Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In November Ruben Dario Hipolite Martinez, who was wanted for allegedly shooting a Navy spokesman, was shot and killed minutes after pleading for his life on a live internet video stream, according to media accounts. A National Police spokesman stated the officers involved were suspended and under investigation. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported 115 extrajudicial killings by police forces as of December 10.
As of November Fernando de los Santos was in detention and awaiting trial. The former police lieutenant had been wanted since 2011 for the killing of two men and had been named in media accounts as the suspect in the killing of at least 30 persons. Some of those killed were believed to be criminals wanted by police, while others were killings for hire committed on behalf of drug traffickers, according to media accounts.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The NHRC reported it continued to investigate six unresolved disappearance cases of human rights activists that occurred between 2009 and 2014, some of which they believed were politically motivated.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits torture, beating, and physical abuse of detainees and prisoners, there were reports security force members, primarily police, carried out such practices.
The NHRC reported police used various forms of physical and mental abuse to obtain confessions from detained suspects. According to the NHRC, methods used to extract confessions included covering detainees’ heads with plastic bags, hitting them with broom handles, forcing them to remain standing overnight, and hitting them in the ears with gloved fists or hard furniture foam so as not to leave marks. In June the newspaper El Caribe reported allegations that inmates in Rafey Jail were frequently tortured, which penitentiary authorities denied.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions ranged from general compliance with international standards in “model” prisons or correctional rehabilitation centers (CRCs) to harsh and life threatening in “traditional” prisons. Threats to life and health included communicable diseases, inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care, a lack of well-trained prison guards, and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, all of which were exacerbated in the severely overcrowded traditional prisons.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem in traditional prisons. The Directorate of Prisons reported that as of August there were 17,094 prisoners in traditional prisons and 9,192 in CRCs, a ratio that remained constant for the past several years because traditional prisons had not been phased out. La Victoria, the oldest traditional prison, held nearly 8,000 inmates, although it was designed for a maximum capacity of 2,011. The inmate population at all 19 traditional prisons exceeded capacity, while only one of 22 CRCs was over capacity. Both male and female inmates were held in La Romana Prison but in separate areas.
Police and military inmates received preferential treatment, as did those in traditional prisons with the financial means to rent preferential bed space and purchase other necessities.
According to the Directorate of Prisons, military and police personnel guarded traditional prisons, while a trained civilian guard corps provided security at CRCs. Reports of mistreatment and violence in traditional prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors. Some traditional prisons remained effectively outside the control of authorities, and there were reports of drug and arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse within prisons. Wardens at traditional prisons often controlled only the perimeter, while inmates controlled the inside with their own rules and system of justice. Although the law mandates separation of prisoners according to severity of offense, authorities did not have the capability to do so.
In traditional prisons, health and sanitary conditions were generally inadequate. Prisoners often slept on the floor because there were no beds available. Prison officials did not separate sick inmates. Delays in receiving medical attention were common in both the traditional prisons and CRCs. All prisons had infirmaries, but most infirmaries did not meet the needs of the prison population. In most cases inmates had to purchase their own medications or rely on family members or other outside associates to deliver their medications. Most reported deaths were due to illnesses. According to the Directorate of Prisons, all prisons provided HIV/AIDS treatment, but the NHRC stated that none of the traditional prisons were properly equipped to provide such treatment.
In CRCs, some prisoners with mental disabilities received treatment, including therapy, for their conditions. In traditional prisons, the government did not provide services to prisoners with mental disabilities. Neither CRCs nor traditional prisons provided access for inmates with disabilities, including ramps for wheelchairs.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that migration detention centers were not adequately equipped to accommodate large numbers of detainees and at times were overcrowded. IOM representatives noted the centers needed improved sanitary facilities, better access to drinking water, and more structures to protect waiting detainees from the sun. The General Directorate of Migration generally provided food to detainees being held at the border with Haiti but at times asked the IOM for support.
In October 2017 the Constitutional Tribunal declared the condition of some jails were a “gross and flagrant” violation of the constitution and ordered the Attorney General’s Office to take steps to improve them within 180 days or face a fine of approximately 21,450 pesos ($430) per day. In April the attorney general announced the creation of “mobile courts” at some prisons, including the largest, La Victoria, to speed up the processing of cases and reduce overcrowding.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits and monitoring by independently funded and operated nongovernmental observers and media. The NHRC, National Office of Public Defense, Attorney General’s Office, and CRC prison administration together created human rights committees in each CRC that were authorized to conduct surprise visits.
The constitution prohibits detention without a warrant unless authorities apprehend a suspect during the commission of a criminal act or in other special circumstances but permits detention without charge for up to 48 hours. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention in court, and the government generally observed this requirement. Arbitrary arrest and detention were problems, and there were numerous reports of individuals held and later released with little or no explanation for the detention. NGOs reported many detainees were taken into custody at the scene of a crime or during drug raids. In many instances authorities fingerprinted, questioned, and then released those detainees.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Interior and Police oversees the National Police, Tourist Police, and Metro Police. The Ministry of Armed Forces directs the military, Airport Security Authority and Civil Aviation, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps. The National Department of Intelligence and the National Drug Control Directorate, which have personnel from both police and armed forces, report directly to the president.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces, including police and military forces. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses; however, the NHRC alleged security forces sometimes act with impunity.
The Internal Affairs Unit investigates charges of gross misconduct by members of the National Police. These cases involved physical or verbal aggression, threats, improper use of a firearm, muggings, and theft. Police officers found to have acted outside of established police procedures were fired or prosecuted.
