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Department of State Reports: Dominican Republic and Haiti PART I

Department of State Reports: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC and HAITI

Human Rights-DR
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2000
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 23, 2001

The Constitution provides for a popularly elected president and a bicameral Congress. President Hipolito Mejia of the Dominican Reform Party (PRD) took office on August 16 after a free and fair election, replacing President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). The PRD also has control of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, interference from outside forces remains a problem. The Government took some steps to improve the ability of the judiciary to resist such outside interference.

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 instances in which members of the security forces, principally the National Police, acted independently of government authority or control. Members of the National Police, and to a more limited extent the military, continued to commit serious human rights abuses.

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 9 percent of the $2,100 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 housing reconstruction and transportation infrastructure lag behind. The 1999 transfer of sugar mills to private control contributed to increasing poverty and joblessness in the bateyes (sugar cane shantytowns). Income distribution in the country is highly skewed, and according to the U.N. Development Program, the richest 10 percent of the population receives over 37 percent of the income, over 18 times that received by the most impoverished 10 percent of the population.

The Government's human rights record was poor, and serious problems remain. Police committed extrajudicial killings. The police, and to a lesser degree the military, tortured, beat, and otherwise abused detainees and prisoners. Police on several occasions used force to disperse demonstrators. There was a significant increase in allegations of physical abuse and torture of minors in police and military detention. Prison conditions ranged from poor to extremely harsh. Police arbitrarily arrested and detained suspects and suspects' relatives. The ability of prosecutors to limit police detentions and practices has eroded, as compared with 1999. While there have been some improvements in the efficiency of the judiciary, lengthy pretrial detention and long delays in trials remained problems. Police committed break-ins of private homes without judicial orders. The authorities rarely prosecute abusers, and at times members of the security forces commit abuses with the tacit acquiescence of the civil authorities, leading to a climate of impunity. Numerous allegations of corruption by government officials were raised following the change of administration. The authorities infringe on citizens' privacy rights. Members of the police harassed journalists. The Government at times pressured editors not to publish unfavorable items, and journalists practice self-censorship. The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly. The Government restricts the movement of and forcibly expels Haitian and Dominican-Haitian migrants. Violence and discrimination against women; prostitution, including child prostitution; abuse of children; discrimination against the disabled, discrimination against and abuse of Haitian migrants and their descendants, and child labor are serious problems. There continued to be reports of forced labor. Workers on the sugar plantations and mills continued to work in unsafe conditions. Trafficking in women and girls is a serious problem.


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 committed at least 250 extrajudicial killings. It is difficult for any outside observer to quantify the exact number of victims of extrajudicial killings each year; included in this number are civilians who were killed in alleged "exchanges of gunfire" with police. The police fail to cooperate with civilian authorities in many ways, which made quantifying the problem very difficult. For example, the police do not provide Public Ministry officials with reports on investigations of citizens killed in confrontations with policeovempolice rarely documented citizen killings in accordance with minimum investigations or crime scene standards; police denied civilian authorities, including prosecutors requesting information, transcripts of police tribunal hearings that process these cases in secret; and the police have been known to publicly fire officials involved in these incidents, only to reinstate them quietly later.

The Dominican Human Rights Committee and other observers 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, 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 police. For example, new recruits fire only one round of ammunition during training, and there is no coherent policy on the use of deadly force or rules of engagement by the police. Additionally, the lack of professional, transparent, and credible investigation of the circumstances in which police kill citizens in "exchanges of gunfire" lead to the perception of impunity in these killings. Finally, there is a lack of specific training in human rights as applied to police work.

In the majority of the 250 deaths at the hands of police, 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 claimed that the deaths resulted from the exchange of gunfire in the course of an arrest. Amnesty International's August report noted the large number of deaths at the hands of police and the lack of transparency in the investigative process. In October 1999, 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. Police assert that the deaths of so-called delinquents resulted from shoot-outs requiring the police to act in self-defense. However, a number of cases demonstrate that this often is not the case.

For example, on April 18, police shot and killed Antonio Lora Fernandez allegedly during questioning at the Isabela police substation of Puerto Plata.

In July in Manoguayabo, a suburb of Santo Domingo, police shot and killed Juan Expedito Garcia, a 49-year-old businessman who was traveling with his daughter-in-law, Katy Jimenez de Garcia. Garcia and Jimenez were victims of an attempted carjacking by a group of delinquents. The delinquents ultimately kidnaped the two and sped away, followed closely by the police. After being stopped by police, Garcia and Jimenez threw themselves to the ground, raised their hands, and told the police not to shoot because they themselves were victims. Jimenez, the only surviving witness, reported that the police shot Garcia four times in the head and three times in the body before shooting and killing one of the kidnapers. She overheard one officer giving the order to kill her as well, but was spared when she was able to explain the circumstances of their kidnaping. The police commission investigating the incident recommended that those responsible be tried in a military tribunal. At year's end, there was no public information about the investigation into this case.

