• Press Release

Dominican Republic: Legal maze leaves thousands stateless in nation of ‘ghost citizens’

November 11, 2015

The Dominican Republic’s bureaucratic legal maze has left thousands of stateless “ghost citizens”, who are unable to work regularly, enroll in high school or even see a doctor, said Amnesty International in a new report today.

‘Without papers, I am no one’: Stateless people in the Dominican Republic debunks official statements that no one in the Dominican Republic lacks a nationality. It explores the intricate legal labyrinth created by the authorities since the 1990s and more recently through a 2013 ruling which has arbitrarily left tens of thousands of people born to foreign parents or grandparents without a nationality.

With the stroke of a pen, authorities in the Dominican Republic have effectively wiped four generations of Dominicans off the map. Without nationality, tens of thousands of people have become virtual ghosts, who face serious obstacles in accessing basic services in the country,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director  at Amnesty International.

“The efforts made by the government to address the situation of those made stateless have proven insufficient. Hiding away from this drama by saying the problem does not exist will not make it go away.”

Since the early 1990s, Dominican-born people of Haitian descent have become the target of a number of administrative, legislative and judicial decisions aimed at restricting their access to Dominican identity documents and ultimately to Dominican nationality.

In September 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court ruled that children born in the country since 1929 to undocumented foreign parents are not entitled to Dominican nationality. The ruling effectively left the vast majority of them stateless.

The government tried to mitigate the effects of this discriminatory judgement but, along the way, has created a number of intricate processes and categories of people that most find impossible to navigate.

A six-month naturalization programme, which expired on 1 February 2015, has proven mostly inadequate. Hundreds of people say that they never received information about the programme and only learnt of its existence after it had already expired. Many claim that the list of papers they were required to produce was impossible to comply with. This included a signed declaration by a midwife or seven witnesses who could testify that they were born in the country.

Many parents are still refused birth registration for their children. The majority of these children continue to be stateless.

Dozens of Dominicans of foreign descent who spoke with Amnesty International said the lack of papers put them in a very vulnerable position, exposing them to abuse.

Marisol (not her real name) is a young Dominican-born woman of Haitian descent. Neither she nor her brothers and sisters were registered at birth, as their parents had no formal identification. When they died, she was 10 years old and had no other choice but to become a domestic worker with a wealthy family in Santo Domingo.

The family promised to send her to school, but instead forced her to work 15 hours a day. They beat her and never allowed her attend school. She could not apply to the naturalization plan as, by the time she had heard about it, it had already expired. The family she works for as a cleaner is now threatening to fire her, afraid of the sanctions they might face for employing an undocumented person. With no identity papers, Marisol can’t register her children either. “I hoped they could have a better future, but without identity documents it is not going to be possible,” she told Amnesty International.

“Authorities in the Dominican Republic must urgently find a long term solution to this crisis. A simple and accessible procedure without a time limit for the recognition of the Dominican nationality to all those deprived of it by the 2013 ruling would be a crucial first step,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.