Court Victory for Expelled Haitians
From Outsider, published by the Minority Rights Group International

Solange Pierre
January 2000

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean. Haiti is a very poor country and many Haitians seek work in the more prosperous Dominican Republic. An estimated 700,000 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian origin live and work permanently in the Dominican Republic; very few have legal status. Most live in work camps called bateyes on the sugar plantations. There is long-standing anti-Haitian racism in the Dominican Republic and periodically the government expels thousands of Haitians.

The Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (MUDHA) is an NGO founded in 1995 with the aim of defending the rights of women of Haitian descent. Its key areas of work are education from a gender perspective, legal advice, community development and challenging racism in the Dominican Republic.

Supported by a number of legal advisers, MUDHA took the case of the expulsion of five Dominican-Haitians to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights challenging the Dominican Republic's recent deportation policy as applied to Haitians. Below is MUDHA's account of the trial and judgment.

The deportations and mass expulsions of Haitian workers by the Dominican government violate the rights of those subjected to the process. There is no forum where these people can present evidence that the action of deportation gives rise to multiple violations of their human rights and this is, in itself, another violation of those rights. The absence of the guarantee of due process in the case of mass expulsions is the responsibility of the Dominican state. It has resulted in great abuses during these expulsions of Haitian workers.

The court case
In November 1999, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) asked the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) to rule that the Dominican Republic should suspend mass expulsions and deportations as they constantly put at risk the life and physical integrity of the deported people, in the way that families are separated, and especially the minors who are abandoned. Also, deportations should be carried out on an individual basis, not en masse.

On 8 August 2000, the public hearing took place. Evidence was heard from the Commission, the witnesses and their legal advisers, who included representatives from the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Washington, DC, the Center of Human Rights of the Faculty of Law at the University of Columbia and from the Center of Human Rights and of the Faculty of Law at the University of Berkeley, California.

Father Pierre Ruquoy and Solange Pierre (MUDHA coordinator) spoke of forced repatriations in which people are loaded on to buses without being able to communicate with their families, without warning, without being able to take any of their belongings with them and, above all, without being able to present themselves before any competent authority. The criteria for deportation, according to these witnesses, are skin colour and mode of speaking. They were able to prove that many of those deported have been in the Dominican Republic for 20 or 30 years and have lost their links with Haitian language and customs. They also testified that cases of sexual violations occurred in the context of the expulsions.

The Dominican state argued that the IACHR had acted precipitately and affirmed that: a) the deportation of foreigners is a non-renunciable and non-negotiable right b) it constitutes one of the attributes of sovereignty.

It was also argued that procedures exist within domestic law which guarantee due process and individual treatment of cases.

The decision of the IACHR
On 18 August 2000 the IACHR made public its decision. It established that the Dominican Republic has been party to the American Convention since 1978, and stated that it is the responsibility of each signatory state to make its own decisions on migration policy where they are compatible with the norms of protection of the human rights established in the aforesaid Convention. The testimonies presented allowed the IACHR to establish a prima facie presumption of cases in which named individuals are subjected to abuse and risk suffering irreparable damage through deportation. It rejected ordering provisional measures for cases of un-named groups of people. The IACHR also ordered the adoption of provisional measures to prevent reprisals against Father Ruquoy and Solange Pierre in the Dominican Republic for giving their testimony.

The IACHR required of the Dominican state:

that it adopt without delay the measures necessary to protect the life and personal integrity of Benito Tide Mendez, Antonio Sension, Andrea Alezy, Janty Fils-Aime and William Medina Ferreras;

that it abstain from deporting or expelling Benito Tide Mendez and Antonio Sension;

that it permit the immediate return to their territory of Janty Fils-Aime and William Medina Ferreras;

that it allow as soon as possible the family reunification of Antonio Sension and Andrea Alezy with their younger children in the Dominican Republic;

that it collaborate with Antonio Sension in order to obtain information on the whereabouts of his relations in Haiti or the Dominican Republic;

that, in the framework of cooperation agreements between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, it investigate the situation of Janty Fils-Aime and William Medina Ferreras under the supervision of the IACHR in order to speed up the results of the said investigations;

that it continue the investigations already initiated by its competent authorities with relation to Benito Tide Mendez, Rafaelito Perez Charles, Antonio Sension, Andrea Alezy and Berson Gelim;

that it adopt without delay the necessary measures to protect the lives and personal integrity of Father Pedro Ruquoy and Solange Pierre, witnesses at the public hearing of 8 August 2000;

that it supply to the IACHR bi-monthly reports from the notification of the present resolution, on the provisional measures that have been adopted to comply with this ruling. The ruling of the IACHR constitutes an important precedent and innovation. The Dominican Republic is obliged to comply exactly with what has been ordered, in accordance with its ratification of the jurisdictional competence of this body, which it accepted in March 1999.

MUDHA's response to the decision
MUDHA views the measures agreed by this tribunal as a positive step. When the Dominican government complies it will contribute, in part, to restoring respect for the rights of those who have been deported and expelled. It is also important because, within the Dominican system of justice, there is no forum where the voice of those deported and expelled can be heard. The fact that the Dominican government has to give regular reports on the bateyes is a step towards solving the problem.

Daring to take on the commitment of turning to the IACHR has been an important step. This initiative has set a precedent for national organizations to appeal to this court. It is the first time the Dominican Republic has been brought before the IACHR.

It gives us hope to know that mechanisms exist to address violations of the rights of people within the Dominican Republic, and the guarantee that these rights will be recognized within an international legal framework.

The Commission and the non-governmental organizations that represent the victims will monitor the situation closely, to see that the follow-up procedures ordered by this body are carried out.

Hopes for the future
MUDHA had hoped that the IACHR would go further and recommend that the Dominican government should suspend deportations and mass expulsions, and be asked to establish mechanisms to guarantee the rights of those persons deported and expelled from the Dominican Republic. The lack of such mechanisms is a weakness which could be overcome through the creation of special tribunals to review the cases of people in the process of being deported or expelled.

Such tribunals would prevent mass expulsions of immigrant Haitian workers, fairly determine who qualifies to stay and who could be deported, reduce violations of human rights and, above all, avoid wrongful expulsions of Dominicans of Haitian origin.

The decision of the IACHR was a moral victory, but the deportations continue and there has been a strong backlash from both nationalists and the Catholic Church.

Solange Pierre is coordinator of MUDHA. MUDHA is a partner in MRG's Minority Rights and Development, and World Conference Against Racism programmes. It will be raising the issues of the poverty of the Haitian minority in the Dominican Republic with international development donors, and the anti-Haitian racism in international fora.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic