Concluding Consideration of Dominican Republic’s Report, Experts on Human Rights Committee Pose Questions on Police Reform, Treatment of Migrants

13 March 2012
HR/CT/740

Concluding Consideration of Dominican Republic’s Report, Experts on Human Rights Committee Pose Questions on Police Reform, Treatment of Migrants

13 March 2012
General Assembly
HR/CT/740
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Human Rights Committee

104th Session

2865th Meeting (AM)


Concluding Consideration of Dominican Republic’s Report, Experts on Human Rights


Committee Pose Questions on Police Reform, Treatment of Migrants

 


After Two Day Discussion, Delegation Says Government Committed

To Strengthening Human Rights Protections, Compliance with Covenant


Taking note of the new Constitution of the Dominican Republic and impressed by “the level of humility the delegation had shown in acknowledging the problems” as it worked towards stronger human rights protections, the Human Rights Committee today expressed concern about abuses in law enforcement and racial discrimination towards migrants in that country. 


As the Committee concluded its two-day consideration of the Dominican Republic’s fifthperiodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, several experts raised questions about issues of police violence.  Requesting statistics and specific details about cases where complaints about police brutality had been made, they highlighted statistics indicating that 10 per cent of homicides that had been committed by law enforcement officials.  At the current low level of salaries in the police force, it would be difficult “to tame the beast”, they said.


Responding to those concerns, the delegation cited specific cases where members of the police force had been brought to justice when they were responsible for deaths or injuries, including a case that was reported in the country’s media the previous night.  Further, as per the new criminal procedure, a detained person had to be presented in court within 48 hours.  Stressing that there was “no complicity on the part of the Government,” the delegation stated that all efforts were being made to reform the police, including the wage levels, which were very low.  Also, all members of Dominican society had the right to resort to legal services to address extrajudicial killings.


Another repeated point of criticism concerned the treatment of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic.  The delegation had put up “a smoke screen” yesterday when replying to the Committee’s queries, one expert said.  The Committee asked for more information about migrant workers’ rights, pay scales, and access to health care.  Experts also took up the issue of de facto refugees, due to the earthquake in Haiti.


In response, the director of immigration emphasized that in the popular culture of the Dominican Republic, there were no racist feelings.  But, the “porous border” between the Dominican Republic and Haiti and the economic imbalance between the two countries had resulted in destabilization.  What the Dominican Republic was doing was exactly what the United States was doing when it sent back migrants from El Salvador and Guatemala and what France did when it closed its borders.


Studies by the International Labour Organization and the International Organization for Migration had proved that there was no inequality in salaries.  Further, the Government had adopted a new immigration law and a new process of regularization, so that everyone would be on an equal footing vis-à-vis social security.  The public health system provided assistance without requiring any documentation from the individual, irrespective of their migration status.


Acknowledging that the interdepartmental refugee commission of the Dominican Republic had not been functioning totally satisfactorily, he stated that with the help of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the country was making every effort to respect the rights of refugees. 


On a day to day basis, it took time to bring human rights principles into alignment with reality, the country’s representative stated.  With support from the Committee, the Dominican Republic hoped to improve what it was doing.  The country was committed to ensuring that no human rights violation — as recognized by the Constitution and international covenants — enjoyed impunity.  The Government was committed to proceeding in a way that respected everyone’s political rights and addressed humanitarian emergencies.


The Human Rights Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. Wednesday, 14 March, to take up the fifth periodic report of Yemen.


Background


The Human Rights Committee, the 18-member expert body that monitors global implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, continued its 104th session today as it considered the fifth periodic report of the Dominican Republic.  For more information, please see Press Release HR/CT/739 of 12 March.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


KRISTER THELIN, expert from Sweden, took up the issue of police violence, requesting statistics on the number of cases where complaints about police brutality had been made and, further, how many people had been indicted.  Without such figures, it would be impossible to make progress.  He also underlined the need to create disincentives for police brutality, especially through training, and he requested details on those efforts.


