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Editorial: Where’s Jamaica’s voice on Dom Rep’s abuse?

Published:Monday | June 22, 2015 | 6:00 AM

We are surprised at Jamaica's relative silence over the events in the Dominican Republic, where people of Haitian descent are effectively being rendered stateless and Haitian immigrants being subject, to unfair and unnecessarily coercive policies.

The Government will likely say that on this matter it is working through the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), whose leaders, at their summit in March, declared their "concern" about developments in Santo Domingo. That is good. We, however, believe that the situation demands Jamaica's direct leadership and its leveraging of influence that belie its size and power.

The issue at hand is the Dominican Republic's 2010 constitution that reversed the old arrangement under which persons born in that country were automatically citizens. The new requirement is that at least one parent be a Dominican citizen and the other reside in the country legally.

That change was a thinly veiled attack on the estimated 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of whose parents and grandparents migrated to work on Dominican sugar plantations, but some of whom, because of generations of discrimination, are without

documents to prove their status. This injustice was compounded in 2013 when the Dominican Republic's Supreme Court applied the new constitutional rule retroactive to 84 years.

 

racist and xenophobic

 

Subsequently, laws were passed allowing for the registration of the newly stateless people and for a path to citizenship. Only a minuscule number had started by last week's deadline. Few had got anywhere. Many could not traverse the bureaucratic gauntlet established by the Dominican authorities; others resisted because they felt they should not have to apply for a right that ought to be inherently theirs.

Like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, this newspaper insists that the Dominican Republic's action is a breach of the fundamental human rights of its citizens. We believe, too, that Santo Domingo's behaviour is racist and xenophobic - mixed-raced Dominicans acting against black fellow citizens whose antecedents are in Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest country, with which it shares the island of Hispaniola; has had historical political tension; and towards whose black citizens, brown Dominicans tend to be supercilious.

 

leadership required

 

Jamaica has historically stood against injustice, even before its independence 53 years ago. It was an eloquent advocate against South Africa's apartheid and supported the efforts of other southern African liberation movements. In 2004, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was unconstitutionally removed by a triumvirate of Western powers, Jamaica spoke loudly against such impunity. It led CARICOM's efforts resisting this illegality at the United Nations Security Council.

Jamaica's steadfast principle and leadership are again required.

As the CARICOM member with responsibility for external relations, Jamaica must insist that the Community be forceful in warning the Dominican Republic that it risks its relationship with the group, including its partnership in CARIFORUM, the vehicle it used for a joint free-trade agreement with the European Union. Jamaica must also make it clear that it is ready to take - and articulate its own, and CARICOM's - concerns to the Security Council.

Jamaica has a stake in this issue as a member of a regional community. Further, the majority of its citizens look like those Dominican citizens who are being discriminated against and as do the majority of Haitians.