Presidential elections in Dominican Republic offer an "extraordinary opportunity" in the battle for human rights, Amnesty International said as it urged candidates to take a public stand on a range of issues including alarming levels of police killings, violence against women and abuses against migrants.
An open letter details a series of recommendations for presidential candidates, including the need for an extensive reform of the police, the appointment of an ombudsman and the provision of effective measures of redress in cases of gender based violence, abuses against migrants, denial of identity documents to Dominicans of Haitian descent and forced evictions.
“The presidential elections offer an extraordinary opportunity to discuss the challenges faced by the Dominican Republic, including on how to better protect and promote human rights,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.
“Human rights must not be seen as a secondary or separate issue from daily issues of politics and economics, but as integral and essential to the Dominican society”
Amnesty International formulated recommendations to candidates on a number of human rights issues, including:
Human rights violations by the police in the context of public security The National Police is responsible for a high level of human rights violations, including unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests.
Abusive policing methods have shown to exacerbate the problem of public security, by alienating large parts of the population from the police and by sending the message that it is legitimate to take justice into one’s own hands.
Human rights violations by the police are often inadequately investigated and many officers responsible are not brought to justice.
Amnesty International believes the new President should ensure that the Office of the Prosecutor General instructs all prosecutors to investigate thoroughly all allegations of human rights violations by the police.
The president should also initiate a comprehensive human rights based reform of the National Police, which should include aspects related to recruitment, promotion and vetting of officers, internal and external oversight on the police and working conditions of officers.
The new president will also have to ensure that victims and families of victims of human rights violations by the police receive full reparation.
Violence against women and girls
The manifestos of several presidential candidates include legislative, policy and administrative measures to enhance prevention of gender-based violence and improve care for survivors of violence.
Whoever wins the election will be expected to implement a range of measures including creating units to assist women survivors of violence in each of the country’s 32 provinces; steps to ensure satisfactory prosecution of cases of gender-based violence; an increase in the number of trained personnel in the Public Prosecutor’s Office working to combat violence against women and girls and ensure the establishment of a minimum of one shelter for each of the country’s nine regions.
The new President should also promote the reform of national legislation in order to ensure that abortion is permitted at least when the pregnancy poses a risk to the life or grave risk to the health of the woman and when the pregnancy is the consequence of rape, sexual assault or incest.
Abuses against Dominicans of Haitian origin and Haitian migrants
Hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian origins have been denied access to identity documents by the Central Electoral Board. This results in people being denied access to education, employment and health services, the right to vote and citizenship.
The Dominican authorities continue to carry out mass expulsions of Haitian migrants, inspite of an appeal in February 2010 (renewed in June 2011) from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to suspend all involuntary returns to Haiti on humanitarian grounds, following the 2010 earthquake. Most of these mass expulsions continue to be carried out in breach of international human rights standards and those expelled have no recourse to appeal.
The new president will be responsible for ensuring that the rights of all Dominican and Haitian origin and Haitian migrants are respected and protected.
According to local NGOs, at least 100 forced evictions were carried out between January and September 2011 across the Dominican Republic. Most of the evictions are executed without due process or consultation with the communities affected. They take place to make lands available for the construction of infrastructure, tourist estates or industrial complexes. On several occasions, fatalities and injuries from gun shots by the armed forces have been reported during forced evictions.
The new president will have to ensure that evictions only occur in exceptional circumstances and only after genuine consultation with communities. Consultations must cover the identification of all feasible alternatives to eviction, resettlement options, and they must ensure people forcibly evicted are provided with adequate notice, adequate alternative accommodation, compensation, and effective remedies.
Amnesty International invited candidates to present written responses on the issues raised indicating its intention to make them public before the election date.
Presidential elections in the Dominican Republic are scheduled for 20 May 2012.