a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Media expressed a wide variety of views, but the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The concentration of media ownership, weaknesses in the judiciary, and political influence also limited media’s independence.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without retaliation, although there were incidents in which authorities intimidated members of the press.
In March amid a public debate over proposed legislation to allow abortion in specific circumstances, the Public Ministry, on behalf of the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI), notified Katherine Motyka, the founder and director of Jompeame (a crowdfunding foundation), that she must remove all images involving children and adolescents from her social media platforms or she would face legal charges. This was despite Motyka’s claim that all images were posted with full parental consent and that most of the children’s identities were not revealed in the posts. The Public Ministry made the request after Jompeame published the case of a 12-year-old girl who was sexually abused and became pregnant as a result of the rape. Civil society groups claimed political desires to influence the public debate and limit abortion in all cases motivated the directive. Later that month CONANI reported that Jompeame complied with the request of the Public Ministry and removed from its platform a video that, according to a Public Ministry press release, “violated the right to image and integrity” of a young girl who was the victim of a serious crime.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Observers suggested the government influenced the press through advertising contracts. In July 2020 the government’s communications directorate published advertising expense reports that totaled more than 1.05 billion pesos ($18.5 million) over eight years.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The law penalizes libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.
On February 10, ruling party legislator Sergio “Gory” Moya filed a lawsuit against the private investigator Angel Martinez, based in Miami, for alleged defamation and insult. In August a judge issued an arrest order against Martinez based on allegations that Martinez violated the high-technology crimes law. Moya requested that the court sentence Martinez to one year in prison and require him to pay 10 million pesos ($177,000) for damages.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. In contrast with 2020, there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
On April 20, the night before debate on a new abortion law was to begin, police forcibly removed and destroyed the tents of women’s rights activists who camped outside the presidential palace to raise awareness for decriminalizing abortion. Police officials argued they removed the tents because the group was in violation of COVID-19 curfew restrictions, which had been reduced on April 17. Women’s rights activists stated police acted from political motivations to stifle expression on a controversial issue, as the activists had been camping there for several days without interference and when restrictions were stricter. Several lawmakers intervened in favor of the activists to defend their right to peaceful assembly.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.
In-country Movement: Civil society representatives reported that citizens of Haitian descent, those perceived to be Haitian, and Haitian migrants faced obstacles while traveling within the country. NGO representatives reported that security forces at times asked travelers to show immigration and citizenship documents at road checkpoints throughout the country. Citizens of Haitian descent and migrants without valid identity documents reported fear of swift deportation when traveling within the country, especially near the border with Haiti (see also section 1.d.).
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated in a limited manner with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
On January 22, the government announced a plan to normalize the migration status of Venezuelan nationals residing in the country with irregular migratory status. The program applied to Venezuelans, including children, who entered the country legally between January 2014 and March 2020. The government allowed applicants to apply with expired Venezuelan passports. Starting on April 5, the individuals had 30 days to register with the government. Approximately 43,000 persons registered. Registered individuals received a 60-day extension of legal status. Venezuelan migrants who were approved for the 60-day extension could apply for a temporary work or education visa. This status may be automatically renewed until the National Council on Migration declares an end to the current extraordinary situation in Venezuela.
The government and NGOs estimated an additional 100,000 Venezuelans lived in the country in an irregular migration status. In 2019 the government instituted a regulation requiring Venezuelans to apply for a tourist visa before entering the country. Previously Venezuelans needed only a valid passport and could receive a tourist visa at the point of entry. Many Venezuelans in the country entered legally before the new regulation and stayed longer than the three-month allowance.
Venezuelan refugee and immigrant associations, with the support of the IOM, UNHCR, and the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V Platform), coordinated with the government and civil society organizations to provide public-health and legal services for Venezuelan refugees and migrants. The R4V Platform was a regional interagency platform, led by the IOM and UNHCR, for coordinating the humanitarian response for refugees and migrants from Venezuela.
Access to Asylum: Presidential decrees from the 1980s established a system for granting asylum or refugee status; however, the system was not implemented through legislation and regulations. The constitution prohibits administrative detention for asylum seekers, and the law establishes that asylum seekers should not be detained under any circumstance. The system for providing protection to refugees was not effectively implemented. The government recognized and issued identity documents to very few refugees during the past few years. Rejection rates for asylum claims were close to 100 percent, and asylum applications often remained pending for several years.
