U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Dominican Republic
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 February 2000|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Dominican Republic , 25 February 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa670.html [accessed 27 February 2015]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The Constitution provides for a popularly elected president and a bicameral Congress. President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) took office in 1996 after a free and fair election. The opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), after free and fair congressional elections in May, 1998, dominates the Senate and has the largest presence in the lower house. The efforts of the Supreme Court have led to a more effective judiciary independent of other branches of government; nevertheless, there have been attempts by both public and private entities, including the executive branch, to undermine judicial independence.
The National Police (PN), the National Department of Investigations (DNI), the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD), and the military (army, air force, and navy) form the security forces. The PN is under the Secretary of the Interior and Police; the military is under the Secretary of the Armed Forces; and the DNI and the DNCD, which have personnel from both the police and the military, report directly to the President. Although the security forces generally are responsive to civilian authority, there were many instances in which members of the security forces acted independently of government authority or control. Some members of the security forces continue to commit human rights abuses, sometimes with the tacit acquiescence of the civil authorities.
The economy, once heavily dependent on sugar and other agricultural exports, continues to diversify; tourism, telecommunications, and free trade zones (FTZ's) are major sources of income and employment. Remittances from abroad, estimated to exceed $1.5 billion, are equivalent to approximately 10 percent of the $1,800 per capita gross domestic product. The country's agricultural and tourism sectors and electrical power network largely have recovered from the effects of Hurricane Georges, which hit the island in 1998, while transportation infrastructure lags somewhat behind. During the year, the Government transferred the sugar mills and lands belonging to the State Sugar Council (CEA) by long-term lease to private control and privatized the distribution function and part of the power generating capacity of the Dominican Electricity Corporation. Income distribution in the country is highly skewed, and more than half of the population live in poverty.
The Government's human rights record continued to be characterized by serious problems. Police committed over twice as many extrajudicial killings as in 1998. The police beat suspects and regularly used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. Some security force personnel tortured prisoners. Prison conditions in general are extremely harsh. Police arbitrarily arrested, detained, and abused suspects and suspects' relatives. Lengthy pretrial detention and long delays in trials remained problems. Security forces committed break-ins of private quarters without cause to search for suspects, and regularly refused to obey judicial orders. The police were responsible for most of the human rights abuses committed by the security forces and in many cases commit such abuses with impunity. The administration and effectiveness of the justice system improved somewhat, although interference with the judiciary remained a problem, as did administrative corruption. The Government at times pressured editors not to publish unfavorable items, journalists practiced some self-censorship, and police on several occasions limited freedom of assembly. The Government restricts the movement of Haitian sugar cane workers. Violence and discrimination against women; trafficking in women and girls; prostitution, including child prostitution; abuse of children; discrimination against the disabled, discrimination against and abuse of Haitian migrants and their descendants; and forced labor and child labor are serious problems. Workers in the sugar plantations and mills of the CEA continued to work under unfair and unsafe conditions through the harvest season.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings by government officials; however, police reportedly committed well over 200 extrajudicial killings during the year, nearly three times the number in 1998. The Dominican Human Rights Committee and others state that the police may employ unwarranted deadly force against criminal suspects in a kind of uniformed vigilantism. In addition, some victims are involved in private disputes with police agents who use their public authority and weapons to murder them, while other victims later were found to be honest citizens erroneously caught up in the wave of antigang violence carried out by the police. The circumstances of the vast majority of these killings are questionable, but witnesses other than the police usually are lacking.
Extrajudicial killings stem from the lack of basic education, poor training, and weak discipline of the members of the police force. These problems are aggravated by low pay and the fact that the Government's budgetary allocation for the police is too low to support the higher recruiting standards needed and to provide adequate training. For example, new recruits fire only one round during training, and there is no coherent policy on the use of deadly force or rules of engagement by the police. Finally, there is a lack of specific training in human rights as applied to police work.
In the majority of the more than 200 extrajudicial killings, the police characterized the victims as delinquents. The rest were wives, girlfriends, or associates of the officers, other civilians, or fellow officers. In most cases, the police said that the deaths resulted from the exchange of gunfire incident to arrest. In many cases, the police commit such killings with impunity. In October the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a report that criticized the police for committing extrajudicial killings and neglecting to investigate and punish officers responsible for such abuses.
In Santo Domingo, police said that they shot a man known only as "Penita" when he confronted their patrol with a shotgun in the streets of Manoguaybo. The police said that Penita was wanted on a series of charges and that when he was spotted by a patrol he immediately began shooting. The police, according to their spokesman, returned the fire, mortally injuring Penita, who died en route to the hospital. There were no outside witnesses to confirm or dispute the police account, which was typical of police encounters with delinquents, as described by the police.
The police shot and killed Fausto Torres Estevez, whom they sought in connection with the murder of a fellow officer earlier the same day. According to the PN, Torres Estevez was a known delinquent in Santiago, and in possession of a 12-gauge shotgun with which he tried to fight off the police patrol. However, according to neighbors and other witnesses, Torres Estevez was walking when a vehicle suddenly swerved to a stop in front of him and several men carrying firearms leaped out and began shooting. When he was dead, they put his body in the trunk of their vehicle and drove him to the morgue. No investigation has been reported.
Police have claimed that the deaths of so-called delinquents result from shoot-outs requiring the police to act in self-defense. However, a number of cases highlight instances in which the public has been misinformed. In at least one confirmed case, the deaths occurred after the alleged delinquents were taken into custody. In Moca the police handcuffed three young men and placed them, alive, in the back of a police pickup truck. A young journalism student who happened to be present recorded their arrest and departure from the scene. When the truck arrived at the police headquarters, the three men were dead. The authorities arrested a general, a colonel, a legal consultant, and various police officers in connection with the three deaths and transferred them from the jail in Santiago to the National District in furtherance of the investigation.
Witnesses reported that the police shot and killed 26-year-old Felix Manuel, a Herrera man with a criminal record, moments after the police officers placed him under arrest. No investigation of this incident has been reported.
The police in La Romana detained a young man who had reportedly videotaped the arrest of a young man who was dead when he arrived at the police station. The police confiscated the videotape, but not long thereafter reported that two private citizens had erased it because they wanted to "avoid confusion among the public." However, the erasure occurred while the tape was in police custody.
Police courts may try police officers or may remand them to civilian court jurisdiction. Military courts try military personnel charged with extrajudicial killings. Chief of Police Pedro de Jesus Candelier announced that every time an officer is involved in a questionable incident, the case goes to a commission of superior officers for investigation. He said that if it is determined that the police officer has exceeded his authority, the case is sent to the police courts or to the civilian courts, depending on the severity of the offense. Out of a force of about 23,000 members, including officers and cadets, Candelier fired at least 2,300 during the year and investigated or detained hundreds of police officers because of their alleged use of excessive violence. Also, despite efforts to vet police recruits, many persons with prior criminal records reportedly have been incorporated into police ranks, either using false names or identification or with recommendations from other state institutions, such as the army. Candelier has undertaken an ongoing process to eliminate unqualified or abusive police officers.The police used force – at times deadly force – to disperse demonstrators. The PN reported that nine persons were killed in the course of protest demonstrations during the year, mostly in the northeast and south of the country. For example, the military and police were called into service to clear former employees of the sugar mills, squatters, and would-be alien smugglers off government-owned lands. In the process of removal of families with 15 to 25 years' residence in Los Valientes de la Caleta, near Boca Chica, government agents killed one man and shot several others. A young man of Punta de Moca died from a gunshot wound received when police attempted to stop a demonstration organized by community members to focus attention on unfinished public works projects in their area.
