THE RIGHT TO LIFE IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
A. Legal provisions
133. The right to life is of special importance, as it is the essential basis for the realization of all other rights protected in the American Convention on Human Rights. Dominican law protects this right by prohibiting the death penalty. Article 8(1) of the Constitution of the Dominican Republic guarantees: "The inviolability of life. Consequently, the death penalty may not be established, meted out, or applied in any case...."
134. The American Convention guarantees the right to life in Article 4, which establishes the following:
Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.46
135. The right to life is a peremptory norm under international law, and as established at Article 27 of the Convention, it cannot be derogated under any circumstance.
B. Extrajudicial executions
136. During the June 1997 on-site visit by the Commission to the Dominican Republic, it received information on cases alleging the death of persons by state agents, in violation of the right to life.
137. The information received by the Commission reveals that from August 1996 to June 1997 there were 90 cases of extrajudicial deaths committed by agents of the security forces.47 By March 1997, press accounts cited the number of extrajudicial deaths in supposed or actual "exchanges of gunfire" at approximately 15 cases for the first quarter of the year.48 By the end of that year the number of extrajudicial deaths had increased to 50.
a. Executions committed during police activities
138. Extrajudicial executions are related, in most cases, to excesses committed by officers of the National Police, who act beyond the bounds of their authority and abuse their power in actions that end in the death of the victims.
139. In much of the information submitted to the Commission one can observe that the extrajudicial executions committed in the Dominican Republic can be classified into two well-defined groups. On the one hand are the violations carried out by the security forces in the performance of the activities particular to their functions, and on the other are violations committed by the agents of those bodies when off duty.
140. The failure to adequately investigate and punish the persons responsible gives rise to state responsibility.49 In addition, the number of cases of this type that arise in the country reveal shortcomings in the training of the forces of order, as well as a lack of a rigorous system for the selection and control of staff.
141. The information submitted to the Commission shows that in several cases the victims were defenseless, unarmed, and had already turned themselves in to the authorities, and indeed citizens have been murdered who had no connection whatsoever to events that resulted in police interventions.50
142. Violations of this type arise frequently in police roundups in which the persons responsible are rarely punished. Moreover, in response to findings of extrajudicial deaths at the hands of agents of the National Police, the National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD), or the Armed Forces, these authorities often make statements to the effect "that the subject killed put up armed resistance and first unlawfully assaulted the authority," and "that the subject killed had a lengthy police record that characterized him as a criminal and a dangerous antisocial."51
143. Furthermore, the Commission has received complaints that indicate that there have been deaths and injuries attributable to police actions undertaken for the purpose of repressing different types of mass demonstrations. Later investigations have not established any responsibility for such conduct.
144. For purposes of illustration, one can cite the March 1997 events in which Cristian Sánchez, 23 years old, died, and two more persons were injured. The incident took place when inhabitants of the Los Manguitos neighborhood in the Capotillo sector of Santo Domingo were protesting over the indiscriminate roundups the Police were carrying out in the area. Despite the civil protest, which was peaceful, the Police used excessive force, shooting at unarmed demonstrators.
145. In this same context, it is important to note that the Government has acknowledged that the action of the Police "is not the best," as stated by the Commissioner for Justice Reform, Franklin Almeyda Rancier, who noted that "police brutality against the citizenry is observed," warning that "imposing law and order does not authorize anyone to kill." 52
146. The Commission was also told of cases of persons who had been murdered while being pursued or upon detention. Worker Jovanny Marmolejos Valentín, 29 years old, who, sought by a police patrol, was killed by a gunshot wound to the thorax on May 2, 1997, after he sought refuge in a neighboring house in the Palmarito sector, in Barahona. In this case the person murdered was not bearing arms, nor is he known to have put up any violent resistance to arrest.
