A court decision in the Dominican Republic annulling the citizenship of an estimated 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian ancestry has been strongly criticized by church leaders. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, a member church of the World Council of Churches (WCC), highlighted the challenges faced by stateless people in a recent interview with the Episcopal News Service published on 26 January.
“The current reality is that there are generations of people with Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic: children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren born in the DR who now have been told that they are not citizens, which means that now they can’t get passports (or) cell phones because they don’t have identification numbers,” said Jefferts Schori.
“In a number of cases their birth records have been expunged or declared invalid. They can’t go to school, they can’t go to university, they can’t get loans; they simply can’t function in the normal areas of society. They are not just undocumented, they are ‘de-documented,’” she added.
The court’s 2013 ruling came three years after the Dominican Republic changed its constitution removing jus soli, the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship – an almost universal right in the Americas. The sentence, or ruling, furthered the constitutional change, making it retroactive to 1929 and stripping the citizenship of three generations of people born in the Dominican Republic, explains an article authored by Lynette Wilson of the Episcopal News Service.
“The de-nationalization imposed by the sentence is an act of injustice, an iniquity; they are Dominicans that have been dispossessed by the sentence,” said Dominican Republic Bishop Julio Holguín, who has been involved with a solidarity committee of lawyers, activists and academics who’ve condemned the court’s action and defended the rights of those affected.
“As a church we feel very committed and obligated to be the voice of those who don’t have a voice,” Holguín explained.
An estimated 10 million people are stateless worldwide due to conflicts as well as reasons such as economic migration, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which in 2014 launched a 10-year campaign aimed at eradicating statelessness.
“Churches have a long tradition in speaking out for those who are marginalized, forgotten and ‘invisible’,” said Semegnish Asfaw Grosjean, WCC programme executive for international affairs. “They have a mission to bring to light the vulnerability of those who are left out by the system and advocate for the protection of their human rights,” she added.
The WCC with its 345 member churches has been strongly engaged in supporting the rights of stateless people. A statement on the human rights of stateless people was adopted by the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea in 2013. A set of recommendations advocating the rights of stateless persons was also presented by a WCC delegation to the First Global Forum on Statelessness organized by the UNHCR and Tilburg University in the Netherlands in 2014.