By Vania Andre
Nearly 600 former Peace Corps volunteers wrote an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday urging the State Department to suspend foreign aid to the Dominican Republic, in light of their controversial immigration policy, which affects thousands of Dominico-Haitians.
“Given the Dominican government’s disregard for international law with respect to the status of its citizens of Haitian descent; the violent track record of Dominican security forces receiving funding and training from the United States; and the Dominican Armed Forces’ readiness to execute a potentially massive campaign of rights-violating expulsions, we ask that the United States suspend its military aid to the Dominican government,” the 560 returned Peace Corps volunteers and three country directors, wrote in the letter. They have all at one point volunteered in the Dominican Republic.
The former Peace Corps volunteers made their request based on the Leahy Laws, which states that U.S. assistance will not be given to “any unit of security forces” of a foreign country that violates human rights.
“The State Department has acknowledged that Dominican security forces have committed gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings and torture,” the letter said. In one instance 31-year-old Haitian immigrant Jean Robert Lors was killed after Dominican national police beat him during a “mass repatriation round-up.”
In August 2013 the State Department cut off aid to St. Lucia after the country was found to have violated international human rights laws, following 12 extra-judicial killings that took place between 2010 and 2011. A year later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that the 2013 Dominican Court ruling was “an impediment to the full exercise of the right to nationality of the victims” and a violation of “the right to identity, and the right to equal protection of the law recognized in Article 24” of the American Convention on Human Rights, which are binding obligations.
“If the United States is serious about protecting universally recognized human rights, we must no longer abet such actions in the Dominican Republic, much less be complicit in an impending intensification of human rights abuses,” the former volunteers said in the letter. “In our view, it appears impossible for the Dominican government to move forward with the implementation of its human rights-violating, internationally condemned citizenship laws without involving its security forces in yet more widespread and severe abuses.”
Dominican security forces set to carry out the mass deportation have received more than $17.5 million in aid form the United States since 2013, the letter says.
“By continuing to offer its military aid to the Dominican security forces, the United States is undermining internal efforts by a variety of organizations and individuals in Dominican civil society to protect vulnerable people, defend human rights, and bring the country into compliance with international law.”