Ruling 0168/13 Undermines Citizenship for all Dominicans
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The Dominican Constitutional Tribunal‘s decision (Ruling 168/13) of September 2013 re-defines Dominican citizenship as a privilege that can only be awarded to people with an ancestor born in the Dominican Republic before 1929. This ruling not only strips countless Dominicans of their citizenship, but makes Dominican citizenship itself a precarious matter. Dominican citizenship is no longer an inalienable right. It can be revoked retroactively at any time through no fault of one’s own. Dominican citizenship is now a privilege granted by politicians and is subject to their political whims. Just as redistricting in the US can influence the number of potential voters, defining and redefining Dominican citizenship can have a similar political impact: it can decrease the pool of voters through denial of citizenship.
This politically self-serving, shortsighted, and unconstitutional law threatens the entire fabric of Dominican society. The law is retroactive making its implementation potentially disastrous. In revoking the citizenship of countless voters who participated in past elections, the law calls into question the legitimacy of past and current office holders who received a portion of their votes from non-citizens. It calls into question the legitimacy of President Danilo Medina and of Vice President Margarita Fernandez. It even calls into question the legitimacy of the Supreme Court judges who were appointed by elected officials. Additionally, the law offers those who lost past elections and associated income, a reason to sue the government for election fraud.
The Dominican Court’s decision was driven by a desire to target Haitians and black Dominicans for discrimination. The law’s intent was made clear when the Dominican Government’s agent at the UN defended the law by arguing that a country has the right to defend its genetic composition. The eugenic aspect of the Dominican Republic’s defense is repulsive and has no place in a post-Hitler and post-Trujillo world. Numerous Dominicans are repulsed by the Nazi image that their government is recreating. At a meeting where President Medina was to speak, many in the audience stood in solidarity with their Haitian-Dominican compatriots and shouted their disapproval at the President for the fragmentation of their society.
The 168/13 law does make one exception. It recognizes as citizens the children and grandchildren of people who had government issued visas to migrate to the Dominican Republic. However, since the law seeks to discriminate against Dominican descendants of Haitians, it does not recognize Dominican children born on Dominican bateys as citizens. It does not do this even though these children’s parents were legally imported by the Dominican government and spent their lives on government owned plantations. This means that despite being a co-signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) that require that every child has an irrevocable nationality, the Dominican Republic would still strip citizenship and identity from thousands of children.
Because of the history of slavery on the island and because of the importation of Haitian sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic, the people of darker complexion in the country are generally poorer and more vulnerable. Vulnerable groups are indeed the people who need the most state protection. In general, those who are powerful, can protect themselves. The 168/13 ruling is particularly barbaric in that it retroactively targets a vulnerable sector of the population. The retroactive nature of the law allowed law makers to hone in on the group they wished to discriminate against.
The demarcation line that the law sets for Dominican citizenship is 1929. This new definition of Dominican citizenship requires a citizen to have one ancestor born in the Dominican Republic no sooner than 84 years ago. In the future, these requirements can change. Perhaps a person will be required to show at least 3 ancestors born 100 years ago or even 150 years ago to be given citizenship.
The Court’s decision creates uncertainty for anyone holding Dominican citizenship. It creates a potentially dangerous situation for property owners whose goods may be coveted by citizens who consider themselves more Dominican with greater rights because their ancestry dates back to 1929. Countless people who were Dominican citizens as defined by their constitution have now awakened to find that they are not. Instead of the law helping to make a more harmonious society, it disrupts Dominican society and is couched in the worst tradition of the Trujillo years. Its eugenic aspect recalls the 1937 massacre of dark skinned Dominicans and Haitians.
The 1929 citizenship requirement is so disruptive that it is not applicable without assistance from organizations outside the Dominican government. To apply this rule fairly, the government would have to outline everyone’s family tree. Exploring family trees could potentially reveal incidences of false paternity that would be unsettling to numerous families. Moreover, since the government did not start keeping birth certificates and marriage records until 1944, it needs to tap into the Catholic Church database to bridge the gap between 1929 and 1944. In some cases, it may need to search records of the 1800’s to determine Dominican citizenship. This would be the case for some people born of mothers who were more than 30 years old after 1929. Today, apart from those who entered the country with visas, all other Dominicans are at the mercy of the meticulousness of the Catholic Church’s record keeping to prove their citizenship. It remains to be seen if the Catholic Church will collaborate with governmental authorities in implementing this racist law.
The implementation of 168/13 could have negative international consequences for the Dominican Republic. Already, Dominican officials have had to defend their Court’s decision before the UN. The Dominican Republic risks being perceived as a rogue state, something that can adversely affect tourism, a major contributor to its economy and to the well-being of its people.
The Court’s decision was not well thought out, and is inapplicable as written. Nonetheless, lawmakers can argue that there is no plan to screen the lineage of every Dominican. They can say that there is no plan to verify citizenship by digging into available Church records. Perhaps, all that the law is intended to do is to make dark skin Dominicans and Dominicans of Haitian descent outcasts. To achieve this, only an eye ball test is necessary. Those who are seen as dark skinned will be preyed upon. A law that leads to such an outcome is indeed barbaric and has no place in any modern society. It is the duty of all Dominicans to rally against this law that has made numerous Dominicans stateless while eroding for all others the inalienable right inherent in Dominican citizenship.