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    Country Reports


IWRAW spoke with members of several non-governmental organisations in the Dominican Republic, some of whom also gave us printed materials, and one organisation gave us photographs to pass on to the Committee. We provided these groups with copies of the second periodic report of the Dominican Republic to the CESCR, dated 15 March, 1995 (E/1990/6/Add.7), and encouraged them to suggest questions for the Government delegation. The general reaction of NGOs to the Government report was dismay at the near total absence of de facto description of any kind.


Joaquín Balaguer, prime minister to the dictator Raphael Trujillo in the late 1950s, has dominated Dominican politics over the past three decades, winning the presidency in 1990 and 1994 through two rigged elections. This year, Balaguer's Social Christian Reformist Party, in an alliance of convenience with the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), helped PLD presidential candidate Leonel Fernandez to win a majority over his more popular rival, Jose Francisco Peña Gomez. After assuming office on 16 August, 1996, Fernandez announced that he hoped to transform political consensus into an economic rebirth.

Nothing less than a rebirth will do. In 1994 - 95 an estimated sixty to sixty-five percent of the Dominican population was living below the poverty line.1 State policy continues to be dictated by the narrow interests of a small group of industrialists and state managers. Small farmers are impoverished and increasing numbers of the landless rural proletariat either work for low wages on agricultural estates or migrate to the cities, where unemployment is over thirty percent. Remittances from migrants to New York and European cities constitute an important means of survival for many Dominican families.

Very soon after the elections, Balaguer put an end to the idea of political consensus. His Reformist party broke off its temporary alliance with Fernandez's PLD and made moves to postpone Congressional elections until the end of Fernandez' term of office. Balaguer's party holds effective veto power over any new presidential initiatives, and postponing elections will ensure that the new president's party does not increase what little power it already has in either house of Congress.

Perhaps this is why the not-so-optimistic are still emigrating in such large numbers. An overwhelming majority of respondents in a national survey conducted last year in the Dominican Republic said that they did not believe in the credibility of any public institution. The survey asked respondents whether they would leave the country if they had the opportunity, and the majority said that they would. Considering its small size, the Dominican Republic is one of the countries in the world most dramatically affected by migration.2


It is widely believed that migration to the United States was politically induced after the 1963 revolution in the Dominican Republic. An extremely unrestrictive US immigration policy helped to generate a flow of migrants which has sustained itself over the years for economic reasons. Political repression during the authoritarian regime of Balaguer has been well documented. Measures to silence political and economic opposition included the murder of union leadership by paramilitary squads and the deportation and jailing of political opponents. High GDP growth in the 1960s and 1970s did little to correct the persistent inequality in income distribution. Opportunities for rural labour decreased sharply in the 1970s. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that in 1980 the informal sector in Santo Domingo made up fifty percent of the work force.3 Out-migration was encouraged by the State partly because it helped obscure increasing economic imbalances and reduced political opposition to the Balaguer regime.

Migration has not, for the most part, provided any real benefits to the country. Returnees from the US have not fuelled the economy with diversified investments.4 The bulk of remittances continue to be used for household consumption. Contrary to popular assumptions, the majority of migrant labour to the US was not marginalized workers but semi-skilled workers, professionals and small entrepreneurs who felt that their wages and security were threatened. Many who returned simply re-established the same type of business they had owned prior to emigration. 5

Nonetheless, migration and return migration have affected the country in complex and troubling ways. Remittances as well as returning migrants themselves have intensified aspirations for styles of consumption associated with life in more economically developed countries. Members of many migrant households have acquired the trappings of a middle-class standard of living, but one which is dependent on external sources of income. Remittances have eased the political pressures of landlessness, underemployment and low wages, and thus have helped to perpetuate a lack of political will to use government in ways that benefit more than the privileged elite.

Most Dominican migrants leave home with the desire to return to their country, but their permanent return is not encouraged by the State. There are no effective incentive programmes to provide credit for small-scale producers, and so long as cheap labour remains the country's major selling point to international investors, there is little encouragement for unskilled or semi-skilled migrants to give up the wages they can earn in the US or in Europe to return permanently to their families. Culturally, the external orientation brought about by migration and by the domination of foreign interests in virtually every sector of the economy has helped to undermine a positive sense of national identity.6


Tourism has expanded considerably in recent years, bringing over two million visitors to the country's coastal resorts in 1995 alone. Assessments vary, but tourism is said to generate as much money for the government as the Free Trade Zones and double the hard currency generated by other exports. It has also created a boom in sex tourism and has helped to increase the rate of AIDS infection, currently the country's most serious health problem. Culturally, tourism has been yet another source of free-floating and spatially divided families. A tourism promotion fund run by the government and the National Hotel & Restaurants Association has recently been established. Since the State has officially launched itself into the tourism business, it can no longer remain disengaged from the human and ecological issues generated by this kind of development. For one, it cannot continue to ignore the boom in sex-tourism in the resort areas multiplying along the coasts. Non-governmental groups hope that the CESCR Committee will question the Dominican Government delegation concerning what precisely the State intends to do to discourage some of the negative effects of the country's increasing dependence on tourism.

Gatt and the World Trade Organisation

In January 1995, the Dominican Congress approved the ratification of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was the prerequisite to becoming incorporated into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Congress is adopting a new foreign investment law to meet the regulations set forth by the WTO. In general, the law grants equal treatment to all investors, foreign and domestic. It also opens previously restricted areas of the economy to foreign investment. A new financial and monetary code is also being approved by Congress.7 The WTO has praised the efforts of the Dominican Government to integrate its economy with world markets. However, the WTO has itself warned that this further opening of the Dominican economy will mean "longer-term, difficult adjustments, especially for those parts of agriculture which compete with imports."8 Informed Dominicans agree that the country cannot avoid integration with the world economy, but those who are democratically-minded feel that this integration must be more innovative and socially redemptive than it has been in the past. Much of the export-led growth in the country has been accomplished by bringing unskilled women into the workforce at minimal wages, without any corresponding growth in State investments in human resource development, specifically education and vocational training.