147. Civil society has made major efforts to put an end to such grave and worrisome occurrences. The Comisión Dominicana de Derechos Humanos has submitted a list of victims to the Attorney General to investigate the facts and punish the persons responsible. The Comisión Dominicana has also requested that a commission be designated to carry out an in-depth investigation into the extrajudicial deaths that have been alleged in complaints lodged by the population, yet to date no response has been received.53
148. Even though extrajudicial executions are crimes that should be investigated by the authorities on their own initiative, the victims' next-of-kin have had to turn to the judicial authorities to investigate the facts; they have even asked the President of the Nation to take measures to put an end to such crimes.
149. Extrajudicial executions are a matter of public knowledge, and the press has described these events in an editorial under the hearing "happy triggers" (gatillos alegres), criticizing the action of the Police and calling on the authorities to be more strict when it comes to assigning firearms to their agents, so that such crimes not continue to be committed.54
150. The Commission has been informed of cases in which the agents of the various security corps have been accused of having murdered persons involved in everyday problems, in which there is no criminal conduct on the part of the victims.55
b. Executions committed in the prisons
151. The Commission observes with concern that there have been extrajudicial executions of persons under state custody in the Dominican prisons. The Commission has receive allegations of such conduct, as for example: "On February 23, police reacting to a disturbance at the Azúa prison reportedly killed three unarmed boys in cold blood. Two police lieutenants ... reportedly lined up the three 17-year-old boys ... against an interior wall of the prison, and fired repeatedly at them with shotguns...."56 The authorities argue that those prisoners tried to escape.
C. Forced disappearances
152. The practice of forced disappearances as a state policy aimed at eliminating political opponents has a history in the Dominican Republic dating back to the dark period of the Government of dictator Leonidas Trujillo. Under the current administration, several sources and human rights organizations agree that there have been no forced disappearances. Nonetheless, the case of professor and journalist Narciso González, who disappeared on May 26, 1994, continues unresolved.
153. On July 6, 1994, the Commission received the complaint regarding the forced disappearance of Mr. Narciso González, who was a professor in the School of Humanities of the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo for over 20 years. A renowned promoter of cultural movements and community-based arts, Mr. González was intimately involved in defending human rights in the Dominican Republic.
154. According to the complaint now before the Commission, Mr. González was disappeared clandestinely by Dominican military forces while exiting one of the halls of the "Doble" movie theaters in the city of Santo Domingo. The motive for Professor González's disappearance appears to be his strong opposition to the previous administration, presided by Joaquín Balaguer, especially his vehement allegations of electoral fraud in the May 16, 1994 presidential elections.
155. On the day of his detention, Professor González had gone to the university to make a statement to members of the University Council (Consejo Universitario) condemning the alleged electoral fraud in the May 16, 1994 elections. In addition, in a publication of the magazine "La Muralla," April-May issue, Narciso González had leveled penetrating criticism at the May 16, 1994 elections.
156. The petitioners hold that according to information they have received, Narciso González was detained at the facilities of the "J-2", a military agency situated on the outskirts of Santo Domingo, even though the Chief of the National Police and the top military commanders denied this.
157. The Commission published Report No. 16/98 on the admissibility of Case No. 11,324, regarding Professor Narciso González, in its Annual Report for 1997.57
158. To date, the case of Professor Narciso González has yet to be clarified domestically. Internationally, the Inter-American Commission is, at the request of the parties, awaiting a response from the "Monitoring Commission." That commission was created for the purpose of observing the investigation of the case, and is made up of persons appointed by the Government and by the members of the Truth Commission and the petitioners in the case.
159. In November 1998, the Commission was informed by a delegation from the Armed Forces, the National Police, and the National Department of Investigations (DNI) that it had prepared a preliminary report on the disappearance of Professor Narciso González. That report was delivered in the first days of August 1998 to the President of the Republic, Leonel Fernández, who in turn forwarded it to the Attorney General, for the judge in charge of the case to continue the investigation.58 The Inter-American Commission has been informed that the investigative judge for the Seventh Ward of the National District is examining civilian and military personnel as a result of the investigation under way as part of the investigative phase, in the case of the disappearance of Professor González. Recently, the judge ordered the detention of two high-ranking military officers to guarantee "that the persons to brought before the courts be kept at the disposition of the justice system." The IACHR expresses its hope that these important developments will make it possible to finally solve a case of great importance nationally and internationally, identifying the persons responsible, clearing up the fate of Narciso González, and making reparation as appropriate.