Training for military and the National Drug Control Directorate enlisted personnel and officers and the National Police included instruction on human rights. The Ministry of the Armed Forces provided human rights training or orientation to officers of various ranks as well as to civilians during the year. The Border Security Corps conducted mandatory human rights training at its training facilities for border officers. The Graduate School of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights trained civilians and armed forces personnel. The school also had programs in which members of the armed forces and civilians from the Supreme Court, congress, district attorney offices, government ministries, National Police, and Central Electoral Board participated.
In October 2017 the National Police announced that officers and recruits applying to join the police force who were suspected of corruption would be required to take polygraph tests. In June the chief of the National Police said 1,416 officers had been removed from the force during his first 10 months in office after internal affairs investigations found they had committed misconduct. In September the National Police warned commanding officers that if they did not declare their financial assets as required by law, they could lose their commands.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law provides that an accused person may be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant before being presented to judicial authorities. The law also permits police to apprehend without an arrest warrant any person caught in the act of committing a crime or reasonably linked to a crime, such as in cases involving hot pursuit or escaped prisoners. Police sometimes detained suspects for investigation or interrogation longer than 48 hours. Police often detained all suspects and witnesses to a crime. Successful habeas corpus hearings reduced abuses of the law significantly. There was a functioning bail system and a system of house arrest, but these provisions were rarely used in cases involving foreigners.
The law requires provision of counsel to indigent defendants, although staffing levels were inadequate to meet demand. The National Office of Public Defense represented 71 percent of the criminal cases brought before the courts as of August, covering 28 of 34 judicial districts. Many detainees and prisoners who could not afford private counsel did not have prompt access to a lawyer. Prosecutors and judges handled interrogations of juveniles, which the law prohibits by or in the presence of police.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police made sporadic sweeps or roundups in low-income, high-crime communities during which they arrested and detained individuals without warrants. During these operations police arrested large numbers of residents and seized personal property allegedly used in criminal activity.
Pretrial Detention: Many suspects endured long pretrial detention. Under the criminal procedures code, a judge may order detention to be between three and 18 months. According to the Directorate of Prisons, as of October, 60 percent of inmates were in pretrial custody. The average pretrial detention time was three months, but there were reports of cases of pretrial detention lasting up to three years, including three foreign citizens held in pretrial detention since 2015 (two of whom were granted bail in September). Time served in pretrial detention counted toward completing a sentence.
The failure of prison authorities to produce detainees for court hearings caused some trial postponements. Many inmates had their court dates postponed due to a lack of transportation from prison to court or because their lawyer, codefendants, interpreters, or witnesses did not appear. Despite additional protections for defendants in the criminal procedures code, in some cases authorities held inmates beyond the legally mandated deadlines even when there were no formal charges against them.
The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Improper influence on judicial decisions was widespread. Interference ranged from selective prosecution to dismissal of cases amid allegations of bribery or undue political pressure. The judiciary routinely dismissed high-level corruption cases. Corruption of the judiciary was also a serious problem. The National Office of Public Defense reported the most frequent form of interference with judicial orders occurred when authorities refused to abide by writs of habeas corpus to free detainees.
The Office of the Inspector of Tribunals, which disciplines judges and handles complaints of negligence, misconduct, and corruption, increased its technical training beginning in 2016, and as a result it opened more investigations. As of September the office had completed more than 700 inspections and investigations, more than triple the number completed in 2015. In April the Judicial Council approved revised, more stringent disciplinary regulations for judges. In June judicial authorities stated that in the past two years seven judges had been suspended, 10 demoted, and 15 expelled. Authorities also reprimanded or suspended 92 administrators, expelled 117, and were pursuing another 254 cases.
The law provides for the right to a defense in a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary did not always enforce this right.
The District Attorney’s Office is required to notify the defendant and attorney of criminal charges. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, the right to confront or question witnesses, and the right against self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and the indigent have a right to a public defender. Defendants have the right to present their own witnesses and evidence. The law provides for free interpretation as necessary. The constitution also provides for the right to appeal and prohibits higher courts from increasing the sentences of lower courts. The courts frequently exceeded the period of time provided by the criminal procedures code when assigning hearing dates.
Military and police tribunals share jurisdiction over cases involving members of the security forces. Military tribunals have jurisdiction over cases involving violations of internal rules and regulations. Civilian criminal courts handle cases of killings and other serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There are separate court systems for claims under criminal law, commercial and civil law, and labor law. Commercial and civil courts reportedly suffered lengthy delays in adjudicating cases, although their decisions were generally enforced. As in criminal courts, undue political or economic influence in civil court decisions remained a problem.
Citizens have recourse to file an amparo, an action to seek redress of any violation of a constitutional right, including violations of human rights protected by the constitution. This remedy was used infrequently and only by those with sophisticated legal counsel.
The law prohibits arbitrary entry into a private residence, except when police are in hot pursuit of a suspect, a suspect is caught in the act of committing a crime, or police suspect a life is in danger. The law provides that all other entries into a private residence require an arrest or search warrant issued by a judge. Police conducted illegal searches and seizures, however, including raids without warrants on private residences in many poor neighborhoods.
Although the government denied using unauthorized wiretaps, monitoring of private email, or other surreptitious methods to interfere with the private lives of individuals and families, human rights groups and opposition politicians alleged such interference occurred. Opposition political parties alleged government officials at times threatened subordinates with loss of employment and other benefits to compel them to support the incumbent PLD party and attend PLD campaign events.