The Dominican Republic is a representative constitutional democracy. In July, Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party was elected president for a four-year term. Impartial outside observers assessed the election as generally free, fair, and orderly.
The National Police are under the minister of interior and police and in practice report to the president. The Airport Security Authority, Port Security Authority, Tourist Security Corps, 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 police and armed forces, reports directly to the president, as does the National Department of Intelligence. 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. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; torture by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminal libel for individual journalists; serious government corruption; trafficking in persons; and police violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.
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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Extrajudicial killings of civilians by officers of the National Police were a problem. According to government data, more than 3,000 individuals died during confrontations with police or security forces between 2007 and March 2019. The exact number of extrajudicial killings was unknown. The Internal Affairs Unit investigates charges of gross misconduct by members of the National Police, including killings. Separately, the district attorney has authority to investigate and prosecute criminal misconduct by members of the National Police. The government stated it was unaware of any extrajudicial killings during the year and added that any such cases would be investigated for possible prosecution. Media and civil society acknowledged that many cases went unreported due to a lack of faith in the justice system to pursue charges.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported on extrajudicial killings by police, with several tied to the nightly curfew imposed by the government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike in previous years, the NHRC did not report detailed statistics on extrajudicial killings by the national police. The NHRC did, however, highlight several troubling incidents of individuals killed or injured by police for apparent curfew violations. In September a motorcycle police officer shot two persons riding a motorcycle after curfew in Santo Domingo. In April an 11-year-old bystander was killed in her home during a shootout between police and individuals out in violation of the curfew.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law prohibits torture, beating, and physical abuse, there were reports that security force members, primarily police, carried out such practices.
In May sex workers in Santo Domingo reported to news outlets that police officers routinely beat them as the sex workers attempted to work in violation of COVID-19 prohibitions.
Impunity was a problem within certain units of the security forces, particularly the national police. The government largely failed to respond to questions regarding internal controls and investigations among the security forces. Through September 1, the government reported a single instance of excessive force by a police officer. It further claimed that all arrests complied with constitutional protections. The government used training to combat official impunity. The national police offered specialized training on human rights as part of their continuing education courses.
Prison conditions ranged from general compliance with international standards in “new-model” prisons (correctional rehabilitation centers, or CRCs) to harsh and life threatening in “old-model” prisons.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem in old-model prisons. The Directorate of Prisons reported that as of September there were 16,614 prisoners in old-model prisons and 9,986 in CRCs. This ratio remained constant for the past several years because old-model prisons were not phased out. La Victoria, the oldest prison, held 7,236 inmates, although it was designed for a maximum capacity of 2,011. The inmate population at every old-model prison exceeded capacity, while only one of the 22 CRCs was over capacity.
Police and military inmates received preferential treatment and were held in their own separate facilities, as were prisoners with the financial means to rent preferential bed space and purchase other necessities in old-model prisons.
According to the Directorate of Prisons, military and police personnel guarded old-model prisons, while a trained civilian corps guarded CRCs. Reports of mistreatment and violence in old-model prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors. Some old-model prisons remained effectively outside the control of authorities, and there were reports of drug trafficking, arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse in those prisons. Wardens at old-model 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 do so.
In August a journalist released an investigative report showing overt corruption and drug trafficking in La Victoria Prison. Posing as an inmate, he used a hidden camera to record police and prison leadership collecting bribes weekly from inmates. His recordings also showed how guards allowed drugs to be trafficked through the prison. In response to the report, the government dismissed 18 officials, including the warden, certain administrative personnel, and the police officers in charge.
In old-model prisons, health and sanitary conditions were generally inadequate. Prisoners often slept on the floor because no beds were available. Prison officials did not separate sick inmates. After a series of complaints, authorities transferred prisoners with COVID-19 symptoms to separate facilities for treatment. Delays in receiving medical attention were common in both the old-model 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 outside associates to provide medications. Illness was the primary cause of deaths reported in the prison system. According to the Directorate of Prisons, all prisons provided treatment for HIV and AIDS, but the NHRC stated that none of the old-model prisons was properly equipped to provide such treatment. As of September more than 900 prisoners had contracted COVID-19, resulting in 17 deaths.
In CRCs and certain old-model prisons, a subset of the prison population with mental disabilities received treatment, including therapy, for their conditions. In most old-model prisons, however, the government did not provide services to prisoners with mental disabilities. In general the mental-health services provided to prisoners were inadequate or inconsistent with prisoners’ needs.
The government reported it had installed wheelchair ramps in some prisons for prisoners with physical disabilities. NGOs claimed the majority of prisons still did not provide access for inmates with disabilities.
Administration: Authorities investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to and monitoring of prisons by independently funded and operated nongovernmental observers, international organizations, and media. The NHRC, National Office of Public Defense (NOPD), Attorney General’s Office, and CRC prison administration together created human rights committees in each CRC that were authorized to conduct surprise visits. In October the NHRC opened a permanent office in the country’s largest prison. Access to migrant detention centers for monitoring, however, was not systematically granted to human rights organizations.
