Covering events from January - December 2003

The government, confronting economic fallout from a major banking scandal, reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), during months of violent demonstrations across the country in which people were killed or wounded. Killings by police in disputed circumstances again became frequent. Despite legal changes opening the way for trial in ordinary rather than police or military courts, little practical progress appeared to have been made in bringing perpetrators of human rights violations to justice.


Presidential elections were set for May 2004. Former President Leonel Fernández won the primary election for the opposition Dominican Liberation Party.

In March, hundreds of children born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian descent marched on the Supreme Court demanding the right to Dominican nationality. On 16 October an appellate court rejected the government's appeal against an earlier decision granting citizenship rights to two children born in such circumstances. The earlier decision had effectively opened the door to citizenship rights, long denied by the authorities, to all such children. It was not known whether the government intended to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In June the US Department of State named the Dominican Republic as one of 15 countries making insufficient efforts to combat human trafficking, and threatened to cut off aid. In response, the National Police created a specialized unit to combat trafficking, and a new anti-trafficking bill was presented to parliament in August.

Violence during protests against IMF accords

Following accusations of fraud, in May the powerful Banco Intercontinental (BANINTER), or Intercontinental Bank, collapsed, costing the government a reported US$2.2 billion. The authorities began negotiating for emergency credits with the IMF and signed an agreement in August. Street protests broke out against the IMF talks and against price hikes and power blackouts. Demonstrators clashed regularly with police; in some cases, protesters were accused of setting off homemade bombs or firing on security forces, while police were often accused of unlawful killings and excessive use of force. Several people were shot dead and many wounded during the disturbances.

  • In the Capotillo area of Santo Domingo on 8 July, 33-year-old Juan Lin, a merchant, was reportedly shot dead by police firing on people demonstrating against the government's economic policy. He was believed to have been closing his business at the time to avoid damage during the disturbances.
  • On 6 August police raided the Santo Domingo office of the National Union of Unified Transport Workers where a pre-protest meeting was under way, and fired on those inside. At least three organizers were reportedly injured. The union lodged a judicial complaint.
  • During a general strike on 11 November, at least six people were killed and 30 wounded in clashes between protesters and police in several towns, including Santo Domingo, Santiago, Bonao, San Francisco de Macoris and Moca. The protests were about the economic situation and government policies. In an attempt to discourage the strike, police had earlier arrested several hundred activists.

Alleged unlawful killings by security forces

In spite of an initial reduction in reported unlawful killings following the 2002 naming of a new police chief, such allegations became increasingly frequent in 2003. In December the National Human Rights Commission announced that more than 200 people had been killed in alleged "exchanges of gunfire" with police since January. In such cases, victims have often been killed in disputed circumstances. Progress was made in ensuring that officers accused of human rights violations be tried in ordinary courts, through changes to the Penal Procedure Code, scheduled to come into force in 2004, and a police reform bill approved by the lower chamber in March and debated by the Senate in September. However, in practice most alleged unlawful killings continued to go unpunished. In particularly high-profile cases, security forces named their own commissions to carry out initial investigations, which suspended some officers but brought few to justice.

  • Jacobo Abel Grullar Ortega, aged 16, died after being shot in the back of the head by a police patrol in the Los Frailes area of Santo Domingo on 27 May. The police were reportedly pursuing two suspects and shot Jacobo Abel Grullar Ortega in error. Family members lodged a formal complaint against the patrol, and the officers involved were reportedly arrested. The police force named a commission to investigate the incident, but no further information was made available.
  • On 22 September, in Sabana Perdida, a police officer reportedly killed 22-year-old student José Francisco Nolasco López in front of numerous witnesses, including the victim's father, after mistaking him for a criminal suspect. Witnesses said that police prevented a doctor from assisting José Francisco Nolasco López and placed a gun in his belt in an attempt to justify the killing. An investigative commission set up by the police recommended that the officer responsible be tried in an ordinary court. He was taken into custody but later freed on orders of the investigating judge, provoking street protests. In November the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that the investigating judge had been suspended pending review of the release.

Freedom of expression curtailed

In May the Listín Diario media group was taken over by the Public Ministry following the detention of its owner on corruption charges related to the BANINTER scandal. Directors and some journalists resigned fearing attacks on their freedom of expression. In July a judge ordered that Listín Diario be returned to its owners; the ruling was appealed. Some journalists from other outlets were briefly detained and several programs temporarily taken off the air after publishing material critical of President Mejía.

Prison conditions

Endemic problems in prisons persisted, including severe overcrowding. At least two prisoners died and more than 20 were injured in two separate riots in Najayo prison, San Cristobal; one of the riots took place in the youth detention centre. In Moca prison in October, detainees rioted after one of their number died in custody allegedly because of inadequate medical attention.

The authorities announced that the first class of a new National Penitentiary School for training a corps of specialized prison guards would graduate in December. In the meantime, most prisoners continued to be guarded by security forces with no specific custodial responsibilities or training.


In January an appeal court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to proceed against those accused in the 1994 "disappearance" of journalist and university lecturer Narciso González following his reported arrest on the streets of Santo Domingo by members of the army.

With regard to the 1975 killing of journalist Orlando Martínez Howley, in late 2002 relatives petitioned a court to find incompetent the judges who had overturned convictions of four men on appeal. The four men remained in prison while the family's petition was considered. Eventually, the family's petition was rejected; the Supreme Court ordered an appellate court to continue hearings in the case, and the four men remained held. At the conclusion of the hearings, the court found that the sentences handed down to the four men were excessive and reduced them by a minimum of half. The family lodged an appeal against this decision before the Supreme Court.

Violence against women

In February the Supreme Court announced the opening of a special court in Santo Domingo to try domestic violence cases.

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