The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In 2016 Danilo Medina of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) was re-elected president for a second four-year term. Impartial outside observers assessed the election as generally free and orderly.
The National Police and the Tourist Police maintain internal security. They report to the Minister of Interior and Police and through him to the president. The Airport Security Authority, Port Security Authority, and Border Security Corps have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Armed Forces and through that ministry to the president. The National Drug Control Directorate, which has personnel from both the police and the armed forces, reports directly to the president. The National Department of Intelligence reports directly to the president. Both the National Drug Control Directorate and the National Department of Intelligence have significant domestic security responsibilities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by police and other government agents; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; criminal libel for individual journalists; serious government corruption; police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and forced and child labor.
The government took some steps to punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but there were widespread reports of official impunity and corruption, especially among senior officials.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials.
NGOs noted the greatest hindrance to effective investigations was a lack of political will to prosecute individuals accused of corruption, particularly well connected individuals or high-level politicians. Government corruption remained a serious problem and a public grievance.
Corruption: In September the Supreme Court began a trial against six of the 14 defendants indicted in 2017 for alleged links to $92 million in bribes paid by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to obtain public works contracts. The six defendants included a senator, a lower house representative, a former senator, and a former minister of public works. Civil society welcomed the trial as a step forward in the fight against corruption, but activists highlighted what they perceived as a lack of political will thoroughly to investigate the case, which involved the country’s political and economic elites.
In June an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists report revealed that in addition to the publicly reported $92 million in bribes, Odebrecht distributed another $39.5 million in inducements during the construction of the Punta Catalina coal-fired power plant. After this report was made public, the Attorney General’s Office questioned financial consultants involved in the plant’s tendering process but did not file any additional charges. The attorney general and a government-appointed commission previously dismissed allegations of irregularity in the plant’s contracting process.
NGOs criticized the widespread practice of awarding government positions as political patronage. They alleged many civil servants received a government salary without performing any work. Some small municipalities had more employees on the payroll than their physical offices could accommodate.
NGOs and individual citizens regularly reported acts of corruption by various law enforcement officials, including police officers, immigration officials, and prison officials. The government on occasion used nonjudicial punishments for corruption, including dismissal or transfer of military personnel, police officers, judges, and other minor officials. Widespread acceptance and tolerance of petty corruption, however, hampered anticorruption efforts.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president, vice president, members of congress, some agency heads, and some other officials, including tax and customs duty collectors, to declare their personal property within 30 days of being hired, elected, or re-elected as well as when they end their responsibilities. These declarations are made public. The constitution further requires public officials to declare the provenance of their property. The Chamber of Accounts is responsible for receiving and reviewing these declarations. Many public officials did not comply. NGOs questioned the veracity of the declarations, as amounts often fluctuated significantly from year to year, and total declared assets often appeared unrealistically low.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence, such as incest and sexual aggression. The sentences for rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,000 to $4,000). The Attorney General’s Office oversees the specialized Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes even when victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling.
The Ministry of Women actively promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women through implementing education and awareness programs, as well as training other ministries and offices. The ministry operated shelters and provided counseling services, although NGOs argued these efforts were inadequate.
Despite government efforts, violence against women, including rape, was pervasive. In September attorney Anibel Gonzalez was shot and killed by her former husband Yasmil Fernandez, who then committed suicide. Fernandez previously attacked Gonzalez in 2017 and was sentenced to five years in prison for attempted murder. Press, civil society, and politicians called for an investigation and heavily criticized the Attorney General’s Office for its handling of the case. The press and civil society questioned why Fernandez was permitted a cell phone while incarcerated, from which he placed harassing calls to Gonzalez, and questioned why, in contravention of the law, Fernandez was released on parole before completing one-half of his sentence. Media reported the Attorney General’s Office transferred a prosecutor who opposed Fernandez’s petition for early release. Her successor granted Fernandez parole in violation of the law. Following a similar incident in November that also resulted in the murder of a victim by her recently paroled former husband, the Attorney General’s Office pressed civil charges against the prosecutor involved in both cases.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment in the workplace is a misdemeanor, and conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a fine equal to the sum of three to six months of salary. Union leaders reported the law was not enforced and that sexual harassment remained a problem.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men. In November the Latin American Public Opinion Project published findings that 66 percent of Dominicans believed a woman’s children suffer when she works outside of the home.
Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see also section 2.g.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. A child not registered at birth remains undocumented until parents file a late declaration of birth.
Education: The constitution stipulates free, compulsory, and universal public education through age 18. Public schools enrolled children who lacked identity documentation and promoted undocumented children between grades, although an identity document was necessary for the Ministry of Education to issue a high-school diploma. The Ministry of Education and the Vice President’s Office, through the Progressing with Solidarity program, worked with families to assist with late registration of birth and identity documentation.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a fine of three to five times the monthly minimum wage for persons convicted of abuse of a minor.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage with parental consent is 16 for boys and 15 for girls. Marriage, particularly of female minors, younger than age 18 was common. According to a 2019 UNICEF-supported government survey, 12 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 36 percent by age 18. In addition, 22 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant, an issue directly related to early marriage. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas. More than one-half of women in the country’s poorest quintile were married by age 17.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than age 18. NGOs noted that due to the law that allows marriage with parental consent for girls as young as 15, some men arrange to marry girls to avoid prosecution for statutory rape. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 to 200,000 pesos ($2,000 to $4,000).
Children were exploited for commercial sex, particularly in coastal, tourist locations and major urban areas. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.
Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community comprised approximately 350 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Although the law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, these individuals encountered discrimination in employment, education, the judicial system, and in obtaining health care and transportation services. The law provides for access to basic services and physical access for persons with disabilities to all new public and private buildings. It also specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Authorities worked to enforce these provisions, but a gap in implementation persisted. Very few public buildings were fully accessible. The Attorney General’s Office signed an agreement with the Council on People with Disabilities to provide services and accessibility to persons with disabilities who access the justice system.
The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Secretariat of Public Health and from the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities and to operate schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.
The law states the government should provide access to the labor market and to cultural, recreational, and religious activities for persons with disabilities, but the law was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for care of children with disabilities–in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. The most recent information, from a 2016 Ministry of Education report, found that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended some form of school.
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of skin color and nationality. There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, Haitians, or those perceived to be Haitian. The government denied such prejudice or discrimination existed and did little to address the problem. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants (see also sections 1.d., 2.d., and 2.g.).
According to media reports, in June a mob in Santiago lynched one Haitian immigrant and severely injured another. The men were falsely accused of killing a Dominican. The true killer, the victim’s relative, later confessed to the crime. At year’s end no one had been arrested for either the killing or the violent assault on the Haitian immigrants.
A 2017 National Statistics Office and UN Population Fund study estimated Haitians constituted 7.4 percent of the population, of whom two-thirds were Haitian-born immigrants and one-third were persons of Haitian descent. In March the IACHR noted the absence of a comprehensive policy to prevent, protect from, and punish acts of violence against Haitian nationals in the country. The IACHR assessed that the government had partially implemented the IACHR’s 2017 recommendations to address this concern.
The constitution upholds the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories. It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.
In March, Amnesty International released a report detailing incidents of police rape and abuse of transgender sex workers (see also section 1.c.). Other NGOs reported police abuse, including arbitrary arrest, police violence, and extortion against LGBTI persons. According to civil society organizations, authorities failed to properly document or investigate the incidents that were reported. According to a report presented by civil society to the UN Human Rights Committee, the law does not provide for the prosecution of hate crimes against LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTI persons to access education, employment, health care, and other services. NGOs reported widespread discrimination against LGBTI persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in health care, education, justice, and employment. LGBTI individuals often faced intimidation and harassment.
Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many workers found to have the disease were not hired, and some of those already employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.
On a number of occasions, citizens attacked and sometimes killed alleged criminals in vigilante-style reprisals for theft, robbery, or burglary.
Section 7. Worker Rights
The law provides for the right of workers, with the exception of the military and police, to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively; however, it places several restrictions on these rights. For example, a requirement, considered excessive by the ILO, restricts trade union rights by requiring unions to represent 51 percent of the workers in an enterprise in order to bargain collectively. In addition the law prohibits strikes until mandatory mediation requirements have been met. Formal requirements for a strike to be legal also include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers for the strike, written notification to the Ministry of Labor, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before the strike can proceed. Government workers and essential public service personnel may not strike. The government considers teachers as essential, as are public service workers in communications, water supply, energy supply, hospitals, and pharmacies.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids employers from dismissing an employee for participating in union activities, including being on a committee seeking to form a union. Although the Ministry of Labor must register unions for the unions to be legal, the law provides for automatic recognition of a union if the ministry does not act on an application within 30 days. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference. Public-sector workers may form associations registered through the Office of Public Administration. The law requires that 40 percent of employees of a government entity agree to join for the association to be formed. According to the Ministry of Labor, the law applies to all workers, including foreign workers, those working as domestic workers, workers without legal documentation, and workers in the free-trade zones (FTZs).
The government did not effectively enforce laws related to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Enforcement and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The process for addressing labor violations through criminal courts can take years, leaving workers with limited protection in the meantime. There were reports of intimidation, threats, and blackmail by employers to prevent union activity. Some unions required members to provide identity documents to participate in the union despite the fact that the labor code protects all workers regardless of their legal status.
Labor NGOs reported companies resisted collective negotiating practices and union activities. Companies reportedly fired workers for union activity and blacklisted trade unionists, among other antiunion practices. Workers reported they believed they had to sign documents pledging to abstain from participating in union activities. Companies also created and supported “yellow” or company-backed unions to counter free and democratic unions. Formal strikes occurred but were not common.
