a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the National Police and other government security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of civilians. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), at least 170 persons were killed by the police during the year. While the Attorney General’s Office prosecuted some high-profile cases of abuse by police, civil society representatives asserted that many killings and abuses went unreported due to the public’s lack of faith in the government to investigate and pursue charges or due to fear of retribution by police.
There were reports of killings and unexplained deaths that occurred during migration operations, which expanded significantly in the second half of the year. In November the newspaper Hoy reported the death of a Haitian national, Delouise Estimable, while in the custody of the National Migration Directorate (DGM). The victim’s parents alleged the victim had been beaten by migration agents and locked in a detention truck prior to his death. There were no indications that the DGM investigated the case or took steps to hold migration officers accountable.
In June the newspaper Diario Libre reported that a group of seven individuals, including three members of the military, killed a Haitian national and set fire to eight homes in the La Rosa area of the Majagual sector, in a mountainous area of the Galván municipality, Bahoruco Province.
According to a report published by the Socialist Movement of Workers (MST), in March, DGM agents shot and killed a young Haitian man in his home and injured another man during a raid in a residential area of Las Matas de Farfán, San Juan Province, that was suspected of housing undocumented Haitian migrants. The MST described the operation, and others launched throughout the year by DGM, as being plagued by arbitrariness, robbery, and abuse by migration authorities.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
Although the law prohibits torture, beating, and physical abuse, there were reports that members of government security forces carried out such practices.
From March to May, the deaths of three individuals– José Gregorio Custodio, Richard Báez, and David de los Santos – while in police custody reignited the national debate regarding police reform. Police implicated in the incidents were suspended and turned over to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. The Ministry of Interior and Police publicly acknowledged the cases and recommitted to implementing police reform initiatives.
Civil society organizations and other observers raised concerns over harsh and often degrading treatment by migration authorities of undocumented Haitian migrants and stateless persons of Haitian descent during DGM detention and deportation operations and at DGM detention centers, particularly its facility in Haina. These concerns included arbitrary detentions, physical abuse of detainees, home entries without a warrant, revocation or destruction of identity documents, theft of personal belongings by migration agents, children being kept in cells with adults, sexual violence, inadequate access to healthcare throughout the deportation process, the unlawful deportation of unaccompanied children and pregnant or lactating mothers, and other hostile or abusive treatment.
In August, the government appointed a new DGM director general. According to international and civil society observers, under the new director general’s leadership, the problematic practices and conduct of DGM agents continued.
In September a Dominican citizen who was detained by migration officials under the assumption that he was Haitian, reported that he was beaten repeatedly by migration officials to quiet his protests. A partner organization later secured his release while he was en route to the border for deportation, but he was detained again at a military checkpoint on his way home. After several days, he was eventually released from custody through the help of a family member and a lawyer.
In November multiple witnesses reported seeing migration officials beating detainees with sticks, including two Haitian nationals who were beaten so badly that they were left unconscious, to the point of requiring intervention by emergency medical professionals. In another incident, a Haitian national reported she was beaten during her detention and later thrown from a moving van by migration officials as punishment for arguing with them. The incident left her with visible wounds to her face that were not properly treated, resulting in infection. The government did not provide any evidence that allegations of human rights abuses by migration officials were seriously investigated or that the government revised its detention practices.
In January President Abinader established the Commission for the Transformation of the National Police, which he chaired. The commission included the minister of the presidency, minister of interior and police, civil society representatives, and an executive commissioner. The commission was charged with implementing the recommendations of the December 2021 report Working Group for the Transformation and Professionalization of the National Police, which, among other recommendations, called for updates of police protocols based on ethics, service to the citizenry, and protection of human rights.
Impunity remained a problem within the security forces, particularly the National Police and the DGM. Civil society organizations reported that police announced investigations into abuse complaints but did not consistently share the results publicly. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that in some cases, officers suspected of abuses were transferred to other parts of the country to avoid punishment. The government worked to address issues related to impunity through training programs for police officers, including specialized courses on human rights, which were part of their continuing education courses. The government’s reform and training efforts appeared limited to the National Police; there was no indication the government undertook similar efforts for the DGM.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The prison system consists of “new-model” prisons, called correctional rehabilitation centers (CRCs), and “old-model” prisons, although there is no legal distinction between them. Conditions ranged from general compliance with international standards in the CRCs to harsh and life-threatening conditions in old-model prisons due to overcrowding, violence, physical abuse, and poor living and sanitary conditions.
Abusive Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding and unsanitary conditions remained a problem in many old-model prisons and migration detention centers, in particular the facility in Haina. Most old-model prisons exceeded capacity, while the CRCs did not. La Victoria, the oldest prison, held 7,761 inmates, although it was designed for a maximum capacity of 2,103.