Welcoming the new office in the Prosecutor’s office to safeguard victims’ rights, he wondered if its establishment required a change in article 61 of the Constitution, as the responsibility for reparations was currently restricted to the individual in question.  If the State was not responsible, that would not be a productive way to go.  He also requested more information on firearms training for police.


CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France, said she did not have access to the written replies, as she did not speak Spanish.  In yesterday’s oral replies, she had been perplexed by the Government’s response to queries about summary executions.  It was not enough to simply turn to the courts.  She was increasingly perplexed that 10 per cent of homicides had been committed by law enforcement officials.  The police existed to protect citizens, not kill them.  Ten per cent was a high number and not normal.  Given the right to life, “we need to be told more”, she said.  The situation was not under control.


She went on to say that the delegation had obfuscated in replying to a query by Gerald L. Neuman, expert from the United States, on racism.  There was no reason to hold anything against him.  The delegation had said that 85 per cent of its farm and construction workers were Haitian, representing a “fantastic” source of wealth for the Dominican Republic.  But, some were benefitting from the human tragedy that had unfolded in Haiti.  Haitians should benefit from special protection.  A “smoke screen” had been put up in response to Mr. Neuman’s question about people in transit.  Did Haitians who had lived in the Dominican Republic for generations have Dominican nationality or not?  That would have an impact the Committee’s recommendations.


AHMAD AMIN FATHALLA, expert from Egypt, focusing on victims of police abuse, asked who was responsible — the police or the State?  On the issue of compensation, it had been said yesterday that victims could address themselves to the authorities and request compensation.  He wondered how the compensation was decided for victims.  If the terms did not satisfy the complainant, could the person file a complaint elsewhere or take the matter to a higher authority?


SIR NIGEL RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, asked what offences had been committed by police officials who had been brought before the courts.  He asked for information on the particular infractions.  What had happened to those cases and what proportion of all abuses did those cases represent?  The issue was “troubling”.  Also, he had heard a delegation member refer to construction workers as receiving $40 a day, much higher than the $5 a day offered to those in the Dominican Republic’s neighbour.  He had read that the lowest-ranking police officers receive $140 per month, a “rather low” salary, given that private security companies offered a minimum of $221 a month.  It appeared there were virtually no measures the State could take to “tame this beast”.


GERALD L. NEUMAN, expert from the United States, followed up on the question of the nationality law.  There was a tragic situation in Haiti, but recognizing that dilemma did not respond to the reality of opening nationality to those of Haitian descent.  He wondered how taking away nationality after 30 years or more by applying a new interpretation of the nationality law solved the problem of current and future flows.  “We are talking about thousands and thousands of people,” he stressed.


FABIÁN OMAR SALVIOLI, expert from Argentina and Committee Vice-Chairperson, voiced concern at the percentage of killings by law enforcement officials, which had reached 10 per cent.  That was a high homicide rate attributable to law enforcement.  Even if it were a low rate, the Government must look at the general average through the lens of the right to life.  He was also concerned that no one had been appointed to be the Ombudsman, a position created 10 years ago, and he wondered when someone would assume those duties.


On gender-related issues and human rights for women, he asked about effective measures taken to reduce maternal mortality, an issue that deserved attention, as did measures to protect the integrity of women who had become pregnant as a result of incest.  Public authorities recognized the problem of “femicide” and he asked if that could be defined as a crime in the criminal code.  In the event of rape, he wondered what would happen if the rapist married the victim — would he be cleared of criminal responsibility?  He also asked if there were victims’ shelters in remote areas of the country.


Continuing, he said that yesterday, the delegation had stated there was no discrimination against persons with disabilities based on their sexual orientation.  He asked about specific protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Were there any public awareness campaigns?