The National Commission for Refugees (CONARE), an interministerial body led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is responsible for adjudicating asylum claims. The adjudication process requires individuals to apply for asylum within 15 days of arrival in the country. If an asylum seeker is in the country for more than 15 days without applying for asylum, the individual permanently loses the right to apply for asylum. The law also rejects any asylum application from an individual who was in, or who proceeds from, a foreign country where the individual could have sought asylum. Thus the government makes inadmissibility determinations administratively before an asylum interview or evaluation by CONARE.
NGOs working with refugees and asylum seekers reported there was no information posted at ports of entry to provide notice of the right to seek asylum, or of the timeline and process for doing so. Furthermore, NGO representatives reported that immigration and other security officials did not appear to understand how to handle asylum cases in a manner consistent with the country’s international commitments. By law the government must provide due process to asylum seekers. Persons expressing a fear of return to their country of nationality or habitual residence should be allowed to apply for asylum under the proper procedures. Nonetheless, there was generally neither judicial review of deportation orders nor any third-party review of “credible fear” determinations.
UN officials reported asylum seekers were not properly notified of inadmissibility decisions. CONARE did not provide rejected asylum seekers with details of the grounds for the rejection of their asylum application or with information on the appeal process. Rejected applicants received a letter stating they had 30 days to leave the country voluntarily. According to government policy, from the time they receive the notice of denial, rejected asylum seekers have seven days to file an appeal. The notice-of-denial letter does not mention this right of appeal.
UN officials stated a lack of due process in migration procedures resulted in arbitrary detention of persons of concern with no administrative or judicial review (see also section 1.d.). As a result asylum seekers and refugees in the country were at risk of refoulement and prolonged detention.
According to refugee NGOs, CONARE does not acknowledge that the 1951 Refugee Convention definition of refugee applies to persons who express a well founded fear of persecution perpetrated by nonstate agents. This lack of acknowledgement had a detrimental effect on persons fleeing sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Refoulement: There were reports of persons potentially in need of international protection being denied admission at the point of entry and subsequently being deported to their countries of origin without being granted access to the asylum process (see also section 1.d.).
Freedom of Movement: Persons claiming asylum often waited months to receive a certificate as an asylum seeker and to be registered in the government database. The certificate had to be renewed every 30 days at the national office in Santo Domingo, forcing asylum seekers who lived outside Santo Domingo to return monthly to the capital, accompanied by all their family members, or lose their claim to asylum. Asylum seekers with pending cases had only this certificate, or sometimes nothing at all, to present to avoid deportation. This restricted their freedom of movement. In cases where asylum seekers were detained for lack of documentation, refugee and human rights organizations were able to advocate for their release.
Some refugees recognized by CONARE were issued travel documents that were not accepted in visa application processes, and some were not issued travel documents at all.
Employment: The government prohibited asylum seekers with pending cases from working. This situation was complicated by the long, sometimes indefinite waiting periods for pending asylum cases to be resolved. Some approved refugees lacked the documentation they needed in order to work. Employment was, nonetheless, a requirement by the government for renewing refugees’ temporary residency cards.
Access to Basic Services: Approved refugees have the same rights and responsibilities as legal migrants with temporary residence permits. Approved refugees have the right to education, employment, health care, and other social services. Nonetheless, refugee organizations reported that problems remained. Only those refugees able to afford health insurance were able to access adequate health care. Refugees reported their government-issued identification numbers were sometimes not recognized, and thus they could not open a bank account or begin service contracts for basic utilities. Refugees sometimes had to rely on friends or family for such services.
Temporary Protection: A plan adopted in 2013, and which remained in force until 2014, enabled undocumented migrants in the country to apply for temporary legal residency. Although the exact number of undocumented migrants was unknown, the law granted temporary residency status to more than 260,000 applicants, 97 percent of whom were Haitian. As of November 2020, the plan was in limbo, with 196,480 persons having expired temporary permits after applying for renewal in 2019 and 2020 and still waiting to receive updated documents. Of the initial 260,000 applicants, only 14,763 had a valid permit to legally stay in the country; of these permit holders, 8,847 persons were nonresident students and 5,916 were temporary residents. Civil society organizations expressed concern that many plan participants lacked passports and other identity documents that were not needed in the initial registration but were needed for renewal. Civil society organizations added that the rules for renewal were unclear both to government authorities and to plan beneficiaries. Government and business closures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 made it even more difficult for recipients of this temporary protection to renew their status.