The IACHR report also criticized the Government for extrajudicial killings carried out by state agents in prisons.
There was no progress reported in trials of police officers detained for killing law student Franklin Bortolo Fabian Mejia in July 1998; for killing a suspected robber of a Santiago pharmacy, also in July 1998; for killing a priest after allegedly mistaking him for a murder suspect in August 1998 in Santo Domingo; or for the triple homicide on November 25, 1998, of three young male victims who might have been killed because of their refusal to share the proceeds of a recent robbery with the police.
There was some progress in the case of the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martinez Howley, a critic of the Balaguer administration, in the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeals in Santo Domingo. Although the authorities released one suspect from custody following a highly controversial judicial ruling, another of the accused, Mariano Cabrera Duran, is to stand trial. Former President Balaguer himself continues to be vulnerable to future charges of complicity and obstruction of justice, as well as to being called as a witness, should the case ever reach trial.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
In the case of Narciso Gonzalez, a university professor and critic of the Balaguer government who disappeared in May 1994, an examining magistrate questioned more than 20 people, 16 of whom were present or former members of the armed forces. The authorities detained three persons – retired General Constantino Matos Villanueva, retired General Leonardo Antonio Reyes Bencosme, and Colonel Manuel C. Perez Volquez – for different periods of time during the year. A court later released them from custody on writs of habeas corpus. The investigations continued at year's end.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture and other forms of physical abuse; however, security forces' personnel continue to torture, beat, and otherwise physically abuse detainees and prisoners. Lack of supervision, training, and accountability throughout the law enforcement and corrections systems exacerbate the problem of physical abuse. The IACHR's October report, human rights groups, and the press reported regular and repeated occurrences of physical abuse of detainees while in custody.
Shortly after her release from 2 years' confinement on drug-related charges, "Miss Najayo 98" Angela de la Cruz spoke of practices she witnessed at the Mexico section of the San Pedro de Macoris prison, including torture. The most graphic was the use of a punishment called "the toaster", where guards laid prisoners, shackled hand and foot, on a bed of hot asphalt for the entire day and, if they screamed, beat them with a club. The army administers San Pedro de Macoris prison.
Homosexual and transvestite detainees report to gay rights advocates that during detention the police have held them in a darkened room and have given them the alternative of performing fellatio on whichever guards so desired or being placed in a locked cell with the most dangerous prisoners, where the detainees presumed that they would be raped, beaten, or both. Other informants confirmed that the police use the prospect of being locked in with the most dangerous prisoners as a threat. For example, a police sergeant struck a newspaper artist arrested for a traffic infraction when the latter asked to make a telephone call and told him to shut up or be locked in with the most dangerous prisoners.
The National Coordinator for Human Rights cited the Department of Homicide and Robbery Investigations and DNCD for the persistent use of torture to extract confessions from detainees. The method most often used is beating. After several former detainees went to the press with credible reports that the police interrogators had beaten them repeatedly, the Chief of Police and Attorney General designated a commission to investigate. The beatings allegedly took place during periods of detention of up to 15 days without arraignment before a judge (the Constitution permits only 48 hours). The informants reported that the police repeatedly awoke them during the night for questioning.
The National District prosecutor's office continued to place lawyers in high-volume police stations and in several DNCD offices to monitor the investigative process and to assure that detainees' rights are respected (see Section 1.d.). Most of the affected PN and DNCD investigators responded positively to this oversight, although some DNCD personnel reportedly complain that their hands were being tied. Still, the initiative remains largely limited to the Santo Domingo metropolitan area, with a lesser presence in Santiago. There is some evidence that these assistant prosecutors at times acquiesce in traditional police practices, rather than attempt to raise these practices to constitutional standards. Less qualified prosecutors assigned to the rest of the country have not yet assumed stronger roles in managing criminal investigations and ensuring the rights of suspects. Human rights courses are an integral part of military and DNCD training, both for enlisted personnel and officers.
Civilian prosecutors sometimes file charges against police and military officials alleging torture, physical abuse, and related crimes. A 1997 law provides penalties for torture and physical abuse, including sentences from 10 to 15 years in prison. However, until recently these provisions were not known fully or applied by prosecutors and judges. In August the Government inaugurated a judicial training school, which eventually may remedy this type of lag between legislative action and judicial follow-through.
In December the PN chief ordered the arrest of Colonel Benito Diaz Perez after an investigation by the PN's Internal Affairs Department of allegations that he was torturing detainees in the police detachments that he commanded in Sabana Perdida, Villa Mella, Guaricanos, and other communities north of the National District. The charges included use of battery acid on suspects during questioning. Dozens of complaints of torture and mistreatment had been lodged against Colonel Diaz Perez during his career. He reportedly threatened the life of the president of the Dominican Committee on Human Rights, Virgilio Almanzar, when the latter visited La Victoria Prison during the Colonel's tenure there in 1994. Nevertheless, the PN had placed him in command of the police in a cluster of densely populated communities.
The police at times forcibly dispersed demonstrators, using tear gas and weapons (see Sections 2.b. and 3).
Election campaigning was relatively peaceful, although there were isolated instances of violence.
Prison conditions range from poor to extremely harsh, but most facilities fall in the latter category. The prisons are seriously overcrowded, health and sanitary conditions are poor, and some prisons are out of the control of the authorities. Prison conditions for the vast majority of prisoners are so harsh as to be in violation of the constitutional ban on punishments that involve the loss or diminution of the health or physical integrity of the individual. Reports of torture and mistreatment in prisons are common. A warden is responsible for running each prison and reporting to the Attorney General through the Directorate of Prisons. A police or military colonel (or lieutenant colonel) who is appointed for 3 to 6 months only, reports to the warden and is responsible for providing security. However, in practice the colonel is in charge of the prison, and neither the Directorate of Prisons nor the individual wardens have much power. According to credible reports, some prisons are totally out of the control of the authorities. They are, in effect, operated by armed inmates, who decide whether an individual gets food, or space to sleep, or a needed visit to a doctor or dentist. Individual inmates only can secure a tolerable level of existence by paying for it. Only those with considerable personal or family resources can do so.
Conditions at La Victoria prison, run by the PN, pose a serious threat to life and health. This prison held 3,099 prisoners in a facility built for 1,000. Prisoners had 4 square yards of space apiece. In four prisons – Azua, Nagua, La Romana, and Higuey – inmates had one-half square yard each. In San Cristobal they had 1.5 square yards; in 12 other prisons the space available was 2 to 3 square yards. Nine others allowed 4 square yards per inmate. At Elias Pina, a prison built in 1922, there were 24 beds and – depending on the reports relied on – 82 or 160 prisoners. There was no kitchen, no laundry, no workshops, no area for religious services, no recreation area, no dining room, no commissary, no dispensary, no warden's office, and no school. There was a sewer system, a cistern for water, and a septic tank. In May the press reported that inmates at Elias Pina had not seen the sun for 4 months and that the lack of light was the cause of many prisoners losing their sight – at least temporarily – when released or transferred from Elias Pina.