Also, the Committee relied on information from non-governmental organizations, he said, as well as from the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.  The Special Rapporteur had visited the Dominican Republic a few years ago and, in his report, mentioned the existence of “racial prejudice” and “anti-Haitian sentiment”, as well as deportations and expulsions seen as discriminatory.  Measures had been handed down by the Inter-American Human Rights Court.  Had there been any condemnation of racist events perpetrated by individuals?  Had there been convictions?


CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, focused on the strict abortion laws, saying he had been informed that there were a number of proposals to reform that law, which were currently with legislative authorities.  He wondered about the Government’s position on that issue, in light of articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


IULIA ANTOANELLA MOTOC, expert from Romania, voiced concern at the shortcomings in the Government’s responses, especially on summary executions.  The statistics were quite high and she did not understand how impunity was being tackled.


On violence against women, which reflected the overall level of violence, she asked what was being done to end such abuse.  Also, the Committee used Special Rapporteurs and non-governmental organization reports as sources of information.  It must never be said that a non-governmental organization was “something bad”, or further, that all such groups were unworthy of trust.  Could the delegation explain its suspicion of those sources?  She also asked about State efforts to end impunity.


Delegations’ Responses


“The blood of any human being, whether ugly or attractive, man or women, boy or girl, was sacred,” HÉCTOR VIRGILIO ALCÁNTARA MEJÍA, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations, stated as he began his response to follow-up questions by members of the Human Rights Committee.  Even a single case of violence was abhorrent to the Dominican Republic and there was absolutely nothing in the Constitution of the country that justified unjust violence.  Repeating a few times that there was “no complicity on the part of the Government,” he stated that all efforts were being made to reform the police, including the wage levels, which were very low.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Cane had killed Abel.  The Dominican Republic was trying to overcome a problem that was human using the resources it had and with the support of the international community.


Another member of the delegation added that the figures from yesterday about the number of homicides included not just citizens killed by police, but also policemen killed in violent deaths at the hands of criminals.  Of those deaths, 117 had happened to members of the police force.


The national police force had a department of internal affairs which submitted to the prosecutors’ office those cases in which members of the national police force were involved.  Members of the national police force were immediately suspended if they came under suspicion and the prosecutors’ office worked independently and rapidly.


Six members of the police force in Santa Domingo were brought to justice to determine the responsibility for gunshot wounds that caused deaths on 4 February 2012.  In that incident, the head of the police force was injured.  Citing other cases in which members of the police force were arrested or prosecuted for deaths or injuries to citizens during police action, she stated that information about additional cases could be left with the Secretariat.  Last night, the media in the Dominican Republic had reported that eight members of the national police force were brought to justice for alleged abuse of power.  Further, since the entry into force of the new criminal procedural law, when a person was detained, a prosecutor had to be present within 48 hours with charges and the person should be brought to court.  She concluded that her statement was not an attempt to justify anything.  Rather, she wished to illustrate that the delegation was aware of the problem and they were working on the problem.


Another member of the delegation, speaking on the question of immigration, stated that it was necessary that “the questions must be fair and balanced” and it was important to consider all the approaches.  It was “not just for the country to bow its head and accept allegations”.  To understand the issue of racism in the Dominican Republic, it was important to look at the reality of the situation within its context in a rational way, instead of simply accusing the country of putting up a smoke screen.  In this very society, there were frequent cases of racism against Latinos or black people, but nobody suggested that this democracy — which was held up as an example for the world — was promoting a culture of racism.  The Dominican Republic was not trying to hide its problems and wished to express thanks when help was offered, but consideration should be given to the resources that were available to deal with its problems.


This was also a question of defining nationality and immigration policy as a domestic issue, he continued.  The Dominican Republic had the right to identify falsification in the civil registry documents.  Both Haitian workers and Dominican workers had very limited financial resources, and the reality of wages was a mirror of the size of the economy.  It was necessary to improve the wages of the police force, and the public sector in general.  But, in the popular culture of the Dominican Republic, there were no racist feelings.  Repatriations took place throughout the world.  The Dominican Republic was in a special situation, with a border that could be crossed very easily on foot.  That could only lead to destabilization.  What the Dominican Republic was doing was exactly what the United States was doing when it sent back El Salvador and Guatemalan migrants.  “We are doing what France did when it closed borders with Italy which led to talks about the lack of control in Italy about emigration from North Africa.”