According to the Directorate of Prisons, military and police personnel guarded old-model prisons, while a trained civilian corps guarded the 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, with wardens often controlling only the perimeter, while inmates controlled the inside with their own rules and systems of justice. There were reports of drug trafficking, arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse in those prisons. Although the law mandates separation of prisoners according to severity of offense, authorities did not follow these rules in the old-model prisons.
In old-model prisons, health and sanitary conditions were generally inadequate. Due to a lack of space and available beds, as well as inadequate restroom facilities, some inmates reported they had to sleep on the same floors where they were forced to relieve themselves.
Observers reported inhuman conditions in migration detention centers, particularly late in the year as detention and deportation operations surged and centers were increasingly overcrowded. This included reports of overcrowded facilities with no access to beds or seating, detainees being held outdoors, lack of access to restrooms, detainees relieving themselves where they were being held, and lack of access to food or water for periods ranging from several hours to several days. Some detention centers reportedly served one poor-quality meal a day at noon, while others reportedly served no food or water at all, including to infants and children. There were also credible reports that DGM agents committed acts of sexual violence against detainees and that the DGM did not take the necessary precautions to separate male and female detainees or separate adults from children in its detention facilities.
Prison officials did not separate sick inmates, except for prisoners reporting COVID-19 symptoms. Delays in receiving medical attention were common in both the old-model prisons and the CRCs. All prisons had infirmaries, but most infirmaries did not meet the needs of the prison population. In most cases, inmates purchased their own medications or relied on family members or outside associates to provide medications. 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. Illness was the primary cause of deaths reported in the prison system.
In the 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 most prisons 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, Attorney General’s Office, and CRC prison administration together created human rights committees in each CRC that were authorized to conduct surprise visits. Access to migrant detention centers for monitoring, however, was not systematically granted to human rights organizations.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention in court. The government generally observed this requirement, but arbitrary arrests and detentions remained a problem. Civil society observers reported a sharp increase in arbitrary arrests and detentions by migration authorities and other security forces of persons perceived to be undocumented Haitian migrants, especially after President Abinader announced deportations would increase in November.
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. 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 often detained all suspects and witnesses to a crime. It was common for authorities to detain, fingerprint, question, and then release detainees with little or no explanation for the detention. Successful habeas corpus hearings reduced abuses of the arrest law significantly. There was a functioning bail system and a system of house arrest.
The law permits migration authorities to detain and deport a person when the illegal migration status of the person is established, however, there were reports that migration officials arbitrarily detained citizens and foreigners based primarily on the perception they could be undocumented Haitian migrants. Many of these persons were deported to Haiti. Others were released only after their legal status could be proven, either by immediately providing documentation or after being detained and moved to a migration detention center for verification, which often required the intervention of family members or outside organizations. Additionally, migration law states minors, pregnant or lactating women, the elderly, and asylum seekers should not be detained by migration officials, but migration officials often detained and deported members of these groups.
The law requires provision of counsel to indigent defendants. The National Office of Public Defense provided free legal aid to those who could not afford counsel, but due to inadequate staffing, 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 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. Civil society groups claimed police were often unable to show proof or provide reasons for the detentions. The DGM employed similar tactics in its detention operations. Civil society groups reported several instances of DGM operations targeting persons of color suspected of being undocumented Haitians, resulting in both lawful arrests and deportations, as well as instances of arbitrary detention of citizens and foreigners with valid residency documents. Migration officials reportedly confiscated or destroyed identity documents and held individuals until bribes were paid.
In May media outlets and civil society organizations raised concerns regarding arbitrary mass arrests and abusive treatment by migration agents during a large-scale operation in the Ciudad Juan Bosch residential area. During this operation, over 600 individuals were detained over several days and taken to the Haina Detention Center on suspicion of being undocumented Haitian migrants. Credible allegations included the detention of persons with valid documentation, cruel or degrading treatment of migrants in custody (including beatings, denial of food and water, and denial of access to restroom facilities), unlawful entry of private residences, and removal of individuals from their homes without court orders. According to the DGM, during one day of the operation, 325 of these detainees were determined to be undocumented and scheduled for deportation, while 60 of the detained individuals were determined to be legally present in the country and were eventually released. The government did not provide any evidence that allegations of human rights abuses by migration officials were seriously investigated. (See section 1.f. regarding arbitrary arrests.)
In June, migration agents wearing facial coverings raided and cleared the restaurant L’Aromate Creole in Santiago and detained 21 individuals suspected of being undocumented Haitians. According to civil society organizations, the DGM claimed it was investigating a passport and visa trafficking gang, but it did not have a search warrant for the operation, and many of the detained individuals had valid citizenship or residency documents.