In July witnesses, including the victim's sister, reported that police shot and killed 20-year-old Juan Jose Urena in Santo Domingo. The police said that Urena was wanted by the Secret Service and the Department of Homicide and Crimes against Property. They reported that when they tried to detain Urena, he threatened them with a machete, and they were forced to shoot him. The victim's sister, who saw the incident, said that he did not resist arrest, but that he already was wounded and handcuffed when the agents fired the shots that killed him. Urena's death at the hands of police led to public protests, tire burnings, and the throwing of Molotov cocktails. Police responded with tear gas and guns. The police shot a bystander in the leg as they tried to calm the protests (see Section 2.b.). The police officers who participated in the shooting of Urena were arrested pending a police investigation.

On July 18, in Guayabin, on the northern border with Haiti, military agents shot and killed 6 Haitians and 1 Dominican citizen and wounded 13 others after they crossed the border illegally in a truck (see Section 2.d.).

On August 13, a 30-year-old Haitian died after soldiers took him into custody in La Canada, near Hondo Valle (see Section 2.d.).

On September 25, police killed two persons in separate incidents, 20-year-old Emilio Jose Matias Moronta and 23-year-old Lauri Mendez Sena, in Santo Domingo neighborhoods Villa Maria and Los Alcarrizos, respectively. The local press reported that the police said that Moronta resisted arrest and threatened officers with a gun; however, an unidentified businessman claimed the police version was false and that the victim did not carry a firearm and was first wounded by the police in the leg. In the same press report, the police claimed Sena resisted arrest with a machete. At year's end, there was no public information about an investigation.

On November 15, police shot and killed Johnny Perdomo Santo, in the Santo Domingo neighborhood of Ozama. Police reported to the press that they followed Santo in a car, whose plates linked it to a history of crimes, and that Santo attempted to shoot at them. Santo reportedly died on the way to the hospital. Witnesses told the press there were a total of three victims, including a woman. They said two corpses were taken away in the police vehicle, and a third one was taken away in the victims' car. At year's end, there was no public information about an investigation into the facts of the case.

Military personnel killed a number of Haitian migrants who were attempting to enter the country (see Section 2.d.).

The administration of President Hipolito Mejia acknowledged the problems with the police apparatus and early in his administration agreed to the creation of a Police Reform Commission to be made up of the Chief of Police, the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Armed Forces, the Legal Advisor to the President, representatives of human rights organizations, and legislators. However, President Mejia retained the services of Chief of Police Pedro de Jesus Candelier, under whose tenure the number of deaths at the hands of the police rose significantly over previous years. At year's end, the Commission had not made public any recommendations, but the Secretary of Interior and Police indicated in early December that he would make public and open to public debate any contemplated reforms. In October the Attorney General publicly agreed to more aggressive independent investigation of extrajudicial killings. On December 7, the Supreme Court president urged judges to apply the full weight of the law in cases of violations of human rights.

Police courts may try police officers or may remand them to civilian court jurisdiction. Military courts try military personnel charged with extrajudicial killings or other crimes. Police Chief 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 exceeded his authority, the case is sent to the police courts or to the civilian courts, depending on the severity of the offense. However, the police send very few--if any--cases to civilian courts, despite requests from the former Attorney General, District Attorney, and Justice Reform Commissioner. On September 4, six civil society groups submitted an "Act of Unconstitutionality" to the Supreme Court on the issue of the legality of Law 285, which encompasses the Code of Police Justice. Civil society groups argue that police courts violate the Constitution, and that they weaken the separation and independence of governmental functions, as well as the exclusivity of the judicial function in the administration of justice. The lawsuit asks the Court to rule on the constitutionality of these police tribunals; a decision was still pending at year's end.

State agents in prisons also committed extrajudicial killings. In the Najayo Prison in San Cristobal, police custodians shot and killed inmates Francisco Alberto Jaquez Brito, Manuel Sanchez Fermin, and Rafael Taversal Alberto in August during an escape attempt. A commission that included the Attorney General, the Chief of Police, and the Director of Prisons concluded that police agents acted negligently and in excess of their duties, and that the escapees could have been subdued by other means. The prisoners had not yet breached the exterior gates of the prison campus when they were shot and killed. The commission recommended that the three police cadets be tried in a police tribunal, and that three police supervisors be sanctioned with days in prison and "arrest without salary" for failing to control their subordinates and for failing to take an adequate count of prisoners. Human rights groups called for civilian trials for those responsible for the deaths of the prisoners.