The Dominican Republic had made important changes to the immigration laws and had received cooperation from the private sector for financing the proper documentation of people living on Dominican soil.  The international community must acknowledge that the society of the Dominican Republic was not a racist society, but a society that was meeting its obligation of solidarity with the Haitian people.


Regarding the question of women, another member of the delegation stated that Dominican society, like many other Latin American societies, was permeated by a cultural world view that was “a little bit macho”.  A patriarchal approach had prevailed for centuries in relations between men and women.  That world view persisted, despite efforts undertaken by the state to progress towards a society where women would be seen as equal peers.  The efforts undertaken had been broad-sweeping, but all those efforts tended to revolve around a specific period of time, which was fairly short, compared to the long period of time in which gender inequality had prevailed.  One significant example of the State’s interest in eliminating violence was that the Constitution, for the first time in the country’s history, had condemned violence against women in its text.  Further, it had ordered that measures should be taken to eliminate violence against women.  That was a priority for the State and was reflected at various levels, including the legislative level.


The ministry of women was responsible for public policy.  In 1996, legislation was passed that raised the problem of violence against women.  Prior to that, violence was traditionally seen as a family problem that required privacy.  In 1996, for the first time, violence was seen as a public order problem.  That law was a big step forward, because it motivated women to lodge complaints.  Before, women did not dare to come forward.  Currently the new criminal code was being developed.  Due to the efforts of the ministry and various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the criminal code was maintaining the progress achieved in the earlier laws.


Violence against women would continue to be defined as a crime, with sanctions that would depend on the kind of violence perpetrated.  The issue of prevention of violence was very important and that was expressed in the national plan to fight violence, which included a dozen Government agencies and various women’s NGOS.  Addressing the issue of maternal mortality, she added that the Ministry of Public Health had developed a health-care plan, and, a couple of months ago, the national gender strategy for health care was approved, which included zero tolerance to maternal mortality, health care for adolescents, improved access, and so forth.


Taking up the remaining questions, Mr. Alcántara said that the police salary levels reflected a lack of social equity and that was an issue that was being addressed through reform of the entire police system.  With regard to nationality, there was not a single case of the retroactive use of the nationality law and no retroactive stripping of nationality.  Yesterday and today, there had been comments about discrimination of sexual orientation minorities.  There was no specific legislation geared towards such people and the options and preferences of all individuals were respected.  There was no positive discrimination or affirmative action either.


Haitian labour — both in construction and agriculture — added value to the Dominican economy.  But, precisely for that reason, the Government had adopted a new immigration law and a new process of regularization, so that everyone would be on an equal footing vis-à-vis social security.  The January 2012 International Labour Organization (ILO) study and studies by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had proved fairly objectively that there was no inequality in salaries.


A 2004 or 2005 law had established the Ombudsman position as a position of reconciliation, he continued.  It had been raised to a constitutional level recently and the names of possible candidates were before the Congress.


He concluded by stating that when it came to violence against women, and police brutality, there was a distance between principle and practice.  But, the laws were on the books and existed at the level of constitutional and institutional transformation.  But, on a day to day basis, it took time to bring those into alignment with reality.


Comments and Questions


Mr. SALVIOLI, expert from Argentina and Committee Vice-Chairperson, asked what effective guarantees for migrant workers were included in migration regulations.  He was especially concerned about due process.  Could migrants who lacked a written contract access health-care services?  Were there measures to reduce teen pregnancy?  Paragraph 94 of the Government’s replies referenced a report, but he could not access it.