In 32 prisons around the country with a total capacity of 6,971 persons, the police and the military held more than 15,000 persons. During the first 6 months of 1999, the number of new admissions exceeded the number of releases by 1,461. Medical care suffers from a lack of supplies and available physicians. Prisoners immobilized by and dying of AIDS are not transferred to a hospital, but some terminal-stage inmates were released early to spend their last days at home.
The General Directorate of Prisons falls under the authority of the Public Ministry and is seriously underfunded. An effort by the Director of Prisons to create a new corps of specially trained prison officers collapsed when it was omitted from the Government's budget. Initial budget allocations for necessities such as food, medicines, and transportation were reduced still further during the year.
In June the wardens of 31 prisons reported that their money to buy food for the prisoners was exhausted in May, and that for 17 days they were unable to provide breakfast or supper to the inmates. A government food program for the general public was providing lunches at some prisons; at others, food came from the agricultural products raised, while at other prisons the inmates had for lunch whatever could be begged from persons who lived in the vicinity of the prison or brought by family members.
In September the Director of Prisons reported that funds to buy gasoline had run out. Consequently there was no way to transport prisoners to court for hearings or trials.
Prisons controlled by the military generally are administeredbetter than those controlled by the National Police.
Female prisoners are separated from male inmates. In general, conditions in the female prison wings are superior to those found in male prison wings. There have been some reports of guards abusing female inmates.
The law requires that juveniles be detained separately from adults. However, a recent press report found a high incidence of violations, with 200 minors jailed with adults at Najayo prison.
The Government permits prison visits by independent human rightsmonitors and by the press.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arbitrary arrest and detention are problems. The Constitution provides for the security of the individual against imprisonment without legal process, detention beyond 48 hours without being presented before judicial authorities, or failure by custodial authorities to present detainees when requested. It also provides for recourse to habeas corpus proceedings to request the release of those unlawfully withheld. However, the security forces continue to violate constitutional provisions by detaining suspects for investigation or interrogation beyond the prescribed 48-hour limit. The security forces traditionally detain all suspects and witnesses in a crime and use the investigative process to determine which ones are innocent and merit release, and which ones they should continue to hold. After the prosecutor's office placed its lawyers in several police stations in 1997, the police began to curtail the practice of arbitrary detention in those precincts. However, progress has been slow (see Section 1.c.), and this program has been limited for the most part to the Santo Domingo metropolitan area.
The prosecutor for the Court of Appeals in Santiago reported that the Department of Investigation of Homicide and Robbery of the National Police, Northern Command, routinely detained persons beyond the 48-hour limit. Detainees at police headquarters in Santo Domingo, known as "the palace", complained of being held for 15 to 21 days.
The police continued the practice of making frequent sweeps or roundups in low-income, high-crime communities in which they arrest and detain individuals arbitrarily. The alleged object of the roundups is to fight delinquency. Following the indiscriminate arrests, the police regularly detain individuals for up to 20 days or more, while they look for a reason to charge them with a crime.
The police say that they rely upon unlawful detention without presentation to a court because some cases involve more complicated investigations. However, there is a clear pattern of the police arresting individuals before investigating a crime thoroughly, relying on confessions to make their case. Without the education, training, or equipment to conduct modern forensic investigations, police instead hold suspects incommunicado (see Section 1.e.), repeatedly question them, and sometimes beat them, until they confess. The prosecutors who are assigned to monitor the criminal investigation phase at police stations appear to be unable to control the practice (see Section 1.c.).
A related problem is the police practice of arresting and detaining individuals solely because of their familial or marital relationship to a suspect. A suspect's parents, siblings, or spouse are all vulnerable to this practice, the goal of which is to compel an at-large suspect to give himself up or to coerce a confession from one already arrested.
A former police sergeant, Roberto Medina Guerrero, the brother of another former policeman wanted in connection with a gang known as Los Murdos, gave himself up to the police through the good offices of the president of the Committee on Human Rights. He complained that the police had unleashed a wave of repression upon his entire family, that they even arrested his 65-year-old mother, Esperanza Maria Guerrero, and held her for several days to pressure his brother Cristian to give himself up. Medina Guerrero reported that he was detained for 5 days, released on a Friday, and on the following Monday the police were looking for him to arrest him again.
In December the PN chief ordered that this practice be ended immediately.
In September DNCD Director Vice Admiral Luis Alberto Humeau Hidalgo promised a full investigation of a case in which agents of the DNCD, as well as someone claiming to be with INTERPOL, arrested a young man and held him pending payment by his family of about $20,000 (300,000 pesos). Sotero Velez was detained for several days. His family collected $10,000 (150,000 pesos), bought their son's freedom, and promptly reported the case to the prosecutor.
During the days leading up to the general strike called in October to protest an increase in fuel prices, the PN arrested numerous labor union officials as well as others whom it suspected of supporting the strike or opposing the Government. The police held those taken into detention for several days, without warrant or arraignment.
Many suspects suffer long pretrial detention. In December over 74 percent of the national prison population were awaiting trial, almost the same proportion as in 1998. However, while suspects nationwide still suffer long pretrial detention, judicial statistics show reduced delays for the last 3 years in the Santo Domingo National District (an area that accounts for approximately 45 percent of all criminal cases in the country). In this area the average pretrial detention dropped from 13.8 months in 1996 to 6.1 months in 1999. However, the rest of the country apparently has experienced only modest decreases in judicial delays. In December prison statistics showed that 10,833 of the 14,604 inmates were in pretrial or preventive detention; only 3,771 actually had been convicted.
Because of the historical inefficiency of the courts (see Section 1.e.), the granting of bail serves as the de facto criminal justice system. As a rule, defendants awarded bail rarely face an actual trial. (Time already served counts toward a sentence.) This situation improved somewhat as a result of the steps taken by the Santo Domingo District Attorney and the judiciary, in cooperation with the Director of Prisons, to introduce a prisoner registry system whose goal is to ensure that prisoners receive a timely trial. The prison system (see Section 1.c.) remains underfunded and sometimes is unable to account for prisoners who are scheduled for trial or for release. The failure of the prison authorities to produce the accused caused 21 percent of all trial postponements. The authorities held some prisoners even though there was no formal charge against them, and kept some prisoners jailed even after a court ordered their release.
Jose Luis Amezquita spent 15 years behind bars without an official charge and without ever being presented to a judicial officer, before he was finally released on a writ of habeas corpus. During his incarceration, he spent at least some time in the majority of the country's prisons and his case finally came to the attention of the Public Defender program, which ultimately obtained his release. At the time of his release, then-Attorney General Mariano German Mejia launched an investigation to determine the identities of other persons incarcerated without official charges or convictions, saying that these cases represent the lack of order and structure within the judicial system. Other officials noted that there may be hundreds of such cases in the prison system.
