CARICOM defers Dominican Republic application amid row over court ruling
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday November 27, 2013, CMC – The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping Tuesday said it would defer consideration of the application by the Dominican Republic to join the regional integration grouping as the fallout continues from the Constitutional Court ruling in the Spanish-speaking country that could render stateless thousands of people of Haitian descent living there.
Leaders of the three-member CARICOM Bureau, comprising host country Trinidad and Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Haiti, met here on Tuesday and said the 15-member regional grouping would also seek to raise the court ruling with several bodies including the Association of Caribbean States, the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) as well as maintaining “our interest and active participation at the Organization of American States (OAS).
“We look forward to the outcome of the visit to the Dominican Republic of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which will travel to that country in early December,” CARICOM Chairman and host prime minister Kamla Persad Bissessar told a news conference.
Persad Bissessar said in light of the values and principles which have underpinned the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs CARICOM, the regional leaders had agreed that it would “defer consideration of the application by the Dominican Republic for membership in the Caribbean Community.”
The Constitutional Court in Santo Domingo has ruled in favour of stripping citizenship from children of Haitian migrants. The decision applies to those born after 1929 — a category that overwhelmingly includes descendants of Haitians brought in to work on farms.
But in defending the ruling, Dominican Republic officials said it ends uncertainty for children of Haitian immigrants, allowing them to apply for residency and eventually for citizenship.
The Geneva-based office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on authorities in Santo Domingo to ensure that the ruling did not leave persons of Haitian descent in "constitutional limbo".
A United Nations-supported study, released this year, estimated that there were around 210,000 Dominican-born people of Haitian descent and another 34,000 born to parents of other nationalities.
However, the Government of the Dominican Republic estimates that around 500,000 people born in Haiti live in the Dominican Republic.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar warned the Dominican Republic that “it cannot be business as usual” even as she acknowledged that the regional leaders had received a letter from President Danilo Medina that his administration would “not deport any of the persons affected by the ruling of the Constitutional Court and measures will be taken to ensure that no one is deported.”
“CARICOM expects that these assurances by the Dominican Republic will be honoured. CARICOM is prepared to engage the Dominican Republic, but the government of the Dominican Republic 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 said.
But Haiti’s President Michel Martelly told reporters that his country was not putting much faith in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, noting that discussions held in Venezuela last weekend on the matter showed that Santo Domingo was not operating “in good faith”.
He said no sooner had the talks ended in Caracas than authorities in the Dominican Republic deported 300 people, “who do not know the country, who do not have family in Haiti”.
He hinted at the possibility of Haiti boycotting future talks adding “we don’t have to keep meeting without them (Dominican Republic) showing some action,” he added. The next round of talks is scheduled for next week.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who had written two letters to Medina on the issue and had informed his CARICOM colleagues that quiet diplomacy would not get the Dominican Republic to change its position, said he was pleased with the strategy adopted by CARICOM.
He said the Dominican Republic was signatory to many international treaties and reminded that national laws cannot take precedent over these treaties that carried certain obligation.
“It can’t be business as usual,” he said quoting Persad Bissessar, saying he too was looking forward to Santo Domingo taking positive steps “before we engage you”.
CARICOM said it was also calling on the Dominican Republic “to ensure the immediate protection of those persons negatively affected by the ruling and to adhere to its international human rights obligations under the Inter American Court of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the American Convention of Human Rights among others”.
Persad Bissessar said the regional grouping was opposed to the conditions “whereby it is Dominicans of Haitian descent, who have significantly contributed to the real progress of the Dominican Republic through their labour and their sacrifices, who are today treated like transitory visitors.
“Those who are affected are denied their basic human rights including freedom of movement, access to education and to health care among other basic rights,” Persad Bissessar noted.
During their meeting, the regional leaders were addressed by a civil society group that included academic and ACS former secretary general Professor Norman Girvan.
The group told the leaders that CARICOM had the ability to “help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe” and that it should “influence the course of events by throwing their collective weight behind the efforts to stay the application of this (constitutional court) ruling, obtain its reversal and reinstate the basic human rights of the denationalized persons”.
The group also called on CARICOM to request an advisory opinion from the IACHR on the issue and “consider the introduction of a resolution of condemnation within the UN General Assembly.
“We cannot countenance, without the most vigorous opposition, the further institution of a state of social genocide and apartheid in the heart of our own region. We cannot let down our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic, integral members of the regional family,” the group added. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)