Dominicans of Haitian descent tired of bias at the ballot box

Haitian workers spread fertilizer on a rice field in Esperanza, Dominican Republic, in July 2015. Their children were born in the Dominican Republic and are citizens, though civil rights groups say the government discriminates against both parents and their Dominican-born children.

Story highlights

  • OAS commission hears grievances about Dominican vote process
  • Country denies it is rejecting voting by those with Haitian descent

(CNN)A month away from presidential elections, one segment of Dominican Republic society fears it will be denied the right to vote.

Dominicans of Haitian descent -- people born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented immigrants parents -- have been fighting for equality since 2013, when a court ruling annulled the citizenship of tens of thousands of Dominicans.
A crisis over the sudden statelessness of so many led the Dominican government to provide a path for the affected to have their Dominican citizenship restored.
    Civil rights groups representing Dominicans of Haitian descent testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington on Friday, arguing that this segment of voters will be disenfranchised.
    Despite government claims that everyone who qualified to have their citizenship restored did so, and that no Dominicans will be denied the right to vote, the witnesses told the commission that the reality on the ground is very different.

    Aftermath of a crisis

    Dominicans of Haitian descent have long complained that others treat them as second-class citizens.
    In 2008, Juliana Deguis -- born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents -- was denied a national ID card, allegedly because her last name sounded Haitian. The national ID card also is used for voting.
    Deguis filed a series of complaints that made it to the country's highest court. In 2013, the court ruled that not only was Deguis not a citizen because of her parents' immigration status, but that all Dominicans born to immigrants parents were not entitled to citizenship.
    On Friday, human rights promoter Noemi Mendez told the IACHR commissioners that the process to restore citizenship was such a mess that thousands of eligible voters do not have the proper national ID to vote.

    Plea to human rights commission

    The allegation against the Dominican government is that officials are violating the Inter-American Democratic Charter by holding an election where a segment of the citizens will not be able to participate.
    The IACHR is a branch of the Organization of American States.
    "This segment is the victim of systemic discrimination," Mendez said. She accused the government of perpetuating the discrimination and inequality faced by those of Haitian descent.
    Another witness, Ana Maria Belique, told the story of one candidate for elected office -- a Dominican of Haitian descent -- who was not allowed to run because his papers were not in order.
    The one thing commissioners want to see: evidence and data to support the claim that Dominicans of Haitian descent stand to become disenfranchised voters, or that all complaints have been resolved.

    Government: No human rights violations

    At Friday's hearing, which was strictly kept within a one-hour time limit, representatives for the Dominican government said that all citizens of voting age can participate in the upcoming elections, including those of Haitian descent.
    "The government's position is that everyone can exercise their political rights, no matter their race or background," government representative Mayelin Cordero testified.
    A Dominican boy of Haitian descent rides his bike in Esperanza, Dominican Republic, in July 2015. Dominicans in this segment of the population are fighting for equal rights.
    Cordero objected to the civil rights representatives' claim that tens of thousands of Dominicans are still in limbo regarding their nationality.
    "All complaints that arose during the legalization process have been resolved," Cordero said.
    She said that the government "categorically denies that hundreds of thousands of people are stateless."
    Because of time constraints, the commissioners asked questions, but requested that the replies be submitted in writing later.
      Friday was the final day of week of hearings before the commission. During these sessions, people or groups could present their grievances, though the testimonies are part of specific cases on the issue.
      These hearings serve to inform the opinions of the commissioners and to provide updates on long-running conflicts. The commission will not directly address the validity of May's election in the Dominican Republic.