The law prohibits forced exile, and there were no reports of its use. However, persons who credibly asserted that they were citizens were sometimes expelled to Haiti (see Section 1.f.).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution calls for an independent judiciary; however, there have been attempts by other public and private entities, including the executive branch, to undermine judicial independence. In August 1997, the National Judiciary Council chose members of the Supreme Court for the first time, beginning a new independence from the executive and legislative branches, and the efforts of the Supreme Court have led to a more effective judiciary independent of the other branches; nevertheless, interference from other branches continues.
The judiciary, based primarily on the French judicial system, includes the 16-member Supreme Court, appeals courts, courts of first instance, and justices of the peace. There are also specialized courts that handle administrative, labor, land, and juvenile matters.
Military or police courts have jurisdiction over members of the security forces. There is increasing controversy over the use of military or police panels to judge the propriety of armed forces or police conduct. Public pressure has resulted in military or police boards remanding some cases involving serious crimes to civilian courts for review, after the boards ordered the perpetrators to be discharged dishonorably. In other cases, civil authorities have requested the PN to turn over their files so that cases of suspected extrajudicial killings might be evaluated independently for possible prosecution.
Judges, rather than juries, render all verdicts. Under the 1994 constitutional amendments, the Supreme Court is responsible for naming all lower-court judges in accordance with a judicial career law, which entered into force in August 1998. The National Judiciary Council selects new justices of the Supreme Court. The Council consists of the President, the President of the Senate, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, two at-large members designated by them, the President of the Supreme Court, and one other justice designated by the Supreme Court.
Following the commission of a crime, the criminal process begins with the arrest of possible suspects. During the investigative phase, suspects are questioned repeatedly and urged to confess. The Constitution provides for the right not to be arrested without judicial warrant except in cases where the suspect is caught in the act; the right not to be deprived of liberty without trial or legal formalities, or for reasons other than those provided by law; the right to be presented to a competent judicial authority within 48 hours of one's detention; the right not to be a witness against oneself; and the right to a defense in an impartial and public trial.
The most serious and common violation of these rights occurs when police detain suspects, sometimes for many days, without giving them access to a telephone call to family while subjecting them to frequent questioning. Although accused persons are entitled to have an attorney present, they often are not permitted to call one or, if one arrives, the attorney is not permitted to be present during the questioning. (The police complain that the presence of attorneys interferes with their investigations.) Under these circumstances, suspects may confess to acts that they did not commit merely to get relief from the intense questioning and the detention. The results of these interrogations frequently form the only evidence presented at the trial.
The Supreme Court broadened the remedy of "Amparo" – an action any citizen may bring for violation of a constitutional right – to include violations by judicial officials, in accordance with the terms of the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Supreme Court continued to combat judicial corruption and incompetence. In a series of operations, the trial court judges in the National District eliminated all but criminal cases from their dockets, then set themselves a target of hearing some 12 or 13 cases per day. Using this approach in cooperation with other segments of the criminal justice system, the trial judges succeeded in increasing the number of cases resolved so that they finally exceed, slightly, the number of cases taken into the system. The process of dispute resolution was assisted by recourse to the use of private reconciliation and mediation as alternatives to trial and incarceration.
There remains a backlog of 100,000 criminal cases in the National District alone, and a total of 200,000 throughout the country. The Supreme Court's plan to unclog the court dockets has been frustrated by the Government's failure to allocate sufficient funds. Dockets are crowded with traffic infractions that should be heard in the traffic courts provided for by statute; due to a lack of funds, the traffic courts have not been set up. Other complications in clearing the backlog arise from the exhaustion of funds for transporting prisoners to court; many cases must be sent back when the accused does not appear. The Government has not yet established 25 additional courts provided for by law and planned for the National District and elsewhere in the country.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution contains provisions against invasion of the home; however, police sometimes break in to private quarters without cause to search for suspects, and the authorities infringe on citizens' privacy rights in other ways as well. Although the Government denies arbitrary use of wiretapping or other surreptitious methods to interfere with the private lives of persons or families, it tolerates an active private wiretapping industry.
The law permits the arrest of a suspect caught in the act of committing a crime, and police may enter a residence or business in pursuit of such suspects. Otherwise judges must authorize arrests and issue search warrants. However, the PN and occasionally the DNCD continue to violate these requirements. Some prosecutors confess that out of "tactical necessity to combat criminality" and "with great reluctance", they tolerate the illegal search practices. They justify their actions by arguing that the Government has not provided sufficient resources or attention to criminal investigation and that, given the cumbersome and antiquated criminal procedures, adhering to the letter of the law would make law enforcement nearly impossible.
On a Saturday in early August, the police executed a series of dawn raids on motels in and near the National District in an attempt to locate and arrest suspected criminals. They woke up persons of whom there was no reason to suspect any criminal activity, before 6 a.m. and made them stand outside while their rooms were searched. Human rights advocates complained vigorously that these raids interfered with the security of domicile provided for by the Constitution.
In September police agents in Barahona carried out a number of early morning break-ins at various homes in the community in search of the organizers of a strike held the previous day during which one person was killed and several others were wounded. The police detained several persons as a result of the searches.
The security forces continued to detain relatives and friends of suspects to try to compel suspects to surrender or to confess (see Section 1.d.).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for these freedoms, and the Government generally respects them in practice; however, there are some exceptions. There are instances of government pressure on editors not to publish certain unfavorable items, such as negative poll results.
Citizens of all political persuasions exercise freedom of speech. Newspapers and magazines freely present a diversity of opinion and criticism. However, self-censorship is practiced, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners.
In an apparent attempt to suppress information, the police arrested a journalist who had listed the numerous extrajudicial killings during the year and held him for questioning.
Major supporters of the ruling PLD made significant financial investments in a major newspaper, which at the time faced bankruptcy. Those investments were followed by a perceptible change in the newspaper's content, as its coverage of government activities and PLD candidates became more favorable. This sequence of events created the appearance of improper government influence.
The numerous privately owned radio and television stations broadcast all political points of view. The Government controls one television station.
Public and private universities enjoy broad academic freedom. The main public university, the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, with approximately 100,000 mostly part-time students, has few restrictions on enrollment and maintains a policy of nonintervention (other than on curriculum development) in classroom affairs. The Government exerts no control over private universities, except for the preservation of standards, and teachers are free to espouse their own theories without government oversight.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some exceptions. Outdoor public marches and meetings require permits, which the Government usually grants; however, there were incidents in which the police used force to break up demonstrations. In January the security forces used tear gas and fired shots in clashes with PRD supporters during the campaign for control of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD), which has an important political role in influencing the flow of government funds to the relatively autonomous municipal governments. On several occasions throughout the year, the Government responded with force to disperse demonstrators calling for completion of public works projects, opposing evictions, or supporting a strike.