There also were a number of deaths in prisons due to harsh conditions and official negligence (see Section 1.c.).

In July 1999, the authorities arrested a general, a colonel, a legal consultant, and various police officers in connection with the deaths of three alleged delinquents in Moca. In a civilian video, the police were shown handcuffing the three young men and placing them, alive, in the back of a police pickup truck. When the truck arrived at police headquarters, the three men were dead. A lower police tribunal reportedly tried, convicted, and sentenced officers Cesar Ovando Michell and Virgilio Severo Rodriguez to 2 years in prison, but a Police Appeals Tribunal later absolved the officers. The first-instance police tribunal discharged three other officers. In early November, the Attorney General asked Police Chief Candelier for a detailed report on the tribunal's proceedings, and said that he would investigate the possibility of reopening the case on a procedural appeal to the Supreme Court. Candelier said that he would not prevent such action; however, as of year's end, the case had not yet been presented to the Supreme Court.

In August a court sentenced Rafael Paredes de la Cruz, a former cadet in the National Police to 15 years in prison for the 1998 killing of Father Jose Antonio Tineo Nunez. The court found the other defendant, Juan Bautista Caminero Mendoza, not guilty.

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; or for the triple homicide in November 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.

In August a court in Santo Domingo released the verdict in the case of the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martinez Howley, a critic of the Balaguer administration. Retired General Joaquin Pou Castro, former air force officer Mariano Cabrera Duran, and Luis Emilio de la Rosa Beras admitted to the killing and a court sentenced each of them to the maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. The court also awarded an indemnity of $314,000 (5 million pesos) to Martinez's surviving brothers. Lawyers for the sentenced defendants say that they plan to appeal. Although several witnesses testified to the knowledge and complicity of former President Balaguer in the murder, he was not called to testify for health reasons.

In April violence at political rallies during the election campaign resulted in two deaths and several injuries when PRD bodyguards fired into the crowd at a political rally in Moca (see Section 3.)

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. There was little progress in the investigation into the case of Narciso Gonzalez, a university professor and critic of the Balaguer government who disappeared in May 1994. According to the former District Attorney, there is not enough evidence to go to trial, and existing evidence is contradictory. There was no action during the year on the family's complaint to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution and the law prohibit torture and other forms of physical abuse; however, security force 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. Human rights groups, the local press, and the President's Commission to Support the Reform and Modernization of Justice (Justice Reform Commission) reported regular and repeated occurrences of physical abuse of detainees while in custody. There was a significant increase in allegations of physical abuse and torture of minors in police and military detention.

In June the Justice Reform Commission reported cases of torture and abuse of at least nine minors in the police stations in Villas Agricolas, Los Farallones, Villa Francisca, and Plan Piloto in the national district. It cited numerous instances of beatings, sexual abuse, asphyxiation with plastic bags to elicit confessions, and a torture method called "roasting the chicken" in which the victim is placed over hot coals and turned until confessing. After completing an internal investigation, the National Police claimed that there were no instances of torture or abuse, and that if force was used, it was necessary to obtain the "obedience" of the minor. The Justice Reform Commission criticized the police for failing to conduct an objective investigation and for covering up serious abuses. As of September, the district attorney for Santo Domingo had made two requests to the Chief of Police that three officers be turned over for interrogation. Both of these requests were denied. An investigative judge was appointed to the cases, which were still pending in the Eighth Penal Court in Santo Domingo at year's end.

In August judges of the Appeals Court for Children and Adolescents in San Pedro de Macoris made public a set of allegations of similar abuses committed against 19 minors in police stations in Juan Dolio and Boca Chica, as well as in the General Pedro Santana public jail, which is controlled by the army. One of the adolescent victims reported that the police beat him to force him to say "yes" to their questions; in the interrogation sessions, they hit him with the butts of their guns; they made him kneel and two officers at once hit him in the ears and kicked him; they hit him with a baton, and put him in a dark room where they applied an electric current to his body. The child reported that due to the marks these incidents left on his body, the police held him for 8 days before transferring him to the judge. The law requires that minor detainees be transferred to a judge within 24 hours. There is no information available regarding any investigation into these alleged abuses by the police or the military.

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 guards 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.

The National Coordinator for Human Rights cited the Department of Homicide and Robbery Investigations and the DNCD for the persistent use of torture to extract confessions from detainees. According to human rights organizations, the method most often used is beating. After several former detainees went to the press in 1999 with credible reports that 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. Human rights advocates have described another form of abuse that guards reportedly use against prisoners in the Mexico section of San Pedro de Macoris Prison. Prison officials use a punishment called "the toaster", where prisoners are laid, shackled hand and foot, on a bed of hot asphalt for the entire day and are beaten with a club if they scream. The army administers San Pedro de Macoris prison.