He also asked about pay scales for fishing and farming workers.  Also, could a person still be detained for an indeterminate amount of time?  Were there still collective deportations?  If a director of a health-care centre did not report to the general migration office births by undocumented foreign women, were those centres subject to sanctions?  His concerns were based on documentation of such behaviour.


Mr. THELIN, expert from Sweden, said that on question 18, details had been requested about the criminal procedure form.  He had noted with pleasure the 75 per cent increase in the flow of cases, but requested exact figures.  What was the average time for arraignment, and average time between remand into custody and trial?  He also asked about the role of the “judicial office of permanent care” in the flow of cases?  He would be happy to receive that information in writing.


Turning to question 19, he asked what had led to the increase in cases addressed in mediation between 2008 and 2009, noted in paragraph 146 of the State’s reply.  He also asked for the reason for a similar increase mentioned in paragraph 148.  The answer given in response to question 19c remained open and he asked for clarity.


Taking up question 20, he said he had noted with satisfaction the new model for prisons, and asked what part of the prison population was being dealt with in the new prison system.  Also, the level of social reintegration — at 97 per cent —must be a world record, as it usually was around 30 or 40 per cent for repeat offenders.  Paragraph 84 of the report referred to problems in the prison system and he asked whether alternative sentencing had been considered.


On question 21, he asked about the practice of “incommunicado” in prisons.  If someone was denied the use of a phone, was that issue addressed in the prison system, or would the person have recourse outside the system?  He also asked if prisoners were allowed to vote.


Mr. NEUMAN, expert from the United States, taking up question 22 and the issue of de-facto refugees due to the earthquake, asked about the State’s approach to humanitarian refugees.  Were those people given temporary identity documents?  Such documents could keep people from being suddenly deported, or allow them to work, and he had heard about difficulties in receiving them.


RAFAEL RIVAS POSADA, expert from Colombia, focusing on deportations, said question 24 referred to people who were under threat of deportation.  “We’re not talking about what had happened in the past”, he said.  The information provided was insufficient, as it focused on the aims of immigration rules.  He was interested in how rights were being protected.  Also, he asked for information on the institution responsible for deportations, specifically related to its mandate and reporting structure.


On question 25, he said the information provided by the State party addressed the problem of the civil registry.  The numbers showed that considerable progress had been made in that regard.  The Committee was not just limited to pointing out unsatisfactory aspects to human rights behaviour; it also could provide assistance in the difficult task of ensuring respect for human rights


MICHAEL O'FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland and Committee Vice-Chairperson, said he was pleased that the Dominican Republic had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  On question 26, which dealt with freedom of expression, he said he was disappointed that the Government’s response suggested that freedom of expression was perfect. “Freedom of expression is perfect nowhere,” he said, adding that through non-governmental sources, he had learned of attacks against journalists by non-State actors.  Such events suggested the media was under threat and he asked what the Government was doing to protect the space for media.  He drew attention to General Comment 34, which spelled out how States could better protect the media, which could be useful in dealing with that serious issue.


Turning to questions 27 and 28, dealing with issues of intimidation of workers wishing to peacefully assemble, he noted that the Government’s response did not answer the Committee’s questions about measures taken to support people, especially of Haitian descent, whose right to peaceful assembly had been violated.


Migrant workers often feared that if they organized to gain rights they would be deported, he said.  What was the State doing to empower them to feel they could, indeed, organize?  Also, the information provided on actions to disseminate the Covenant did not answer the Committee’s question.  He directed attention to information submitted by the Coalition of Civil Society for Human Rights in the Dominican Republic, whose list of questions was the same as that put forward by the Committee.


Mr. RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, asked about mass arrests that had taken place during police raids of high-crime areas.  According to Amnesty International, information in the criminal code required the Prosecutor to approve such raids.  It also had reported that that provision was very rarely followed.  As a result, arbitrary detentions remained common.  He asked what effect a 2010 request by the Ministry of the Interior to avoid mass round-ups had had on that practice.  Did the practice of not consulting the Prosecutor continue?