Judicial branch statistics concerning the use of the criminal charge of "association with criminal elements" suggest improvement in conditions for political dissent under the Fernandez administration. Under former President Balaguer, the authorities traditionally used this charge against dissidents and those involved in street demonstrations against the Government. From 1990 to 1996, this charge represented 13 to 16 percent of all criminal charges filed in the National District. In 1997 and 1998, this figure dropped to less than 2 percent. However, it rose slightly, to 3 percent, in 1999.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Political parties frequently affiliate with their foreign counterpart organizations. Professional organizations of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and others function freely and can maintain relationships with counterpart organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds, and the Government does not interfere with the practice of religion. Many religions and denominations are active.
The Catholic Church, which signed a concordat with the Government in 1954, enjoys special privileges not extended to other religions. These include the use of public funds to underwrite some church expenses, such as rehabilitation of church facilities, and a complete waiver of customs duties when importing goods into the country. Attendance at Catholic Mass for members of the National Police is compulsory.
In August education authorities investigated a report that the directors of Pilar Constanzo Polytechnic School, in Villa Duarte, National District, were discriminating against students and teachers who were not Catholics. The publicly controlled school laid off at least 10 teachers, and there were also complaints that Protestant students were refused admission, despite excellent test scores and grades. Students whose parents are Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, and faiths other than Catholicism allegedly were refused entry to the school. The case was still under investigation at year's end.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for freedom of travel, except for limitations imposed under judicial sentence, or police regulations for immigration and health reasons. Citizens face no unusual legal restrictions on travel within or outside the country. The October IACHR report cited discrimination against Haitian workers, whom it said were subject to arbitrary and unilateral action by the authorities.
Haitians continue to migrate in great numbers to the Dominican Republic, some legally but most without legal documents, in search of economic opportunity. Throughout the year, the security forces, particularly the army, repatriated undocumented Haitian nationals believed to be in the country illegally. International observers estimated that the Government deported approximately 10,000 Haitians from the southwestern province of Barahona alone. In many cases, the Government denied those deported the opportunity to demonstrate that they resided legally in the Dominican Republic or to make arrangements for their families or property. Haitian Government officials complained that Haitians often were detained with little or no food and then deported without timely notice to Haitian authorities. At year's end, there was no accurate count of the number of persons affected by this practice.
The ongoing process of repatriating Haitian nationals accelerated during the second half of the year. According to the Director of Migration, hundreds of Dominican cedulas (identification cards) were confiscated from individuals during the month of November, before those persons were escorted to the Haitian side of the common frontier. Those expelled were told that their claim of nationality would be investigated, but no process for followup or investigation was in place.
NGO representatives working in rural areas reported that decisions to deport often were made by lower ranking members of the security forces, sometimes based upon the racial characteristics of the deportees. The Director of Migration described the process of rounding up illegal Haitians as one essentially performed by the rank and file of the armed forces and immigration officers. They approach persons who look to them like Haitians, usually persons who have very dark complexions and fairly poor clothing. They engage them in conversation about their work and residence, mainly to check their use of Spanish and any accent they may have. If such persons speak Spanish poorly or with a noticeable accent, they are detained and deported, regardless of any documentation they may have showing their legal right to live in the country.
The Haitian Government protested the failure to give detainees an opportunity for a hearing on their claim of citizenship or right to residence, although it acknowledges the Government's right to deport those individuals who are illegal aliens. NGO's and Catholic priests familiar with the process also have protested that children born of one or two Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic, heretofore denied registration as Dominican nationals, are frequently among those deported as illegal Haitians.
According to a 1984 presidential decree, an applicant for refugee status must be referred to the Technical Subcommission of the National Commission for Refugees by the National Office of Refugee Affairs. The Subcommission, which makes a recommendation to the Commission, is made up of members from the Foreign Ministry, the DNI, and the Immigration Directorate. The Commission, which makes a final decision on the application, consists of the three members of the Subcommission; the legal advisor to the President; and members of the PN, the Secretariat of Labor, and the Attorney General's office.
In practice, the National Office of Refugee Affairs is not yet functioning, although the subcommission makes recommendations, and the Immigration Directorate issues documentation to refugees certified as such by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While these documents are accepted routinely by the police and immigration officials, the process by which they are issued does not comply with the decree.
The Government cooperates with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The Government provides first asylum and resettlement.
Citing fears of a massive influx of Haitians across the shared border, the Government backed away from its refugee policy with respect to Haitians, opting instead for a policy of strictly enforced documentary requirements and repatriation for those found lacking. This policy has, in practice, been rendered somewhat arbitrary by the reality of dependence on Haitian labor for certain agricultural labor and most construction work. Thus, after being stopped as a suspected illegal Haitian, an individual may be allowed to remain in the country despite his lack of documents if his story about his work satisfies the official who stopped him.
In December the Government signed agreements with Haiti stipulating that it would not repatriate persons at night, on weekends, or on holidays; that it would only use four border crossing points where the Haitian authorities would have officials to receive deportees; and that it would avoid the separation of nuclear families in the process of repatriation. The agreements provide that the Government of Haiti would increase efforts to furnish Haitian migrants with identity documents and that it would put migration control posts along the Haitian side of the frontier.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully through periodic elections. The Dominican Republic is a constitutional democracy, and its citizens last exercised this right in free and fair congressional elections in May 1998. The President and all 179 members of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies are elected freely every 4 years by secret ballot. There is universal adult suffrage; however, active duty police and military personnel may not vote. In practice, voting is limited to those persons who can show a national identity document, which requires that their births have been registered properly by their parents.
The nation has a functioning multiparty system. Opposition groups of the left, right, and center operate openly. In practice the President can dominate public policy formulation and implementation. He can exercise his authority through the use of the veto, discretion to act by decree, and influence as the leader of his party. Traditionally, the President has predominant power in the Government, effectively making many important decisions by decree. President Fernandez reduced the reliance on rule by decree during the first 3 years of his administration. The President appoints the governors of the 29 provinces.
Congress provides an open forum for the free exchange of views and debate. The main opposition party – the PRD – holds 18 of 30 seats in the upper house and 57 of 149 seats in the lower house. A third major party, the Social Christian Reform Party (PRSC) of former President Balaguer, contests all elections; various smaller parties are certified to contest provincial and national elections.
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) conducts all elections. In August 1998, the PLD and the PRSC began vigorously protesting the manner in which the PRD-dominated Senate had appointed the five-member JCE, calling the board unrepresentative and biased in favor of the PRD. In late 1998, the Fernandez administration showed its displeasure with the JCE by delaying disbursement of government funds. In April the leading political parties agreed that the Congress should approve legislation expanding the JCE to seven members until after the 2000 presidential elections. The PLD and the PRSC each nominated one new member to join the board.
Opposition groups and human rights organizations criticized the violent confrontation and the closing of the Dominican Municipal League in January. The LMD is the organization of the country's mayors, and is responsible for dispersing approximately 4 percent of the national budget to municipal governments. The PRD holds a majority of the municipal governments and expected to elect one of its members to the presidency of the league at the January meeting. The police sealed off the building where the group was to convene, as well as the Congress, after protesters assembled to demonstrate about the impending elections. Police reportedly fired rubber bullets into the crowds of protesters, forcefully restrained Congressmen and mayors from entering the buildings, and used tear gas against the crowds. The PRSC and PLD parties, and the PRD, then held separate elections to select the new president of the LMD. Opposition critics claimed that the incident was indicative of the growing rift between the PLD (and its PRSC allies) and the PRD, as well as the rift between the executive branch, the legislature, and local governments. The PRSC candidate, supported by the PRD, was eventually recognized as the head of the LMD, but the institution did not function effectively during the year.
