Bridges Summer Research Report
Boalt Hall School of Law
the Dominican Republic’s Discriminatory Registration
Policies before the Inter-American Court for Human
Purpose and Outcome of Travel
International Human Rights Clinic in collaboration with
the Center for Economic Justice and International
Law (CEJIL) and the Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas
(MUDHA) have challenged the discriminatory registration
policies in the Dominican Republic at the international
level. Several weeks prior to my departure for the Dominican
Republic, I received news that the Inter-American Court
had slated our case to go to trial in March of 2005. While
I had previously intended to spend my summer assisting
trafficking victims, my focus quickly shifted to preparing
for the upcoming hearing. Consequently, I devoted my time
in the Dominican Republic to gathering evidence, getting
witnesses ready for trial and analyzing recent developments
in domestic legislation, policy and jurisprudence.
brought before the Inter-American Commission for Human
Rights in 1989, the registration case is now in its
final stage. In March, the presiding judges of the Inter-American
Court for Human Rights will determine whether the Dominican
Republic violated the human rights of our victims. The
Commission has already ruled in our favor. Because of
the government’s inadequate response to the Commission’s
decision, the Commission referred the registration case
to the Inter-American Court, and will represent the victims
during the proceedings. Due to recent procedural changes,
the CEJIL, the International Human Rights Law Clinic,
and MUDHA will also be able to represent the victims
the course of the summer, I discovered that the
government recently implemented new regulations to
registration process. This reform is a response to
the substantial number of children in the Dominican Republic
that do not have birth certificates. Nevertheless,
changes do little to address the exclusion of children
of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic from
enjoying their constitutional right to nationality.
Registration still depends on the parents’ legal
status in the country, which excludes most children of
born in the country. Dominicans of Haitian descent
tend to inherit their parents’ illegal status,
creating a state of “perpetual illegality” as
successive generations are not able to register their
the Dominican Republic.
children in one of the bateye communities.
consequences of their stateless status are substantial.
Expulsions from the Dominican
Republic to Haiti occur
daily. Without a birth certificate, Dominicans of
have no proof of their Dominican nationality. As
a result, they are constantly at risk of being expelled
to an unknown
country. In addition, many schools continue to discriminate
against children of Haitian descent and refuse to
them in elementary school without a birth certificate.
One mother I interviewed expressed how difficult
it has been financially for her and her husband to send
two daughters to private school. They had to pawn
possessions to gather enough money to enroll them.
Tuition expenses continue to consume a considerable
their monthly income.
decided in our favor, this case could contribute significantly
to the fight to end
practices in the registration
of children in the Dominican Republic.
Like other international tribunals, the Inter-American
Court relies on a “shame and blame” enforcement
mechanism. The Dominican Republic has failed to
respond to international pressure in the past.
We can only hope
that a favorable decision from the Court will prove
more persuasive. Despite this evident weakness,
could also use this case as a tool to promote change
on a domestic level. Treaties signed by the Dominican
have the same status as domestic laws. Because
the Dominican Republic has signed the American
Convention and accepted
jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, advocates
can cite to the Court’s opinion as highly
work this summer contributed to our understanding
of recent developments in the Dominican Republic,
be used to prepare our responses to the
government’s arguments more effectively at trial. Evidence
I gathered will bolster our case because it helps document that it
not an anomaly,
but rather another incident that forms part of a broader discriminatory
policy promulgated by the government.
worked as an intern in MUDHA’s legal
department in Santo Domingo. MUDHA is a grassroots
NGO that advocates for the rights of Haitians and Dominicans
of Haitian descent, especially women, in the Dominican Republic.
Most of the
employees at MUDHA are Dominicans of Haitian descent that grew
up in the bateyes, the marginalized communities composed
primarily of Haitians and Dominicans
of Haitian descent. Consequently, they have both close ties to
the population they serve and a nuanced understanding
of the problems it faces.
concerns necessarily restrict the extent
to which I can discuss evidence collection. I had
the opportunity to interview
regarding recent reform efforts. I also approached public functionaries
to document discrepancies in implementing registration procedures.
do the registration requirements discriminate against Dominicans
but also the wide discretion exercised by functionaries allows
individual bias to color their decisions. I also gathered documentation
appeal mechanisms are ineffective. When a Civil Status Official
denies a registration application, the applicant has few means
mechanisms are discretionary and often subject to considerable
delay; it is not uncommon for years to go by without a response.
the summer, I was able to obtain travel documents for
the victims so that they will be able to travel to
I also worked closely with the victims to help prepare them
for trial. Interviews with witnesses helped clarify their
stories so that they
will be ready to
testify. Moreover, our victims had not ventured much outside
of their communities. Traveling
to another country and testifying in a court of law were
frightening prospects. To help quell their fears, I arranged
for them to
attend a criminal trial
in one of the local courts. I benefited from this experience
as well. I was able
to observe differences between civil and common-law systems.
As the Inter-American Court operates on a civil law model,
of how the hearing will proceed in March.
with MUDHA also afforded me the opportunity to observe
process firsthand. I accompanied the legal
department several times over
the course of the summer when they registered children.
To show my
appreciation, I also provided support to the staff. This
assistance came in various
forms, from translating documents to researching international
case law to support
to Degree Goals
a law student at Boalt Hall, I have focused my studies
on international law, especially with
respect to the
promotion of human rights.
This year, I am continuing to assist with trial preparation
the International Human Rights Law Clinic. My work
in the Dominican
has thus far proved invaluable in developing our case
my experience this summer in the Dominican Republic has
contributed to my preparation
as a lawyer
I gained exposure
to the inherent difficulties of collecting evidence
of human rights violations in a foreign country.
benefited greatly as a
result of my collaboration
with our clients. Balancing my interests as an advocate
the interests of our clients proved challenging but
as I came
to understand their perspective and concerns. This
experience will help prepare
me to be
a more sensitive and therefore more effective advocate
in the future.