Birth, not ancestry, relevant to citizenship

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Birth, not ancestry, relevant to citizenship

Post by Guysanto » Sun Dec 07, 2008 10:17 am

Dec. 06, 2008

Birth, not ancestry, relevant to citizenship

SANTO DOMINGO -- I am a native-born citizen of the Dominican Republic. I grew up, went to school, started a family and raised my children on Dominican soil. This is the only place I have ever called home. Yet, after more than 45 years in this country, my nationality -- along with that of thousands of other Dominicans -- is being called into question.

Like many Dominicans, I am of Haitian ancestry. My family came to the Dominican Republic from neighboring Haiti to find work. Their journey was not uncommon, nor was it discouraged. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians came to work in this country with the express permission of the Dominican government. But Dominicans like me have always paid a price for our ancestry.

For more than a century, the government has promoted a policy of state-sponsored racial discrimination. We have been used as scapegoats to shift the focus away from the country's economic and political problems.

Even so, one lesson I learned growing up was that any person born in the Dominican Republic is a Dominican citizen. This no one questioned. This no one doubted. The Dominican Republic's constitution says explicitly that anyone born on the country's territory, except infants born to parents who happen to be diplomats or foreigners ''in transit'' -- understood for decades to mean in the country for fewer than 10 days -- is a Dominican citizen. Because of this, I never worried that my status as a citizen would ever be in doubt. I was wrong.

Two years ago, my country's government attempted to strip me of my nationality, and it is now trying to do the same to thousands of other Dominicans of Haitian descent. The government launched this effort with a bizarre reinterpretation of the constitution. It now deems individuals of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic to have no right to Dominican nationality because their parents or grandparents, many of them residents for years, if not decades, were supposedly "in transit.''

The government has ordered civil registry officers to refrain from issuing any identity documents for persons who were born to ''foreign parents'' and received Dominican birth certificates under what the government now calls ''irregular circumstances.'' Moreover, identity documents that the Dominican state already issued are being declared invalid retroactively. Only Dominicans of Haitian descent are being singled out. The discrimination by my country's government against my racial and ethnic group is so blatant that some civil registry offices have distributed lists of ''Haitian sounding names'' so that staff members can recognize them. Some people are even singled out based solely on their appearance. The crudeness of the government's campaign would almost be comical if it was not condemning so many Dominicans of Haitian descent to the uncertainty of statelessness.

Indeed, the implications of losing one's citizenship are enormous. Without identity documents, people are barred from schools, denied health care, prevented from marrying, and refused official documents like birth certificates and driver's licenses.

Worse still, the government is considering a constitutional amendment that would permanently strip nationality rights from thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The situation now is even more dangerous than before. For 30 years, I have worked to secure equal human and civil rights for Dominicans of Haitian descent. I have encountered many personal and professional difficulties. State officials have slandered me. Informants have tried to infiltrate my organization and undermine its work. I have received death threats on more than one occasion, and my children and I have had to flee our homeland.

But, despite everything I have endured, I remain hopeful that change is possible.

Discriminating against citizens

Perhaps the campaign against Dominicans of Haitian descent will stop when the Dominican judiciary acknowledges that the retroactive denial of citizenship violates fundamental human rights law. Perhaps it will stop when the international community starts speaking out against the Dominican Republic's discriminatory policies. But one thing is certain: it won't stop until all Dominicans who value democracy and the rule of law stand alongside their fellow citizens and declare that the time for unequal treatment is over.

Sonia Pierre, the head of the Movement for Dominican Women of Haitian Descent, was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2007.

©2008 Project Syndicate

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Post by Tayi » Mon Dec 08, 2008 10:32 pm

Wow, this is crazy. What can we, on WOH, do to help?

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