Women and minorities confront no serious legal impediments to political participation; however, they are underrepresented in government and politics. By law parties must reserve 25 percent of positions on voting lists for women; a proposal to increase this proportion to 40 percent had not been approved by the legislature at year's end. However, the parties often place women so low on the lists as to make their election difficult or impossible. Women hold 2 seats in the 30-member Senate and 25 seats in the 149-member Chamber of Deputies. Women continue to be represented in appointed positions, albeit to a limited degree. The president of the Chamber of Deputies is a woman, as is the Secretary of State for the presidency. Three of the 15 cabinet secretaries are women, but none of the 29 provincial governors are women. Women fill 5 of the 15 seats on the Supreme Court; there is 1 vacancy on the Court. The Government's Directorate for Women's Issues was elevated to cabinet level in August.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Nongovernmental human rights organizations operate freely without government interference. In addition to the Dominican Human Rights Committee, the National Human Rights Commission, and the nongovernmental Truth Commission (dealing with the Narciso Gonzalez case), several Haitian, church, women's, and labor groups exist.
At the beginning of the Dominican-Haitian migration crisis in November, the Legal Advisor to the presidency – in what some construed as a government attempt to chill the exercise of free enquiry, criticism of the Government, and support of victims of abuse by human rights organizations – suggested in the press that international and human rights organizations, supported by donations from other countries, were actually foreign agents and should be registered as such.
There is no ombudsman's office.
The Government accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the first time in March.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law prohibits discrimination based on race and sex. Such discrimination exists in society; however, the Government seldom has acknowledged its existence or made efforts to combat it.
Domestic violence and sexual harassment are widespread. Under the 1997 Law Against Domestic Violence, the State can prosecute a suspect for rape, even if the victim does not file charges. This law also allows a rape victim to press charges against her husband without having her marriage annulled. However, because the law was passed relatively recently, its effectiveness cannot yet be determined. The Secretariat for Women assists women with outreach programs on domestic violence and legal rights. In 1998 the Government opened a center for the forensic examination of abused women, which handled 60 to 80 cases a day, most of them involving minors. However, at year's end, there were still no shelters for battered women.
Although rape is a serious problem, it is widely believed to be underreported. The Santo Domingo district attorney's office received only 238 reports of rape during the year in the National District. (By contrast, that office reported over 400 cases per month in Santo Domingo of sexual abuse of minors and incest.) Victims often do not report cases of rape because of fear of social stigma, as well as the perception that the police and the judiciary would not provide any redress. The police are reluctant to handle rape cases and often encourage victims to seek assistance from NGO's.
The Government does not vigorously enforce prostitution laws, except in cases involving child prostitution and international trafficking in women and girls (see Section 6.f.). Sex tourism is a growing industry throughout the country as the number of international visitors increases. NGO's have ongoing HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease prevention programs for male and female prostitutes, as well as for hotel and industrial zone workers. The 1997 Law against Domestic Violence prohibits acting as an intermediary in a transaction of prostitution, and the Government has used the law to prosecute third parties who derive profit from prostitution.
Divorce is easily obtainable by either spouse, and women can hold property in their own names apart from their husbands. Traditionally, women have not shared equal social and economic status or opportunity with men, and men hold the majority of leadership positions in all sectors. In many instances women are paid less than men in jobs of equal content and equal skill level. Some employers in industry reportedly give pregnancy tests to women before hiring them, as part of a required medical examination. Union leaders and human rights advocates report that pregnant women often are not hired.
Despite the existence of government institutions dedicated to child welfare, private social and religious organizations carry the principal burden. The private institutions receive no government financing.
The 1994 Minor's Code requires only 6 years of formal education. In the National District, the Department of Family and Children, in the Office of the Prosecutor, administers the Minor's Code. The Department works with NGO's, law enforcement personnel, and the general public to publicize children's rights, to arrange conciliation of family conflicts, to execute court decisions with respect to child protection, and to interview children whose rights have been violated. The Department estimates that 50 percent of the children in the country are victims of some sort of abuse.
Sexual abuse is perhaps the most serious human rights violation affecting children. The PN's Department of Sexual Abuse received 200 to 300 reports per month of rapes of children between 4 and 11 years of age. Only 30 percent ever reached the courts, while the facts of other cases remained hidden behind doors within families. In 50 percent of the cases, the accused is a person close to the child: a father, grandfather, uncle, brother, cousin or close family friend. The criminal law provision on sexual abuse and intrafamily violence was modified to provide a penalty of 10 to 20 years incarceration and a fine of $6,600 to $13,200 (100 to 200 thousand pesos) for persons found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor, and up to 30 years if the victim is a family member of the abuser.
Typical cases of child sexual abuse include that of a 14-year-old girl who was raped in the home where she worked as a domestic in San Cristobal; and the case of two daughters, ages 13 and 14, who were abused sexually by their truck driver father. The latter case was prosecuted vigorously and the father sentenced to prison. Sexual abuse is commonly accompanied by other kinds of abuse, as in the case of a preadolescent girl who, on the pretext of foster care, was required to cook, clean, and wash clothes for her aunt's entire family, in addition to being sexually available to all the males. She also was beaten if any part of her performance displeased the family.
The Minor's Code contains provisions against child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. It also provides for removal of a mistreated or delinquent child to a protective environment. According to local monitors, instances of child abuse were underreported because of traditional beliefs that family problems should be dealt with inside the family. However, child abuse is receiving increasing public attention.
Midyear reports from the Ministry of Health showed that 26 to 30 percent of female adolescents were pregnant or already had children. Many of these pregnancies were reported to be the result of rape or incest and often are accompanied by sexually transmitted diseases.
Some in the tourist industry have facilitated the sexual exploitation of children. Tours are marketed overseas with the understanding that boys and girls can be found as sex partners. Trafficking in girls for prostitution is a problem (see Section 6.f.). Journalists reported that the majority of prostitutes in brothels visited around the National District appeared to be between 16 and 18 years of age. There are no shelters that provide refuge to children who break free from the prostitution trade. For underage girls, prostitution is one of the few jobs available in the informal economy.
In August the Prosecutor for the National District rescued a 16-year-old Villa Mella girl from a brothel where she had been held against her will for 5 months and offered as a sexual attraction to tourists. The authorities who rescued the girl found evidence of drug use, as well as a large number of bedbugs and rats, at the site. They arrested six persons in connection with the kidnaping.
