Taking care of Human Rights in the Caribbean; The case of Haitian illegals in The Dominican Republic. Interview with FUNCEJI President Cristian Jimenez

(This blogpost is from October 2nd, 2014) The Caribbean, just like any other part in the world, also has stories and situations that need attention. It is not all sun and fun. In many Caribbean nations there is still poverty, exploitation and injustice. Apart from the internationally renown organizations such as Amnesty International & UNICEF, there are also local organizations who put in as much effort and can have a more focussed and hands on approach. One such organization is the Fundacion Comunidad Esperanza y Justicia International (Community Hope and Justice International ): FUNCEJI 

Based in the Dominican Republic. Their mission is to educate about and promote human rights based on International agreements in the Dominican Republic

We have met the President and one of the founders of FUNCEJI, Mr. Cristian Jimenez.

Why did you start with FUNCEJI?

While attending the UCSD University in Santo Domingo, we were a group of students of Diplomacy and International Affaires, and noticed the need to formalize an existing institution. We envisioned a more professional organization which adhered to all national rules and regulations regarding foundations. Through this we were able to be recognized as a legal entity. At this point we were able to engage into contracts, open a bank account to deposit funds and formally organize workshops and presentations. This also enabled us to secure the future of the foundation, and that it can continue existing and growing.

Are there other similar organizations in your country?

Yes, there are more than 50. Some of them specialized in a certain area and some are more general.

Is there competition? Or do you cooperate with each other?

We cooperate with each other. We are working on a coalition to increase our strength and share of voice. Especially when it comes to influencing public opinion. It is better to work together in these cases.

Are you accepted and supported by your community and government?

Yes and no. The government is not obstructing our work. However, when we operate on a political level (through the United Nations for example), the Government sees us as an adversary. Nevertheless, we keep looking and trying to establish win-win situations where we can cooperate with each other.

Part of the society applauds our work and support us, but there is a part which does not understand our work and they have difficulty accepting certain topics we address. Not everything is always very straightforward and clear. An example would be religion versus personal sexual liberty.

Are you recognized internationally? do you work together with larger international organizations?

We are in the process of becoming a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) & The United Nations (UN).

Would Being a member help you in your work?

Locally it would not make much difference, but It would facilitate our work internationally. Giving us better access to international networks.

Who do you target with your work?

Regarding Human rights we target the youth/students in the whole country. Particularly Law Students. But also civil servants, who play an important role in daily life.

Regarding Advocacy our main targets are the decision and law makers in the DR. Such as ministers and judges. They have the power to make sure things happen and we want to be there to make sure Human Rights are being respected when making these laws and decisions.

Currently, generating a lot of international press are the results of a ruling by the constitutional court of the DR.  This ruling dictates that Dominicans born out of Haitian decendants, are not Dominicans and therefore illegal. A lot of fellow Caribbean states have criticized the DR heavily for this. As an expert and someone who experiences this first hand maybe, what is your view on this?

This is quite a complicated situation and has a lot of sides to it. Let me begin by explaining the history behind the ruling. In the 20’s the DR allowed Haitians to enter the country to work amongst others on the Sugarcane fields. These workers would get a permit, which allowed them indefinite passage to work and live on the DR. With the years they have formed families and all their children have been born in the DR, making them Dominican citizens by constitutional law. Now the complicated and technical side of the story comes.

In 1999, 2 girls, named Yean & Bosico, have been denied their birth certificate by a civil servant. That created a problem, because this meant they could not attend school for example. This case has been taken all the way to the Inter American Human rights court. The DR’s governments case was that their parents were illegal Haitians, and that the constitution indicates that children of people who are “in transit” in the country, cannot be Dominican citizens. Therefore they are Haitians, and they should get their papers in Haiti. According to the court the DR could not base itself on this “in transit” argument. The girls got their birth certificates. And the Government of the DR was told to make sure this misinterpretation of the “in transit” case never happened again.

So, in 2004 the Government of the DR reforms the immigration law. This new law, indicates that all children of illegal people were not considered citizens of the DR. This was backed by the supreme court of the DR. Now in 2007, the civil registry of the DR emitted a resolution, suspending temporarily all emissions of both certificates and Id’s to people with an “irregular” status. This is the case if one got official papers illegally (through corruption). But also people who are not able to identify themselves correctly (Referring back actually to people who are “in transit”). In practice this caused that the children (born in the DR) of immigrants were under investigation and therefore were not able to get any papers during the investigation. Creating en masse a situation comparable to that one in 1999.

This last situation caused international stir. Therefore in 2010 the DR changed the constitution. This change determined that only children born from Dominican nationals would be considered Dominicans.     And now the government is using this new constitutional law when working on cases predating 2010.  This affects approximately 200.000 people many of them children of Haitians. This sparked a lot of international critique. Where members of CARICOM accused the DR of being racists and violating human rights. It is  bit hypocritical, because many CARICOM states also violate human rights. This does not take away the fact the the DR is violating not only international rulings (such as the one in 1999 at the Inter American Human Rights court) but also their own domestic laws, by making contradicting legislation.

All technical parts aside, the lives of these people are being destroyed. They lose perspective and opportunity. This is a violation of their Human Rights.

Note by author: Journalist Jon Anderson has written an article on this case explaining clearly what the situation is.

Is FUNCEJI taking active part in these cases?

We focus mainly on he rights of women, the LGBT community and victims of police violence. The situation of legality has gotten so big, that we support other organizations by co-signing acts and backing papers and press releases. Nevertheless, the problems will also have an effect on our main causes. Therefore, in a way, we are.

For more information on FUNCEJI and their work please visit: www.funceji.org

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