Seven Easy Steps to Ethnic Cleansing in the Dominican Republic
By Julia Harrington Reddy
Thousands of Dominicans have been dreading this day: from June 17, they fear that they can now be expelled from their homeland, exiled to a foreign country that many of them have never been to. There, they will likely be stranded, stateless—unless they manage to sneak back across the border to live as undocumented immigrants in their own country. It’s a bleak prospect, with little hope of resolution.
But some of their countrymen will celebrate. Some, with their minds diseased by fetishism of ethnic purity, have spent years preparing for this day, engineering an ethnic cleansing exercise decked out in legal obfuscation.
What will be reported in the press? The deportation of Haitian migrants, that’s all. Just illegal immigrants. Why, doesn’t the United States and the members of the European Union, do the same, every day?
The transformation of birthright citizens into illegal immigrants isn’t that difficult. The strategy is actually simple, if the steps are taken in the correct sequence. Let us review what the Dominican Republic has done—a virtual recipe for any other country aspiring to an ethnic cleansing exercise done according to proper legal procedure.
- Start with unofficial discrimination in access to birth certificates. You ignore constitutional provisions that grant citizenship on the basis of place of birth. Throw up practical and administrative obstacles for parents; insist that mothers present Dominican citizenship documents in order to register their children, although this violates both the principle of conveying citizenship on the basis of place of birth and the right of Dominican father to pass citizenship to their children. Thus, ensure that most of the target population has no official recognition that they were actually born in the DR.
- Change the constitution. Get rid of citizenship based on place of birth, make it dependent on parents’ nationality. Lots of respectable countries have this provision, and you can dampen down dissent, make this appear a minor change, by including a provision that anyone already ‘enjoying’ citizenship at the time of the change will continue to be a citizen. Include provisions that create a new constitutional tribunal to interpret the constitution.
- A bold move, best undertaken swiftly: have the constitutional tribunal interpret the constitutional change to be retroactive—for 75 year or so. No, actually, it was the previous constitution that was misinterpreted for all that time—it didn’t ever mean what it said. Well, whichever it is, it comes to the same thing. The Dominican state itself was confused. You know, mistakes happen.
But reassure everyone that this is not denationalization, since those affected were never citizens in the first place. Remember, mistakes happen, and thank goodness for a constitutional tribunal that can right 75 years’ worth of confusion. Besides, the people affected surely have another citizenship that matches the color of their skin. There: neither denationalization nor statelessness. It’s not so bad.
- All this notwithstanding, step 3 is sure to attract attention internationally, so step 4 is for the executive branch to smooth ruffled feathers by expressing concern at the constitutional court decision and swear its dedication simultaneously both to human rights and to the separation of powers, and claim that it will find a legislative fix for the judicial move that will make sure nobody suffers any inconvenience.
- Eight months after the constitutional court judgment, have the executive branch introduce, and the legislature unanimously pass, some elaborate legislation that divides the affected population into two groups, based on whether their births were officially registered or not, and gives those with birth certificates the right to have them ‘validated’ (although they were improperly given out) and get citizenship, while making those without birth certificates register themselves as foreigners, thereby gaining legal residence and the potential to maybe become naturalized citizens one day through a procedure not set out the legislation.
Remember the very first step? That unofficial, discriminatory, but systematic denial of birth certificates is really handy now, since arguably you are doing people a big favor by giving them any rights at all when they don’t have official proof they were born in the country. The transformation of the group from birthright citizens to deportable aliens is almost complete.
Some international human rights court may try to throw a wrench in the works by pointing out that the whole production (original policy denying birth certificates, constitutional judgment, legislation) violates international human rights law and your treaty obligations. But you can use the constitutional tribunal to strike back and find (within ten days of international court action) that that international court doesn’t have any jurisdiction over you—accepting its jurisdiction wasn’t done properly (although you were putatively a member for a couple of decades). The Dominican state was rather butter-fingered throughout much of the 20th century, we’ve already established that. Now we’re setting things to rights.
- Pretend to try to implement the legislation, by setting up a few offices (many too few, much too late) around the country to process individuals’ registrations of themselves as foreigners. This move is essential to legitimize the legislation, which was key to neutralizing concern at—remember?—the constitutional court’s unconstitutional judgment, which is important for stifling international concern. If you are a really skilled player you can even get richer countries to help pay for the process of registering your citizens, previously denied their birth certificates, as foreigners. And get them to refrain from criticism on the grounds that the process set out by the legislation needs time to work.
- The final step is, when the deadline for registration of ‘foreigners’ expires, start deporting the unregistered ones. It’s not pretty, but if you’ve followed the instructions, you have plenty of legal cover. Your birthright citizens are now just undocumented migrants—fair game. And it only took a decade or so.
Now, boys and girls, go try this at home.
Julia Harrington Reddy heads the Open Society Justice Initiative’s work on equality and inclusion.