The judicial system commonly fails to protect the status of minors in criminal cases. The authorities sometimes treated minors as adults – most often when physical forensic examinations indicated the minors were probably adults – and incarcerated them in prison rather than juvenile detention centers. In 1997 the Government began to implement the 1994 Minor's Code, laying the groundwork for the juvenile court system that the code mandated. The Supreme Court inaugurated the first of 11 juvenile courts in August and chose judges for the other 10 courts. These juvenile courts are to be organized with a focus on rehabilitating offenders. There are legal advocates especially for juveniles in Santo Domingo and La Vega to provide them with representation in delinquency cases.
It is not uncommon for minors to be put on the street to fend for themselves as younger siblings claim the parent's meager resources. Homeless children are frequently at the mercy of adults called "Palomas", who collect these children into a gang and put them to work begging and selling fruit, flowers, and other goods on the street. In return for their work they are allowed to have some sort of a roof over their heads. The ages at which the children work, the hours they put in, and their failure to comply with compulsory school attendance for 6 years all violate the law, but the Government has not been able to combat this practice.
Needy adolescent girls and boys are sometimes enticed into performing sexual acts by the promise of food or clothing; sometimes they are pushed into unsafe relationships with strangers by the need for money. Once involved, they may be held against their will by individuals who sell their sexual favors to others. Some of these minors are lured from their parental homes; others are already on the street, having been pushed out of the house by the demands of younger, even more dependent, children.
People with Disabilities
Disabled persons encounter discrimination in employment and in the provision of other services. Although the law contains provisions for physical access for the disabled to all new public and private buildings, the authorities have not enforced this law uniformly. There is a Subsecretariat for Rehabilitation under the Secretariat of Public Health, a recreation center for the disabled in Las Caobas, and a department in the Sports Secretariat to facilitate athletic competition for the disabled. However, there is little consciousness of the need to make the daily lives of the disabled safer and more convenient. For example, new street construction made few provisions for the disabled to cross the streets safely.
A private entity founded in 1962, the Dominican Rehabilitation Association (ADR) has grown from a 1-room operation to a large complex with 17 affiliates throughout the country. It provides services for 2,500 persons daily. The Government provides about 25 percent of the ADR's budget.
A strong prejudice against Haitians runs through society, disadvantaging many Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry, as well as other foreigners of African ancestry. The Government has not acknowledged the existence of this discrimination nor made any efforts to combat it. Darker-skinned Dominicans also face informal barriers to social and economic advancement.
Efforts to stem the influx of Haitian immigrants have made it more difficult for those already in the country to live peaceably. Police regulations threaten those offering transportation to illegal immigrants with confiscation of their vehicles and have discouraged taxi and bus drivers from picking up dark-skinned persons. In the roundup of illegal immigrants, the authorities picked up and expelled darker Dominicans and legal Haitian residents, including some properly documented university students.
Perhaps 500,000 Haitian immigrants – or 7 percent of the country's population – live in "bateyes" or cane worker camps, in harsh conditions with limited or no electricity, running water, or schooling. Human rights groups regularly charge the Government with unlawful deportations of, and police brutality toward, these legal and illegal immigrants.
Credible sources also charge that the Government refuses to recognize and document as Dominican citizens many individuals of Haitian ancestry born in the country. Since many Haitian parents have never possessed documentation for their own birth, they are unable to demonstrate their own citizenship. As a result, they cannot declare their children's births at the civil registry and thereby establish Dominican citizenship for their offspring. Some civil registry offices do not accept late declarations of birth for children of Haitian immigrants, although they routinely accept late declarations for children of Dominican parents.
Haitian parents encounter difficulties registering their children for school. Lack of documentation usually deprives children of Haitian descent of the opportunity to attend school where there is one available. Some parents fail to seek documentation due to fear of being deported. It falls to the discretion of public school principals whether children may attend, when immigrant parents have no identity cards or birth certificates to register children formally. Even when permitted to attend primary school, it is rare that the offspring of Haitian parents progress beyond sixth grade.
Although the Government has largely eliminated the use of children for cutting sugar cane, poor Haitian and Dominican parents sometimes arrange for Dominican families to "adopt" and employ their children. The adopting parents can simply register a child of any age as their own. In exchange, the parents receive monetary payment or a supply of clothes and food. They believe that this ensures their children a more promising future. In many cases, adoptive parents do not treat the adoptees as full family members and expect them to work in the households or family businesses rather than attend school. The effect is a kind of bondage, at least until the young person reaches his majority. There were reports that Haitian girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were the most sought after, especially in border areas.
The Government is doing little to improve the conditions of Haitian immigrants and generally relies upon relief organizations. A number of NGO's and other agencies provide assistance in the shantytowns.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for the freedom to organize labor unions and for the right of workers to strike (and for private sector employers to lock out workers), and workers in all sectors exercise this right. All workers, except the military and the police, are free to organize. Organized labor represents only an estimated 10 percent of the work force and is divided among four major confederations and a number of independent unions.
Requirements for calling a strike include the support of an absolute majority of all company workers whether unionized or not, a prior attempt to resolve the conflict through mediation, written notification to the Labor Secretariat, and a 10-day waiting period following notification before proceeding with the strike. The Government respects association rights and places no obstacles to union registration, affiliation, or the ability to engage in legal strikes.
Nurses went on strike in July, and medical doctors working for health maintenance organizations and insurance companies struck in August. Professors of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo struck in August, delaying the opening of classes for more than a week. Public school teachers struck at the beginning of the school year as well.
The 1992 Labor Code provides extensive protection for worker rights and specifies the steps legally required to establish a union, federation, or confederation. The code calls for automatic recognition of a union if the Government has not acted on its application within a specific time. In practice, the Government has facilitated recognition of labor organizations readily. Unions are independent of the Government and generally independent of political parties. However, there were reports of widespread albeit discreet intimidation by employers in an effort to prevent union activity. For example, unions in the free trade zones in Bonao report that their members hesitate to discuss union activity at work, even during break time, due to fear of losing their jobs.
Labor unions can and do affiliate freely regionally and internationally.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is lawful and may take place in firms in which a union has gained the support of an absolute majority of the workers. Only a minority of companies have collective bargaining pacts. The Labor Code stipulates that workers cannot be dismissed because of their trade union membership or activities.
The Labor Code establishes a system of labor courts for dealing with disputes. After a recent overhaul by the Supreme Court, these courts have proven more effective at enforcing the law.
The Labor Code applies in the 40 established FTZ's, which employ approximately 200,000 workers, mostly women. Workplace regulations and their enforcement in the FTZ's do not differ from those in the country at large, although working conditions are sometimes better. Some FTZ companies have a history of discharging workers who attempt to organize unions. There also have been reports of union organizers extorting money from business owners. Although there are approximately 70 unions in the FTZ's, many exist only on paper. The majority of the unions in the FTZ's are affiliated with the National Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers or the United Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers.
