Dominicans of Haitian Descent and the Compromised Right to Nationality: Report Presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the Occasion of its 140th Session

Open Society Justice (2010). Dominicans of Haitian Descent and the compromised right to nationality: Report presented to the Inter-American Commission on human rights on the occasion of its 140th session.


The right to nationality is one of the most critical of human rights. Although in theory few rights – such as to hold national public office, to vote in national elections or to exit and enter a country freely – are conditioned upon nationality, in practice access to nationality is a prerequisite to enjoyment of many of the benefits that people derive from membership in a political community – from education to social services to the right to counsel. In the Dominican Republic, enjoyment of the right to nationality has become all but impossible for persons of Haitian descent. Following decades of ad hoc discrimination in access to the identity documents that recognized them as lawful citizens, Dominicans of Haitian descent have since 2004 faced an avalanche of hostile legislative changes and administrative policies that have restricted their ability to enjoy the nationality that is guaranteed to them under the Dominican constitution. Singled out because of their national origin and their skin color, thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent have been left effectively stateless and permanently excluded from the political, economic social and cultural life of their country of birth and residence. A January 2010 change to the Dominican Republic‘s constitutional nationality provision threatens to make permanent their status of illegality.

In pursuing these racially discriminatory policies, the Dominican Republic is running afoul of its human rights obligations, particularly its responsibilities to ensure equal protection before the law and to prevent, avoid, and reduce statelessness,1 as numerous human rights monitoring bodies have affirmed.2 The time has come for the Dominican Republic to reverse course. At stake is not just the human rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent to nationality, but also their fundamental rights to juridical personality, equality before the law, family life, education, political participation, and freedom of movement. If the Dominican government is unwilling to take these steps on its own, the international community must assist the country in ending its racially discriminatory nationality policies.

This report first reviews the Dominican Republic‘s history of racial discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent in access to nationality, focusing particular attention on those policies and practices that have emerged in the past decade. It then demonstrates how the January2010 constitutional changes purport to legalize the government‘s discriminatory policies of the past six years, and review the impact of these changes on Dominicans of Haitian descent. The report concludes with a set of recommendations for the government of the Dominican Republic and a call for international action to encourage the Dominican Republic to change its discriminatory policies and comply with its human rights obligations. 

<< Back