Civil society and international organizations reported that unlawful deportations of documented and vulnerable persons continued as the government increased border security measures and deportation operations. These deportations also included cases of Haitian migrants and their children, as well as Dominican citizens, being arbitrarily detained and deported because authorities did not permit them to retrieve their immigration or citizenship documents from their residences.
There were reports of unlawful deportations of unaccompanied children, parents who were forced to leave children behind, and women who were pregnant or lactating. During a migration operation in late November, a woman reported she had left her two daughters at home and fled to the local church. Upon returning home, she found that the DGM had entered and taken away her daughters and personal property. In October 2021, then Director General for Migration Enrique Garcia stated that citizens “cannot allow them [Haitians] to take away our country” and noted that “the Haitian solution is not in the Dominican Republic.” During a December 2021 radio interview, Garcia stated that the deportation of pregnant Haitians was not illegal since the law only prohibits their “detention.” He added that he could even look for them “under the beds…because the law allows [him] to.”
Civil society organization representatives said the government deported individuals in violation of international standards by taking them across the border without documentation, which the DGM referred to as “devolutions” or “not admitted.” The International Organization for Migration (IOM) worked with the government on a system for nonadmitted persons.
Pretrial Detention: Many suspects endured long pretrial detention. A judge may order detention lasting between three and 18 months. According to the Directorate of Prisons, as of September, nearly 60 percent of all prisoners were in pretrial detention. The length of such pretrial detentions occasionally equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime, with some detentions reportedly lasting years. Time served in pretrial detention counted toward completing a sentence.
The failure of prison authorities to produce detainees for court hearings caused trial postponements. Many inmates had their court dates postponed due to a lack of transportation from prison to court. In other cases, lawyers, codefendants, interpreters, or witnesses did not appear or were not officially called by the court to appear. Despite protections in the law for defendants, in some cases, authorities held inmates beyond the legally mandated deadlines, even when there were no formal charges against the inmates.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary. Observers noted the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The Attorney General’s Office investigated high-level cases of corruption and drug trafficking, including cases involving government allies.
Civil society and attorneys complained of the backlog of cases in the judicial system and what they considered undue delay in legal proceedings.
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. Due to personnel and resource constraints in the legal system, some defendants were denied one or more rights such as receiving a public defender or having the time and facilities to prepare a defense.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
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. Political and economic influence in civil court decisions continued to be a problem, although less so under the Abinader administration.
Citizens have recourse to file a writ of amparo, an action to seek redress of any violation of a constitutional right, including violations of fundamental rights.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits arbitrary entry into a private residence. The law provides that all other entries into a private residence require an arrest or search warrant issued by a judge, 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. Despite these limits on government authorities, police and migration officials conducted illegal searches and seizures, including raids without warrants on private residences in poor neighborhoods. The government did not provide any evidence that these alleged human rights abuses were seriously investigated.
In May media outlets published video of DGM agents in Ciudad Juan Bosch climbing the balconies of multistory residential buildings to enter homes and detain suspected undocumented Haitian migrants. Civil society organizations described those actions and others that day as arbitrary entries into private residences because the DGM agents lacked court orders. Civil society representatives also reported instances of DGM agents taking money or personal property from both legal residents and undocumented migrants. They said these actions were the type of aggressive tactics frequently employed by the DGM during detention operations targeting undocumented persons (see also section 1.d.). The government did not provide any evidence that the allegations of human rights abuses by migration officials were seriously investigated, although it did confirm that no DGM agents were punished in connection with the operation.
According to international and civil society observers, in November, during intensified migration operations across the country ordered by President Abinader, migration agents and other security forces unlawfully entered homes without search warrants and detained individuals suspected of being undocumented Haitian migrants without checking their documentation. During the operations, several Dominican citizens were detained in public, including persons traveling to work and a university student walking to class. Migration officials also broke into homes, including those owned by Dominican citizens, and detained those who could not prove their citizenship. A media outlet shared video of an incident in Dajabon in which a man was pulled from his home into the street by security forces as onlookers shouted, “He’s Dominican! He’s Dominican!”
In November, one organization gathered statements from witnesses reporting that during a raid by migration officials and armed forces in a rural community in the northwest, migration officials used force to break down doors to enter private residences and used violence to detain individuals in the middle of the night, apparently without court orders. In many cases, witnesses said, migration officials demanded bribes or stole belongings from homes, and did not give detainees a chance to dress or gather their belongings before locking them in vehicles for transportation to migration detention facilities.