D. Impunity for the acts committed by security agents
160. The complaints and information on violations of the right to life submitted by organizations that work in the area of human rights show that most of the members of the police and military who participate in these extrajudicial executions or violent acts are protected by the military jurisdiction, and that rarely are they duly punished or sent to trial to be judged in the regular civilian courts.59 In 1996, only two cases were sent to the regular civilian justice system.60 In 1997 the number grew, and six police officials were put on trial for murder.
161. With respect to impunity, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in its judgment in the case of Velásquez Rodríguez, noted that: "The State is obligated to investigate every situation involving a violation of the rights protected by the Convention. If the State apparatus acts in such a way that the violation goes unpunished and the victim's full enjoyment of such rights is not restored as soon as possible, the State has failed to comply with its duty to ensure the free and full exercise of those rights to the persons within its jurisdiction...."61
162. In the same case, the Court noted: "The obligation to ensure the free and full exercise of human rights is not fulfilled by the existence of a legal system designed to make it possible to comply with this obligation--it also requires the government to conduct itself so as to effectively ensure the free and full exercise of human rights."62
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
163. The Commission notes its concern over the complaints regarding extrajudicial executions, and that for the most part they appear to be related to abuses committed by agents of the National Police, the National Directorate for Drug Control, and the Armed Forces, who overstep the bounds of their authority and abuse their power, using excessive force in actions that end with the death of the victims.
164. The Commission urges the Dominican state to adopt urgent measures to carry out an exhaustive investigation into these violations of the right to life, so that those who turn out to be responsible may be judged and punished by the regular justice system. The Commission reiterates that the state is responsible for violations of human rights whether or not they are perpetrated by state agents when they are not adequately investigated, nor their perpetrators punished nor full reparation made for their consequences.
165. The Commission recommends to the Dominican state that it suspend, on a preventive basis, any security agent involved in alleged violations of the right to life, while the complaints lodged are investigated.
166. In addition, the Commission recommends that the Dominican state create a program aimed at training the police and military agents so that, in the context of their functions and obligations, they may respect human rights and be informed adequately of the criminal liability that arises from acting outside the law.
46 The full text of Article 4 reads as follows:
1. Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.
2. In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, it may be imposed only for the most serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court and in accordance with a law establishing such punishment, enacted prior to the commission of the crime. The application of such punishment shall not be extended to crimes to which it does not presently apply.
3. The death penalty shall not be reestablished in states that have abolished it.
4. In no case shall capital punishment be inflicted for political offenses or related common crimes.
5. Capital punishment shall not be imposed upon persons who, at the time the crime was committed, were under 18 years of age or over 70 years of age; nor shall it be applied to pregnant women.
6. Every person condemned to death shall have the right to apply for amnesty, pardon, or commutation of sentence, which may be granted in all cases. Capital punishment shall not be imposed while such a petition is pending decision by the competent authority.
47 See report by the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, submitted to the IACHR during its on-site visit in June 1997.
48 See report by the Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia.
49 See Case of Velásquez Rodríguez, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Judgment of July 29, 1988, para. 172.
50 Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos.
51 Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia and Comité Dominicano de Derechos Humanos.
52 Statements by the Commissioner for Justice Reform, Franklin Almeyda Rancier, made to the daily newspaper El Nacional, May 10, 1997.
53 Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos.
54 Ultima Hora, Opinion editorial, May 4, 1997.
55 Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos.
56 Human Rights Watch, World Report 1998, p. 59.
57 Doc. OEA/Ser.L/V/II.98, doc. 6 rev, April 13, 1998, p. 179.
58 Information submitted by the Government of the Dominican Republic, November 2, 1998.
59 Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos. Speech by Mr. Domingo Porfirio Rojas Nina, June 9, 1997.
60 Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia.
61 Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of Velásquez Rodríguez, Judgment of July 29, 1988, para. 176.
62 Id., para. 167.