Declaring that it can no longer be business as usual, the Caribbean Community on Tuesday suspended the Dominican Republic’s application to join its regional economic bloc and called on the country’s leaders to urgently “take immediate, credible steps” to stave off a potential humanitarian crisis triggered by a citizenship ruling.
The decision came with a formal condemnation of the Dominican Republic’s constitutional court ruling of Sept. 23 stripping citizenship from anyone born in the country to parents who were illegal. And it happened despite a last minute assurance by Dominican President Danilo Medina that persons — the majority of them of Haitian descent — affected by the ruling would not be deported.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, chairwoman of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), said she received word from Medina on Tuesday morning that “the government of the DR will not deport any of the persons affected by the ruling of the constitution court and measures are to be taken to ensure that no one is deported.”
“Caricom expects these assurances by the Dominican Republic will be honored,” Persad-Bissessar said at a news conference after a special meeting by Caricom’s leaders on the court decision. “Caricom is prepared to engage the DR, but the government of the DR must be prepared to show good faith by immediate, credible steps as part of an overall plan to resolve this nationality and attendant issues in the shortest possible time.”
Persad-Bissessar, incoming Caricom chairman St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and former chairman Haitian President Michel Martelly spent several hours discussing the issue Tuesday. They also heard from members of civil society who denounced the measures and presented a Caribbean-wide petition condemning the decision. Among the points made during the discussions: the court ruling violates the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations.
“It is especially repugnant that the ruling ignores the 2005 judgment made by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Dominican Republic adapt its immigration laws and practices in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights,” Persad-Bissessar said.
Tuesday’s meeting came as new tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic escalated. In recent days, hundreds of Haitians have been expelled by Dominican authorities — and many continued to leave voluntarily Monday — after violence broke out in the southwestern Dominican border town of Neiba in response to the fatal stabbing of an elderly couple in an apparent home burglary. Residents later killed a Haitian man, Haitian officials said.
Haiti’s Foreign Ministry late Saturday demanded an explanation from Dominican authorities, whose soldiers reportedly drove Haitians across the border into Haiti. As of Monday, no formal explanation had been given, Foreign Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir said.
Martelly spoke of the recent deportations, which came after Haiti and the Dominican Republic began diplomatic talks over the weekend in Venezuela, to address the issue. Instead of the Dominican Republic showing good faith actions, Martelly said, “this weekend about 300 Haitians were repatriated.”
“We are talking about kids who are one, three days old. We are talking about young girls, young boys and mothers who do not know the country, Creole or French...it’s already creating problems,” he said.
Martelly said Haiti is committed to having good relations with the Dominican Republic but he isn’t even sure that planned talks for later this week will occur.
“We want some action,” he said.
Gonsalves said the Dominican Republic is not demonstrating “good faith” in trying to address the issue.
“Do something about the problem and we will begin to engage with you at a different level,” he said. “But you have to do something credible.”
Gonsalves had asked his fellow leaders to not only formally condemn the Dominican court’s ruling but to adopt the position taken Friday by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. In addition to asking that Caricom’s application be suspended, they asked for its membership in CARIFORUM, a grouping of former European colonies that receive preferential trade terms from the European Union, to be reviewed. They also demanded that other nations in the hemisphere speak up, a call that was reiterated Tuesday.
“Given the grave humanitarian implications of the court ruling, the Community cannot allow its relationship with the Dominican Republic to continue as normal,” Persad-Bissessar said, quoting the official communiqué. “Furthermore, the community will review its relationship with the Dominican Republic in other fora including that of CARIFORUM, CELAC and the OAS. It cannot be business as usual.
“Moreover we call on the global and regional community to pressure the government of the Dominican Republic to adopt urgent measures to ensure that the jaundiced decision of the constitutional Court does not stand and that the full citizenship rights of persons of Haitian descent, born in the Dominican Republic, are guaranteed.”