Improvements: In August the government inaugurated the New Victoria prison, a large CRC scheduled to replace the overcrowded Victoria prison. As of September the transfer of prisoners from the old Victoria prison to the New Victoria prison had not begun.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits detention without a warrant unless authorities apprehend a suspect during the commission of a crime or in other special circumstances. The law permits detention without a 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. There were reports of individuals held and later released with little or no explanation for the detention. NGOs reported detainees were often taken into custody at the scene of a crime or during drug raids. In many instances authorities fingerprinted, questioned, and then released those 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. Nonetheless, there were reports of detainees who remained in police stations for long periods of time, even weeks, before being transferred to a prison. Police stations did not have adequate physical conditions or the resources, including food, to provide for detainees for an extended period.
The law 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 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.
The law requires provision of counsel to indigent defendants, but staffing levels were inadequate to meet demand. In theory the NOPD provided free legal aid to those who could not afford counsel, but many detainees and prisoners who could not afford private counsel did not have prompt access to a lawyer due to inadequate staffing. Prosecutors and judges handled interrogations of juveniles, since the law prohibits interrogation of juveniles 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 detained large numbers of residents and seized personal property allegedly used in criminal activity.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported cases of Haitian migrants and their children, as well as Dominicans of Haitian descent, being detained and deported because authorities did not permit them to retrieve immigration or citizenship documents from their residences. There were also reports of deportations of unaccompanied children and of women who left children behind. The IOM reported that due to training they provided to migration officials, the number of erroneous deportations of documented and vulnerable persons fell by 58 percent over the past four years.
Civil society organization representatives said the government informally deported individuals by taking them across the border without documentation. The IOM reported that the General Directorate of Migration referred to these cases as “devolutions” or “not admitted” and that there was no due process in these operations. The IOM worked with the government to establish a system for nonadmitted persons.
Pretrial Detention: Many suspects endured long pretrial detention. A judge may order detention between three and 18 months. According to the Directorate of Prisons, as of September, 62 percent of inmates in old-model prisons were in pretrial custody, compared with 53 percent of prisoners in CRCs. The average pretrial detention time was three months, but there were reports of pretrial detention lasting more than three years, including cases involving foreign citizens. 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. In other cases their lawyer, codefendants, interpreters, or witnesses did not appear or were not officially called by the court to appear. Despite protections for defendants in the law, 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. The NOPD reported the most frequent form of interference with judicial orders occurred when authorities refused to accept writs of habeas corpus to release detainees. Corruption of the judiciary was a serious problem.
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 courts sometimes exceeded the maximum period of time established by the law for setting hearing dates.
The law provides for a presumption of innocence. The District Attorney’s Office is required to notify defendants and their attorneys of criminal charges. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The indigent have the right to a public defender, but the director of the NOPD stated the number of public defenders was insufficient. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law provides for free interpretation as necessary. The law provides for the right to confront or question witnesses and the right against self-incrimination. Defendants have the right to present their own witnesses and evidence. The constitution provides for the right to appeal and prohibits higher courts from increasing the sentences of lower courts.
Military and police tribunals share jurisdiction over disciplinary cases involving members of the security forces. Military tribunals have jurisdiction over cases involving violations of military rules and regulations. Civilian criminal courts handle cases of killings and other serious crimes allegedly committed by members of the security forces.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
There are separate court systems for criminal law, commercial law, civil law, labor law, real estate law, and administrative law. Commercial and civil courts reportedly had lengthy delays in adjudicating cases, although their ultimate decisions were generally enforced. As in criminal courts, undue political and economic influence in civil court decisions was a problem.
Citizens have recourse to file an amparo, an action to seek redress of any violation of a constitutional right, including violations of fundamental rights.
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. Despite these limits on government authority, police conducted illegal searches and seizures, including many raids without warrants on private residences in poor neighborhoods.
During the months leading up to the national elections in July, human rights groups, opposition politicians, and journalists critical of the government alleged that the Medina administration used unauthorized wiretaps, monitored private email, and used other surreptitious methods to interfere with the private lives of individuals and families. The Medina administration denied this. Opposition political parties alleged that Medina administration officials at times threatened subordinates with loss of employment or offered benefits to compel them to support Dominican Liberation Party candidates.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The attorney general investigated allegedly corrupt officials.
NGO representatives said 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.
In compliance with his campaign promise to appoint an independent prosecutor, President Luis Abinader named Miriam German as the new attorney general in August. Following her appointment, German added 19 new members to the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office on Administrative Corruption. On November 29, the specialized anticorruption unit arrested 10 individuals closely associated with former president Danilo Medina’s administration on public corruption charges. The prosecution continued at year’s end.
Corruption: The 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 resumed in September. It was previously scheduled to take place in April but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The six defendants included two former senators, a former lower-house representative, and a former minister of public works. Civil society organizations 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.
NGO representatives criticized the widespread practice of awarding government positions as political patronage. They alleged many civil servants received a government salary without performing any work. In September the Foreign Ministry dismissed 781 officials and stated the majority of them did not fulfill their job duties or did not have the qualifications for the position.
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 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, re-elected, or ending their official 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. On November 27, the government announced the suspension without pay of 36 public officials for failing to submit their sworn declaration of assets on time.