a critical report by United Nations observers.
Foreign Minister Carlos Morales also "deplored" the report by U.N. experts, saying their activities in the country had been "a prefabricated set-up," according to an official communiqué released in Santo Domingo on Tuesday.
The preliminary views of the U.N. experts on racism and minority issues are that there is "a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination against such groups as Haitians, Dominicans of Haitian descent, and more generally against blacks within Dominican society."
"While there is no legislation that is clearly discriminatory on the face (of it), some laws have a discriminatory impact, including those in regard to migration, civil status and the granting of Dominican citizenship to persons of Haitian heritage born in the Dominican Republic, the experts said in a press release issued in Geneva.
Taveras, however, rejected these observations, and told IPS that "it's impossible to get to know the national reality in the few days that the U.N. delegation was here."
"There may be isolated cases, but discrimination is not a general problem in this country," said Taveras, of the National Progressive Force (FNP), an ultra-rightwing party allied to the governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).
Doudou Diène of Senegal, U.N. special rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and Gay McDougall from the United States, a U.N. independent expert on minority issues, made a preliminary presentation on Monday of their impressions and the data they had collected since their arrival in the Dominican Republic at the invitation of the government on Oct. 23.
Their final report will be delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. The experts' goal was to gather first-hand information about possible cases of segregation of and discrimination against Haitian immigrants, which have been denounced repeatedly by local and international human rights groups.
The Dominican Republic occupies two-thirds, and Haiti one-third, of the island of Hispaniola, which has a total area of 77,914 square kilometres. The two countries share a 380-kilometre land border. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Unofficial figures estimate that there are 800,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, which has a total population of nine million people.
Haitians tend to be darker than Dominicans, who are themselves mainly black or "mulattos" -- the offspring of people from Spain and Africa.
"The (Dominican) authorities have nothing to fear from these reports, which merely reflect the reality," Regino Martínez, a priest in Dajabón, a town on the border with Haiti, told IPS.
"It's a pity that so many people who deny there is discrimination have never seen a batey (housing for sugarcane workers) and have never visited the border area," said Martínez, who leads a group called Solidaridad Fronteriza (Border Solidarity), founded in 1997 by the Jesuits, a Catholic order.
The group's aim is to "foment and strengthen the interrelations between community organisations along the northwestern border" of the Dominican Republic.
Diène and McDougall confirmed the existence of arbitrary policies and practices, which are sometimes applied retroactively. For instance, "young people who were born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents spoke of their concerns regarding their ability to attend university since they are unable to obtain the required cedula (identity card)," they said.
A circular put out in March by the office of the civil registrar instructed officials to closely examine birth certificates when issuing copies, or any document relevant to civil status, in case they were issued irregularly in the past to people with foreign parents who have not proved their legal residency or status in the Dominican Republic.
This has led to low level functionaries questioning or confiscating documents belonging to people of Haitian descent, the U.N. experts found.
In August, the founder and leader of the Dominican-Haitian Women's Movement (MUDHA), Sonia Pierre, accused the civil registry offices of demanding that Dominicans of Haitian descent present their parents' documents in order to issue birth certificates.
And in fact the FNP asked registry officials to revoke Pierre's Dominican citizenship, on the pretext that her parents had not been legal residents when she obtained it, in 1963. Pierre's parents came to the Dominican Republic in 1954 to work on the sugarcane plantations.
After her case made international headlines, the investigation into the legality of her documents was called off.
Racism and discrimination against Haitian immigrants and their children or grandchildren born in the Dominican Republic are frequent complaints, which have been taken up by local and foreign non-governmental organisations.
Foreign Minister Morales, however, rejected the U.N. experts' observations outright. In his communiqué, he said that "the report given by this lady and gentleman lacks solid evidence and appears to echo the voices of those traitors who are only interested in taking advantage of the situation."
"We do not find it surprising that, without being closely familiar with the situation in our country, the rapporteurs were able to make their diagnosis in just a few brief days, because we know what underlies this," he said.
In his view, "for a long time there have been unpatriotic Dominicans involved in lucrative institutions who have been playing along with foreign countries that compete with the Dominican Republic in sectors such as tourism, trade and investment in different branches of the economy."
He stated that the government of the Dominican Republic would not tolerate "anyone coming in from outside wanting to judge our laws and our constitution."
"Our border with Haiti has its problems, this is our reality and it must be understood. It is important not to confuse national sovereignty with indifference, and not to confuse security with xenophobia," he said. (END/2007)
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