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 complained that their hands were being tied. This 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 assumed strong roles in managing criminal investigations and ensuring the rights of suspects. Human rights courses are offered in the training curriculums for military and DNCD enlisted personnel and officers; however, the courses are optional. In October the Armed Forces Secretary inaugurated the Military Institute of Human Rights, located in Santiago.

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 of from 10 to 15 years in prison. However, until recently these provisions were not known fully or applied by prosecutors and judges. There have been repeated calls by human rights groups as well as by the Justice Reform Commission for civilian trials of officials charged with abuse and torture; however, most cases, if tried at all, are sent to military or police tribunals.

Out of a police force of about 23,000 members, Police Chief Candelier fired 84, disarmed 200, and sent 100 officers for retraining during the first 6 months of the year as part of an effort to increase respect for human rights and discipline within the police force. He reported that many of the 84 were fired for drug use, including cocaine and marijuana. However, some discharged officers later were rehired. Significant problems also remain because serious efforts have not been made 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.

The police at times forcibly dispersed demonstrators, using tear gas and weapons (see Sections 2.b. and 6.b.).

Prison conditions range from poor to extremely harsh. Reports of torture and mistreatment in prisons are common. The prisons are seriously overcrowded, health and sanitary conditions are poor, and some prisons are out of the control of the authorities. The General Directorate of Prisons falls under the authority of the Public Ministry and is seriously underfunded. Budget allocations for necessities such as food, medicines, and transportation were lacking. Medical care in all prisons 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.

In 32 prisons around the country with a total capacity of 9,000 persons, the police and the military hold more than 15,000 prisoners and detainees. The military controls 22 prisons with a total of 6,000 prisoners, and the National Police controls 10 prisons, with a total of 9,000 inmates. A warden is responsible for running each prison and reports 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, space to sleep, or medical care. 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, which is run by the National Police, pose a serious threat to life and health. In June this prison held over 3,500 prisoners in a facility built for 1,000. In March there was a serious fire at La Victoria in which 13 persons died, 44 suffered burns, and 20 others were injured. Inmates alleged that guards refused to open cell doors so that they could escape. At year's end, the Director of Prisons reported that an investigation had been conducted, and that those responsible were arrested and sent before a police tribunal. However, there was no public information on the trial's outcome.

The Barahona Commission for the Defense of Human Rights has criticized the conditions in the Barahona prison, which has 22 beds, but currently holds 586 inmates. In one cellblock, which has space for 32 persons, there are 145 inmates. The commission issued a report at mid-year, in which it described 52 Haitians imprisoned there as "practically kidnaped," and said that they have not been taken to their hearings. The Commission reported that the bathroom facilities amount to cesspools and that the authorities are indifferent to the lack of hygiene; prisoners do not receive medicine or medical attention, and many have tuberculosis and other diseases. They allegedly receive only one meal on Saturdays and no meals on Sundays.

A government food program for the general public is used to provide lunches at some prisons. The former Director of Prisons reported that his office had the budget to spend $0.50 (8 pesos) per inmate to provide three meals per day. Inmates surveyed said that the food provided was unacceptable, and most chose to eat whatever they could beg for or purchase from persons in the vicinity of the prison or from family members. Due to inefficiency and corruption within the prison system, visitors often have to bribe prison guards in order to visit prisoners.

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 physically and sexually abusing female inmates. Female inmates, unlike their male counterparts, are prohibited from receiving conjugal visits. Those who deliver while incarcerated are permitted to keep their babies with them in prison until they reach 1 year of age.

In May in Rafey Prison in Santiago, guards beat six inmates with aluminum and wooden bats as they bathed in the rain in a courtyard of the prison. Two officials allegedly responsible for the beatings were said to have been tried in a police tribunal; however, there was no public information available about any investigation or trial.

The law requires that juveniles be detained separately from adults. However, recent press reports found a high incidence of juveniles who were detained with adult prisoners being forced into sexual servitude in return for protection at prisons around the country. Najayo prison has a new wing for juvenile offenders that holds 250 persons. Inmates are not separated by crime within the prison population; however, they may be put into solitary confinement for disturbances while incarcerated.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors 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, bars detention beyond 48 hours without the detainee being presented before judicial authorities, and prohibits custodial authorities from not presenting detainees when requested. It also provides for recourse to habeas corpus proceedings to request the release of those unlawfully held. However, the security forces continued to violate constitutional provisions by detaining suspects for investigation or interrogation beyond the prescribed 48-hour limit. The police traditionally detain all suspects and witnesses in a crime and use the investigative process to determine who are innocent and merit release, and who 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. During the year, no new prosecutors were p