Taking up the issue of sugar cane workers, another delegate highlighted that the Dominican Republic did not have any plants under Government control.  The Government had been working to improve conditions for cane workers in several zones.  For example, there had been a change in their housing to allow for access to potable water.  He said the Government could send a report on the topic to the Secretariat.


Another delegate addressed the question on freedom of expression, recounting a story of when he was director of a national newspaper.  In an editorial, he had criticized the President and had received a few letters about it.  Today, there were eight newspapers, more than 166 TV stations with national coverage, and 15 or 16 Dominican channels.  Pressure was brought to bear precisely because there was freedom of expression.


“There is 99.9 per cent freedom of the press,” he said, but that did not mean opinions could be as free as one would like.  There was no single party line, but rather a plurality of views.  Yes, there had been incidents of abuse of power vis-à-vis “communicators and companies”.  “There is freedom, with all the difficulties and pressures,” he said, but religious, cultural and other views were maintained within an ethical framework.


Comments and Questions


Mr. O’FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland and Vice-Chairperson, referred to the questions on national human rights planning and national human rights education.  Could the delegation respond?  He would be satisfied if he received the response in writing.


Mr. THELIN, expert from Sweden, commended the Dominican Republic on reforming criminal procedural law, saying he had taken heart in the responses given to his previous questions.  He also commended the delegation for its honesty, which compensated in part for the fact the Committee had received its written replies late.


Mr. SALVIOLI, expert from Argentina, asked that the delegation expand on its partial replies and submit them to the Committee in writing at a later date.  He highlighted his concern that there was no retroactive application of norms around the issue of birth certificates.  There were six rulings whereby the court had ordered the electoral board not to indefinitely suspend the certificates of six people.  In those six cases, the central electoral board chose not to take a decision, but rather appealed to another court.  That was a concern, because the judiciary review and capacity of a court to make a decision on birth certificates was an important guarantee.


Closing remarks


Mr. ALCÁNTARA thanked the Committee for its interest in human rights of Dominicans and apologized the Government had not sent its documents in time for translation.  The means to do so were not always available, but the Government would work to ensure that the problem did not recur.  He repeated the Dominican Republic’s strongest commitment to ensuring that no human rights violation — as recognized by the Constitution, laws and ratified international treaties — would enjoy impunity. Reports would not be 100 per cent satisfactory, but the Government was committed, especially vis-à-vis the Haitian community, to proceed in a way that respected everyone’s political rights and addressed humanitarian emergencies.


He went on to stress that there was no formal discrimination in the Dominican Republic.  “You can see this for yourselves,” he said.  “We’re one of the very few societies that are of mixed race”.  On the issues of detainees and extrajudicial killings, he insisted the Government was doing everything it could to reform the police structures.  All members of Dominican society had the right to resort to legal services to address such killings.  He added that the Government followed a “zero tolerance” policy on the issue of child labour.


“On a daily basis, we see the institutions are trying to do the best they can,” he said.  With support from the Committee, “we can improve what we are doing”.


In her closing remarks, ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, expert from South Africa and Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its presentation and welcomed delivery of its fifth report, despite the fact that it was four and a half years late.  The Committee’s duty was not just to criticize, but also, in the spirit of cooperation, to provide guidance on rectifying problems.


“I’m pleased with the tone this dialogue has taken,” she said, as it had allowed for understanding the challenges faced by the Dominican Republic, including its limited economic resources and entrenched cultural norms.  Areas of concern included issues related to law enforcement, the high numbers of extrajudicial killings and low compensation rates of police, the nationality law and its repercussions for migrants, high domestic violence rates, the abortion ban and the high maternal mortality rate.


She also had been impressed by the level of humility shown by the delegation in acknowledging the problems, which had convinced the Committee it was working towards better compliance with the Covenant.  With the creation of the new Constitution, she expressed hope the Dominican Republic would promote better protection of human rights.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.