UC Berkeley News


Boalt Hall human-rights clinic joins in 'watershed' Dominican victory
Public-policy reforms, appeal for forgiveness mandated for island nation

12 October 2005

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last week announced a victory for two girls of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic who had been denied basic citizenship rights - a case initiated in 1998 by Boalt Hall School of Law's International Human Rights Law Clinic and two other groups.

The court found that the Dominican Republic had violated the rights of children of Haitian ancestry and rendered them stateless by refusing to issue birth certificates and denying basic citizenship rights because of their race. The court recognized the right to nationality as the gateway to the enjoyment of all other rights and found that children who are denied their birth certificates are also denied their membership in a political community.

"This watershed decision will change the Dominican Republic just as Brown v. Board of Education changed the United States," said Professor Laurel Fletcher, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic. Fletcher and Roxanna Altholz (a 1999 Boalt graduate and currently a lecturer in residence with the clinic) argued the case before the Costa Rica-based court in March.

The ruling requires the Dominican government to reform public policy to address historic discrimination in its birth-registration and education systems. As remedy for the violations committed, the Inter-American Court ordered the Dominican Republic to reform drastically its birth-registration system and to issue birth certificates to children regardless of the immigration status or race of their parents. The ruling also requires the Dominican Republic to open its schools' doors to all children, including children of Haitian ancestry living in that country. Additionally, during the next six months the country must publicly recognize international responsibility for the violations and ask for forgiveness from the victims.

The case was brought in 1998 by the clinic in conjunction with the Center for Justice and International Law and the Association of Women of Haitian Descent. The plaintiffs are two unnamed Dominican-born Haitian girls who were ages 1 and 13 at the time of the original complaint. The Inter-American Court adjudicates cases from 22 nations that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights; the United States has signed but not ratified the convention.