Many of the major manufacturers in the FTZ's voluntarily have signed the codes of conduct promoted by the "Labor, Yes, but with Dignity" campaign carried out by a combination of NGO's and trade union organizations between 1996 and 1999. These voluntary codes provide for protection against forced labor, freedom of association, freedom from discrimination, and prohibit the use of child labor. They also call for a workplace that is safe and healthy.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children; however, such practices are common. Poor Haitian and Dominican parents sometimes arrange for Dominican families to "adopt" their children, in exchange for money or goods. Such children often are not treated as full family members and are expected to work in households or businesses, in effect in a kind of bondage (see Section 5). In addition, trafficking in women and girls for purposes of prostitution is also a problem (see Section 6.f.). There were numerous credible reports of coerced overtime in factories and of workers being fired for refusing to work overtime. Union officials state that newly hired workers are not informed that overtime is optional.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The Labor Code prohibits employment of children under 14 years of age and places restrictions on the employment of children under the age of 16. These restrictions include a limit of no more than 6 hours of daily work, no employment in dangerous occupations or in establishments serving alcohol, and limits on nighttime work. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may work in apprenticeship and artistic programs. The law requires 6 years of formal education.
Children who do not continue in school often seek illegal employment before reaching the minimum working age. The law prohibits forced or bonded labor by children; however, poor Haitian and Dominican parents sometimes arrange the adoption of their children by Dominican families in exchange for money or goods, and such children generally are expected to work in households or businesses (see Sections 5 and 6.c.).
The high level of unemployment and lack of a social safety net create pressures on families to allow or encourage children to earn supplemental income. Tens of thousands of children begin working before the age of 14. The Government does not sanction the parents of these children. Child labor takes place primarily in the informal economy, agriculture, small businesses, clandestine factories, and prostitution. Conditions in clandestine factories are generally poor, unsanitary, and often dangerous.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Constitution provides the Government with legal authority to set minimum wage levels, and the Labor Code assigns this task to a national salary committee. Congress also may enact minimum wage legislation. The minimum monthly salary is $125 (1,932 pesos) in the FTZ's and ranges from $101 (1,555 pesos) to $157 (2,412 pesos) outside the FTZ's depending upon the size of the company and the nature of the business. The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. It covers only a fraction of the living costs of a family in Santo Domingo – about $400 (6,000 pesos) per month for a family of five – but many workers receive only the minimum wage.
The Labor Code establishes a standard work period of 8 hours per day and 44 hours per week. The code also stipulates that all workers are entitled to 36 hours of uninterrupted rest each week. In practice, a typical workweek is Monday through Friday plus a half day on Saturday, but longer hours are commonplace. The code grants workers a 35 percent differential for work totaling between 44 hours to 68 hours per week and double time for any hours above 68 hours per week.
Conditions for agricultural workers are poor, especially in the sugar industry. Many sugar cane worker villages have high rates of disease and lack schools, medical facilities, running water, and sewage systems. On sugar plantations, cane cutters usually are paid by the weight of cane cut rather than the hours worked. Employers often do not provide trucks to transport the newly cut cane at the conclusion of the workday, causing workers to receive lower compensation because the cane has dried out and become lighter.
When the cane finally is weighed, workers are given tickets indicating the weight of cane cut (often rounded in favor of the employer) and the amount of money due. These tickets, issued to a specific person but payable to the bearer, may be turned in to the employer and redeemed for cash every 2 weeks. Many cane cutters earn less than $4.00 (60 pesos) per day. Because workers earn so little and sometimes cannot wait until payday to redeem their tickets, an informal barter system has evolved in which the tickets also are used to purchase items at private stores located on the plantations. These private stores make change by giving back a combination of tickets and cash. However, it is not unusual for these stores to retain 10 percent of the cash due a customer. The conditions are somewhat better at some of the privately owned sugar plantations. At year's end, it was not yet possible to determine how many, if any, of these practices persisted following privatization of the CEA.
The Dominican Social Security Institute (IDSS) sets workplace safety and health conditions. The existing social security system is seriously underfunded and applies to only about 9 percent of the population. Approximately 13,000 employees work in the IDSS bureaucracy to support fewer than 20,000 retirees.
Both the IDSS and the labor Secretariat have small corps of inspectors charged with enforcing standards. Inspector positions customarily are filled through political patronage, and bribes from businesses are common. In practice, workers cannot remove themselves from hazardous working situations without jeopardy to continued employment.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and in August 1998 an alien smuggling law increased the penalties for those found guilty of various phases of the traffic in persons. Laws dealing with domestic violence, as well as the Minor's Code, create protection under both civil and criminal law against particular situations that may be conducive to – or acts that may be a part of – the traffic in persons, whether female or male, minors or adults. The law also prohibits acting as an intermediary in a transaction of prostitution, and the Government has used this law to prosecute third parties who derive profit from prostitution. However, trafficking of women and children is a serious problem.
The Directorate of Migration estimates that there are approximately 400 rings of alien-smugglers and purveyors of false document operating within the country. These individuals profit by facilitating the trafficking of women to Spain, the Netherlands, and Argentina under false pretenses, for purposes of prostitution. The Government also is concerned that some individuals coming to the country ostensibly to adopt children, may actually intend to use the children in the production of pornography or in the sex trade.
In March the Government created the Interinstitutional Committee for the Protection of Migrant Women (CIPROM), which is composed of representatives from government entities and NGO's. CIPROM is intended to provide a framework for integrated action by both groups, and to prevent and reduce social and economic problems in those regions from which most of the trafficked women originate and in the various countries to which they are sent.CIPROM is establishing unified criteria for management of cases of migrant women or trafficking victims. One NGO counsels women planning to accept job offers in Europe and the eastern Caribbean about immigration, health, and other issues. The program also provides services to returning women.
In May the PN dismantled an expatriate ring that specialized in the prostituting of minors in Israel and used false documents to arrange their transportation. The ring was broken after the father of one of the girls taken to Israel made a report that his daughter had been kidnaped along with 10 other girls.
The Director General of Migration reported that the authorities have dismissed a number of immigration inspectors and supervisors for their links with the bands trafficking in women. In addition, since the passage in 1998 of an antismuggling law, the authorities have charged at least 80 individuals under the law. The courts convicted two of them, and the remainder of cases were still pending at year's end.
The executive branch also established an Oversight Organization for the Protection of Children to coordinate the approaches of various agencies involved in combating trafficking in children, whether for adoption, for sexual exploitation, or for other purposes. This organization works with the Attorney General's office, the Public Health Ministry, Migration, and other agencies. In the National District, the Department of Family and Children in the Office of Public Prosecutor focuses on identifying children who are victims of abuse of any kind and prosecutes offenders under the heightened penalties contained in the domestic violence law.
A primary concern of the Oversight Organization is to prevent the use of the child adoption process by those who intend to sell the children or to exploit them through prostitution or child pornography. The Department of Family and Children is very concerned with kidnapings, especially of infants, for sale to foreigners who, under the rubric of adoption, deliberately sidestep the legal formalities – including those of their own country – in place to protect children from victimization. Many children do leave the country as adoptees, but government officials have made obtaining them much more difficult and, they hope, have prevented some would-be traffickers from using this route.
Poor Haitian and Dominican parents sometimes arrange for more prosperous Dominican families to "adopt" their children, in exchange for money or goods. Such children often are not treated as full family members and are expected to work long hours in domestic service, agriculture, or industry under threat of corporal punishment and without compensation. Especially in the case of girls, these children often are abused sexually.