Flawed Ruling in the Dominican Republic Threatens Human Rights Protections
NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative is urging the government of the Dominican Republic to affirm its membership and commitment to the Inter-American Human Rights system, after a bid by the country’s constitutional court to repudiate the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).
On November 4, the Constitutional Tribunal declared that the Dominican Republic’s 1999 accession to the jurisdiction of the IACHR was unconstitutional, because it was enacted by a presidential decree that was not ratified by law-makers. Contrary to the tribunal’s position, such ratification was not required by the constitution that was then in force.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said:
“We are deeply troubled by the evidently flawed legal reasoning that led to this opinion from the Constitutional Tribunal, which would retroactively reject a jurisdiction acknowledged by the Dominican Republic for 15 years. If not reversed, this ruling will undermine the rule of law, and deprive all Dominicans of the protections against arbitrary treatment as guaranteed by international human rights law.”
In its decision, the Constitutional Tribunal upheld a challenge that was originally filed in 2005 by nationalists unhappy that the IACHR had faulted the Dominican Republic for refusing to grant citizenship to people of Haitian descent born on its territory.
The ruling came just two weeks after the court had again faulted the Dominican Republic over the same issue. In October, the IACHR found that the Constitutional Tribunal had breached the Dominican Republic’s human rights treaty obligations last year, when it denationalized hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian Descent. It held that a law designed to implement the decision also breached treaty obligations.
Regardless of the surrounding political pressures, the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling is legally unsound. The Dominican Republic ratified the American Convention on Human Rights in 1978. In 1999, Dominican President Leonel Fernández, the competent authority vested with legal powers under international law as representative of the State, made a formal declaration, in accordance with the requirements established by the already ratified American Convention of Human Rights (Article 62), accepting the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
All branches of the Dominican government have repeatedly reaffirmed the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court. The Supreme Court of Justice, the highest tribunal prior to the establishment of the Constitutional Tribunal, recognized the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court in 2003. The Dominican government has argued cases before the Inter-American Court. Congress has enacted statutes which reference the implementation of the Court’s rulings. The Constitutional Tribunal’s decision also disregards its own case law (including the Deguis Pierre decision) in which it had consistently recognized the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court.