UN experts find ‘profound and entrenched’ racial bias in Dominican Republic

30 October 2007 –

Two independent United Nations human rights experts have called on the Dominican Republic to combat what they describe as a “profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination” against blacks in general – and Haitians in particular – in the Central American nation.

“While there is no official government policy of discrimination, there is nevertheless a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination against such groups as Haitians, Dominicans of Haitian descent, and more generally against blacks within Dominican society,” the experts said in a press release issued today in Geneva.

During their week-long visit to the Dominican Republic, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene, and the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, met with government officials, civil society, academics, students, political parties and members of the media.

The experts noted that while government representatives rejected even the possibility of racism in Dominican society, members of the community “all spoke emotionally of the reality of racism that they had experienced.”

“When people in government refer to ‘Haitians’ it is as if they are a monolithic group, all of whom crossed the border yesterday and illegally,” Ms. McDougall stated. “This is patently not the case.”

She and Mr. Diene said they spoke with many individuals who described the problems faced by blacks, both Dominicans and Dominicans of Haitian descent, and witnessed first hand the fact that blacks “typically live in worse conditions, are employed in manual and low paid work and suffer a high degree of prejudice.”

“Disturbing references are made to blacks as being ‘pig feed,’ ignorant or unhygienic, and many spoke of their daily experiences of racism, including by administrative officials in registration offices, on public transport and elsewhere,” they stated.

In addition, the issue of documentation emerged as a major concern for Haitian migrants and those Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of whom reported that, because of their colour or their Haitian looks or name, it is impossible to obtain documents and they are left vulnerable to deportation or expulsion to Haiti, even as Dominican citizens with no connection whatsoever with that country.

The experts, who will present their findings to the UN Human Rights Council, called for a wide and inclusive debate on issues of racism and discrimination within the country.

“A cultural and ethical strategy is needed to uproot the very deep structures of discrimination and address the invisibility and silence of minority groups and others facing discrimination,” Mr. Diene noted, highlighting the key role played by education and the media in that regard.

“The struggle against racism must be closely linked to building a multi-cultural society based on the principles of democracy, justice, equality and human rights for all,” he added.

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