Some companies used short-term contracts and subcontracting, which made union organizing and collective bargaining more difficult. Few companies had collective bargaining pacts, partly because companies created obstacles to union formation and could afford to go through lengthy judicial processes that independent unions could not afford.
Unions in the FTZs, which are subject to the same labor laws as all other workers, reported that their members hesitated to discuss union activity at work due to fear of losing their jobs. Unions accused some FTZ companies of dismissing workers who attempted to organize unions.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes imprisonment and fines for persons convicted of engaging in forced labor. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent to deter violations.
The government reported it received no forced labor complaints during the year but there were reports of forced labor of adults and children in construction, agriculture, and services.
The law applies equally to exploitation of migrant workers, but Haitian workers’ lack of documentation and uncertain legal status in the country made them more vulnerable to forced labor. NGOs reported many irregular Haitian laborers and citizens of Haitian descent did not exercise their rights due to fear of being fired or deported.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
The law prohibits employment of children younger than age 14 and places restrictions on the employment of children younger than age 16, limiting their working hours to six hours per day. For persons younger than age 18, the law limits night work and prohibits employment in dangerous work such as work involving hazardous substances, heavy or dangerous machinery, and carrying heavy loads. The law provides penalties for child labor violations, including fines and prison sentences. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with the National Council for Children and Adolescents, the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Specialized Corps for Tourist Safety Local Vigilance Committees, is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, and they did effectively enforce the law. The government has established mechanisms to coordinate its efforts on child labor.
The porous border with Haiti allowed some Haitian children to be trafficked into the country, where they were forced into commercial sexual exploitation or forced to work in agriculture, often alongside their parents, domestic work, street vending, or begging (see also section 6).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution creates a right of equality and nondiscrimination, regardless of sex, skin color, age, disability, nationality, family ties, language, religion, political opinion or philosophy, and social or personal condition. The law prohibits discrimination, exclusion, or preference in employment, but there is no law against discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The government did not effectively enforce the law against discrimination in employment. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to HIV/AIDS-positive persons; and against persons with disabilities, persons of darker skin color, those of Haitian nationality, and women (see section 6). In March the IACHR annual report noted with concern the absence of concrete policies targeting the reduction of discrimination in the workplace.
The law provides for a minimum wage that varies depending on the size of the enterprise and type of labor. As of October the minimum wage for all sectors, except sugar cane harvesters, was above the official poverty line; however, a study by the Juan Bosch Foundation found that only one-half of the minimum wage rates were high enough for a worker to afford the minimum family budget. The government estimated 23 percent of the population was living in poverty.
The law establishes a standard workweek of 44 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day on weekdays, and four hours on Saturdays before noon. Agricultural workers are exempt from this limit, however, and may be required to work up to 10 hours each workday without premium compensation. The law stipulates all workers are entitled to 36 hours of uninterrupted rest each week. Although the law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime, enforcement was ineffective. The law prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime and states that employees may work a maximum of 80 hours of overtime over the course of three months.
The labor code covers different sectors separately. For example, the section covering domestic workers establishes lower standards for hours of work, rest, annual leave, sick leave, and remuneration, and it does not provide for notice or severance payments. Domestic workers are entitled to two weeks’ paid vacation after one year of continuous work as well as a Christmas bonus equal to one month’s wage. The labor code also covers workers in the FTZs, but they are not entitled to bonus payments.
The law applies to both the formal and informal sectors, but it was seldom enforced in the informal sector. Workers in the informal economy faced more precarious working conditions than formal workers.
The Ministry of Labor sets workplace safety and health regulations that are appropriate for the main industries. By regulation employers are obligated to provide for the safety and health of employees in all aspects related to the job. By law employees may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, but they may face less severe reprisal.
Authorities conducted inspections but did not adequately enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and workplace health and safety standards. Penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations. The Public Ministry is responsible for pursuing and applying penalties for labor violations uncovered by labor inspectors; it infrequently applied penalties in practice. During the year the Ministry of Labor increased its inspector workforce by 30 percent from 2018, but the number of labor inspectors remained insufficient.
Mandatory overtime was a common practice in factories, enforced through loss of pay or employment for those who refused. The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers reported that some companies in the textile industry set up “four-by-four” work schedules, under which employees worked 12-hour shifts for four days. In a few cases employees working the four-by-four schedules were not paid overtime for hours worked in excess of maximum work hours allowed under the law.
Conditions for agricultural workers were poor. Many workers worked long hours, often 12 hours per day and seven days per week, and suffered from hazardous working conditions, including exposure to pesticides, long periods in the sun, limited access to potable water, and sharp and heavy tools. Some workers reported they were not paid the legally mandated minimum wage.
Industrial accidents caused injury and death to workers, but information on the number of accidents was unavailable.