Last week in London, Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and actress Angelina Jolie announced an ambitious global campaign to end the plight of 10 million stateless people – those who are without a country to call home. As the United Nations’ refugee agency head Antonio Guterres recently noted: “Statelessness makes people feel like their very existence is a crime.”
Ironically, on the very same day, the Dominican Republic reaffirmed its decision to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. This effort did not merely do away with classic birthright citizenship moving forward: This overzealous xenophobic effort stripped birthright citizenship for all those born in the country since the 1920s. Sadly, this event by our Caribbean neighbour went unnoticed in the United States.
Though a country’s effort to create a stateless group is universally condemned, rogue countries have sadly used such a tactic to harm its most vulnerable minority groups. Such a status leaves these former citizens without the most basic of rights you and I take for granted. In other words, they exist as the most invisible and deprived people on the planet.
The global effort to end statelessness is widely applauded, especially by western democracies. Yet, it has just occurred to our southern border, and the leader of the free world has thus far remained silent. Specifically, on September 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court stripped the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of its residents in violation of that country’s own constitution. This outrageous ruling occurred despite the fact that the very language of the governing constitution specifically recognises those individuals as citizens.
While it is hopefully unlikely that the genocide of past generations will be repeated, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of Dominicans are stateless without any rights, and are subject to persecution that has already commenced.
In response, on October 9, 2013, the Centre for Analysis and Research in Human Rights commenced a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), where the Dominican Republic is a member state.
Perhaps knowing that it did not have any legitimate defences, on November 4, the Constitutional Court, despite no longer having any related cases before it, on its own motion and without any parties formally calling for any decision related to the matter, wrote an unfounded advisory opinion that could only be viewed as a mockery of justice.
The court ruled that despite the Dominican Republic’s signing onto the IACHR treaty and being under the jurisdiction of the IACHR since the 1970s, the country was not bound by any determination of the IACHR. The world community immediately condemned this act.
Yet, the matter makes hardly a headline in the US.
If we believe that human rights matter, if international laws mean anything at all, we must condemn this abuse of basic human rights. This travesty at our doorstep simply cannot be tolerated. We must not allow history to repeat itself. Indeed, the actions in the Dominican Republic should remind us of the most horrific events in world history.
Before the atrocities associated with the Holocaust happened, the Third Reich’s Law on the Revocation of Naturalisations and the Deprivation of German Citizenship (July 14, 1933) deprived German Jews of their German citizenship. The law directed the collection and publication of the names of Jews, the names were listed in the Reich Law Gazette (“Reichsgesetzblatt”), and with the publication of the particular Reichsgesetzblatt, Jews lost their German citizenship.
Tragically, after the Dominican high court’s decision, Dominican agencies were similarly directed to collect the names of Dominicans of Haitian lineage. While it is hopefully unlikely that the genocide of past generations will be repeated, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of Dominicans are stateless, without any rights, and are subject to persecution that has already commenced.
|Haitian-Dominicans lose citizenship|
In a similar set of circumstances, the world community has recently condemned Myanmar’s persecution of their Rohingya Muslim minority.
Much like what is happening just to our south, a 1982 law revoked the citizenship of the Rohingya, which has led to atrocities that the United Nations and numerous other human rights organisations have condemned.
Much like what we are sure to hear from the Dominican Republic, after stripping people of citizenship, both the Third Reich and Myanmar characterised their persecuted people as mere illegal immigrants worthy of no rights. We may expect to hear similar justifications by the Dominican Republic. Such distortions are simply perverse and without basis in reality, or law for that matter.
Decency and morals should cause us to rise up and insist that our government and our business interests act to end this atrocity, which otherwise may end with hundreds of thousands of refugees rushing to our shores and others throughout the hemisphere. Are we to wait until untold lives are destroyed and thousands die in the meantime? I hope not.
Ediberto Roman is a law professor at Florida International University. He’s a national leader in the fields of immigration, citizenship and critical legal theory. His work has had an impact on public policy debates in the US, particularly in the area of immigration.