On November 1, the National Migratory Council announced it would suspend a student visa program for Haitians and launch an audit of the more than 200,000 foreigners who had been granted temporary residency status under the prior administration.
No temporary residence documents were granted to asylum seekers; those found to be admissible to the process were issued a certificate that provided them with protection from deportation but did not confer other rights. This certificate often took months to be delivered to asylum seekers. Due in part to this delay, both refugees and asylum seekers lived on the margins of the migration system. Foreigners often were asked to present legal migration documents to obtain legal assistance or to access the judicial system; therefore, the many refugees and asylum seekers who lacked these documents were unable to access legal help for situations they faced under criminal, labor, family, or civil law.
Refugees recognized by CONARE must undergo annual reevaluation of their need for international protection, a procedure contrary to international standards. Refugees were issued one-year temporary residence permits that could not be converted to a permanent residence permit.
g. Stateless Persons
A constitutional change in 2010 and a 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling revised the country’s citizenship laws. One effect was to strip retroactively Dominican citizenship from approximately 135,000 persons, mostly the children of undocumented Haitian migrants, who previously had Dominican citizenship by virtue of the jus soli (citizenship by birth within the country) policy in place since 1929.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found that these legal revisions led to statelessness for the persons who lost their Dominican citizenship. UN officials and NGOs stated the legal changes had a disproportionate and negative impact on women and their children. They reported that mothers, especially unmarried mothers of Haitian origin, were unable to register their children the same way the fathers could. The law requires a special birth certificate for children born to foreign women who do not have documentation of legal residency. This led to discrimination in the ability of children born to foreign women and Dominican citizen fathers to obtain Dominican nationality, especially if they were of Haitian descent. This was not true in the reverse situation when children were born to a Dominican citizen mother and a foreign-born father.
These obstacles to timely birth registration, which was necessary to determine citizenship, put at risk children’s access to a wide range of rights, including the right to nationality, to a name and identity, and to equality before the law.
A 2014 law created a mechanism to provide citizenship papers or a naturalization process to stateless persons. The exact mechanism depends on the documentary status of the individual prior to the 2010 change in the constitution. In practice the new documentation mechanism was only partially successful. Many stateless persons did not register for the mechanism before its deadline.
In July 2020 the outgoing government approved the naturalization of 750 individuals, most of whom were minors who were stripped of their citizenship by the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling and who were known as Group B. These 750 persons from Group B were the first to be approved for naturalization since the 2014 law was passed. In May President Abinader approved the naturalization of an additional 50 individuals from the same group. NGOs stated that while citizenship had been approved for the 800 individuals, none had received their documents as of October due to hurdles in different government agencies.
Through a mechanism outlined in the law for individuals with other circumstances (commonly known as Group A), the government identified and then issued birth certificates and national identity documents to approximately 26,000 individuals in 2014 and later that year identified an additional 34,900 individuals as potentially being part of Group A. As of October these individuals had not received an identity document confirming their Dominican nationality due to apparent concerns regarding the nature of the underlying documentation establishing citizenship. This placed them at a high risk of statelessness. The pool of individuals identified as potentially part of Group A extended back to individuals born as early as 1929. Because a number of those individuals had died or moved out of the country in the ensuing decades, the remaining number of eligible Group A individuals was likely substantially smaller than the 35,000 persons identified by the Central Electoral Board (JCE).
According to observers many stateless individuals falling under the Group B profile were unable or unwilling to register for the naturalization process during the 180-day application window. As of October there was no way for this group to secure Dominican nationality. In addition there were other individuals born in the country at specific times and in specific circumstances connected to their parents who were in legal limbo related to their citizenship.
Dominican-born persons without citizenship or identity documents faced obstacles traveling both within and outside the country. Beginning in 2015 authorities attempted to deport some of these persons but were prevented by UN agency intervention. Stateless persons do not have access to electoral participation, formal-sector jobs, marriage registration, birth registration, formal loans, judicial procedures, state social-protection programs, and property ownership. Their access to primary public education and health care was limited. In addition those able to receive an education do not receive official recognition, such as a diploma, for completed schooling.