BRIDGETOWN, Barbados– Former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson says the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping needs to strongly condemn recent developments in the Dominican Republic that could render stateless, thousands of persons of Haitian descent.
The Constitutional Court in Santo Domingo has ruled in favor 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.
The development, according to international observers, could cause a human rights crisis while leaving tens of thousands of people stateless and facing mass deportation and discrimination.
“No one can be hood-winked as to the reason and the purpose for this kind of discriminatory legislation. Within the region we have an obligation to speak and we cannot allow such inequities to go without our strongest condemnations,” Patterson told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).
Patterson, a major player in efforts to integrate Haiti into the regional integration movement, seemed not impressed by the silence of regional leaders on the issue.
“It must be a matter of concern to everyone in the region that in the 21st century we should have any country that is seeking to determine the basis of citizenship on ancestry which precedes the year 1929 – almost a century ago,” he added.
Haiti is a full member of CARICOM while the Dominican Republic has observer status and cooperates with CARICOM, since 1992, through the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), an economic pact involving the Caribbean Community, the Dominican Republic and the European Union.
Last week, CARICOM Secretary General Irwin La Rocque said the ruling “raises a serious question about the status of the numerous, I gather there are more than 20,000 Dominican Republic nationals of Haitian extract who would be affected.
La Rocque told CMC that he was hoping the parties would find a way to address the issue, adding “ I just want to recognise that the people of Haiti have contributed to the development of the agricultural sector in the Dominican Republic and I think that has to mean something in the discussions going forward”.
La Rocque, who is also the Secretary General of CARIFORM, said while he has not anticipated the organisation getting involved in the matter “any good offices I could use in the circumstances I would be happy to use it.
Amid the court’s ruling, Haiti has recalled its ambassador to the Dominican Republic for consultation, with Foreign Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir describing the ruling as “worrying”.
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 citizenship.
Already, 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.
Until 2010, the Dominican Republic automatically bestowed citizenship to anyone born on its soil but subsequently approved a new constitution stating that citizenship would be granted only to those born on its soil to at least one parent of Dominican blood or of foreign legal residents.