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a7: Dominican military faces accusations of human rights abuses (fwd)
Dominican military faces accusations of human rights abuses - 10.12.01 (Christian Aid press release)
The rights of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic are in the spotlight once again with the trial of four Dominican military officers accused of killing six Haitians and one Dominican in June last year.
The incident, which has become known locally as the Guayubin massacre, occurred when officers allegedly opened fire on a lorry carrying more than thirty illegal Haitian immigrants across the border into the Dominican Republic. According to eye witnesses the soldiers began to shoot at the vehicle when it failed to stop at a military check-point. The lorry eventually turned over, but according to some witnesses the soldiers continued to fire as people inside tried to escape from the wreckage.
Among those killed were Rodriguez Espinal, the Dominican owner of the lorry, Roselene Thermeus a 37 year-old pregnant mother of seven, and Nadege Dorsema a 19 year-old student. Twenty people were also seriously injured.
The trial, which is being heard by a military tribunal, was due to start in August this year, but was postponed when two of the key witnesses, including the driver of the lorry, failed to turn up. The latest hearing was held on 5 December, but the full trial has been postponed again due to administrative problems.
A number of Christian Aid’s partner organisations, both in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have been following the case closely. Among them is Onč Respé, which is based in the Dominican city of Santiago and has been campaigning to have the trial transferred to a civil court. Natacha Calderón, the coordinator of Onč Respé, says that it is a scandal that a case of this magnitude is being heard by a military court where the civilians involved in the case have no right to any legal representation.
'I hope I’m proven wrong,' she says, 'but I doubt whether this military tribunal will satisfy either the families of the victims or public opinion here in the Dominican Republic and abroad.'
The trafficking of illegal Haitian migrants across the border into the Dominican Republic has become a lucrative business. In the case of the Guayabin massacre, the Haitians are reported to have paid the owner of the lorry just over 40 dollars for the journey. 'It’s very easy to criticise Haitians for illegally entering the Dominican Republic,' says Natacha Calderón, 'but you have to realise who is actually behind this business.' Many people say that the traffickers bribe the soldiers manning the check points at the border so that they turn a blind eye to the truck loads of illegal immigrants who enter the country looking for work.
In a series of separate incidents over the past two years nine Haitians have been killed by the Dominican armed forces. In August last year Jeannot Succes was among a group of Haitians who crossed the border looking for work. He was stopped by a soldier who demanded he pay him a bribe. When he refused, he was arrested, taken to the nearest military barracks and beaten to death.
According to Onč Respé, Haitians living in the Dominican Republic are continually subjected to human rights abuses and discrimination at the hands of the Dominican authorities. One of the most contentious issues is the annual forced deportation of hundreds of Haitian immigrants. 'It’s a form of racism,' says Natacha Calderón. 'Often they are deported just because of the colour of their skin or their accent.' The decision to send Haitians back across the border is made by government administrators rather than by the courts. This, she says, leads to families being torn apart and many people being wrongly sent back.
Onč Respé has documented a number of cases in which the children of Haitian immigrants, who are Dominican by birth and have a constitutional right to stay in the Dominican Republic, have been deported separating them from the parents.
'The situation is intolerable,' she says. 'The Dominican Republic has for far too long ignored the rights of Haitians living in this country. There must be changes in the law in order to guarantee them the basic standards of human rights as set out under international agreements.'
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