It is widely agreed that the State is in an administrative crisis and urgently needs restructuring, but there is no consensus about exactly what this should mean. Not uncommonly, there are clashes between Dominican police and residents demanding improvements in water, electricity or health services. Congress has approved legal reforms which now make it possible to privatise most public services, but there is great hostility and suspicion among the poorer classes that the crises in electricity and other state-owned utilities are being manufactured by those who will profit enormously from privatisation, and are not, in themselves, proof that properly managed public services cannot be cost effective.

Development reform

The legacy of the Trujillo regime has been the continued predominance of the State and its corrupt enterprises. As elsewhere in the world, the primary casualties of the economic and monetary reforms prescribed to cure these ills are the poorer classes. Concerned experts warn that the regulations of the World Trade Organisation will aggravate the hardships brought on with structural adjustment and will discriminate specifically against workers and domestic producers. The effect on rural agricultural producers, for example, will increase an already existing threat to food security in the country."9

Women and "invisible adjustment'

Although men still make up the majority of the economically active population (EAP), it is estimated that since 1960 the number of economically active women has grown at four times the rate for men. UNICEF's concept of "invisible adjustment" is a particularly appropriate description of the entry of large numbers of unskilled women onto the labour market in recent years in the Dominican Republic. While employment opportunities for men have been shrinking, the new "growth" in the Free Trade Zones and tourism have offered unprecedented opportunities for unskilled women, who have taken on increasing responsibility for supporting their families.

The "social debt"

Oxfam - UK is conducting a world-wide campaign to increase public concern for the basic human right to work "in a dignified environment." Oxfam and its campaign collaborator in the Dominican Republic, the Centro de Investigaciones para la Acción Femenina (CIPAF), have brought renewed currency in their campaign to the notion of an 'unpaid social debt.' The campaign in the Dominican Republic focuses specifically on women's employment in the Free Trade Zones. Rather than minimise or ignore the complex relationship between economics and the claims of human rights, Oxfam describes how the legacy of authoritarian and self-serving leadership, corruption and the constraints of an economy excessively dependent on US and other outside economic interests, continues to express itself in the Dominican Republic as an "endless, massive flood of migrants--more accurately described as economic refugees," who remain "the best indicator of the magnitude of this unpaid social debt."10

Article 2 (1)

Each State Party undertakes to take steps....with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights recognised in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.

Many of the individuals IWRAW interviewed in the Dominican Republic are lawyers. For all of them, the problem underlying or preceding the adoption of legislative reforms is the arbitrariness of the courts and the relative impunity of judges. Lawyers talk about the practice of the courts, but they are not always familiar with the wording of the laws themselves. Copies of the civil codes are difficult to obtain. Indeed, what the courts do is more important than what the legal codes say. There appears to be no mechanism for lodging complaints against judges whose conduct is arbitrary or corrupt. By way of example, one lawyer related an instance when a judge called him to his chambers after he had made his decision on a particular case. The judge explained that he could not decide against the landowner in question, even if he was convinced that the landworker was right and that the law was on the landworker's side, because he himself was a landowner and he had to protect his interests.

There is no appellate procedure to determine the constitutionality of the lower courts' decisions, or the constitutionality of the laws. Thus, even though the Constitution says that every Dominican citizen is equal before the law, there is no place to challenge a law, an executive decree, or a decision of a court on grounds of discrimination.

The vested interests of a male-dominated court system work against women, especially in cases involving sexual violence or division of property, when it is often difficult for male judges to decide against the 'interests' of their sex. For this reason, the Coordinadora De ONGs Del Area De La Mujer (hereafter referred to as the Coordinadora), a national coalition of over forty-one organisations,11 has presented Congress with various reforms that would provide mechanisms to protect women and racial minorities. One of the proposed reforms would include the creation of a Constitutional tribunal or court to review the constitutionality of the laws and of lower court decisions. Proposed reforms also include a mechanism to sanction or impeach elected or appointed officials and functionaries who are not acting according to their designated functions. In addition, the Coordinadora has proposed a reform of the judiciary that would create courts or other offices to monitor women's issues and receive complaints regarding the misconduct of judges and other personnel in the judicial system. The Coordinadora is also asking for a Constitutional Assembly, elected directly by the people and not appointed by the political parties, to produce a profound reform of the Constitution. All of these reforms have been presented to Congress and are at various stages of the legislative process, but according to IWRAW's information at the time this report was being written, none have yet passed the Senate.

Human rights

One of the unfortunate holdovers from the period of the Trujillo dictatorship has been a persistent perception, reinforced by the police and the media, that individuals who denounce human rights violations are unpatriotic and subversive. Given this attitude, it is not surprising that economic, social and cultural rights are not yet perceived as rights in the Dominican Republic. According to Centro Dominicano De Asesoria E Investigaciones Legales (CEDAIL), a local non-governmental organisation, members of the judicial system, even community leaders, do not know about these rights. Only a small minority of NGOs is aware that the Government has ratified the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, or any other human rights treaty, except perhaps some of the ILO conventions.

Technically, all UN human rights treaties and conventions automatically become part of Dominican national law upon ratification, but new legislation is required before these international conventions will override domestic legislation. Dominican judges do not recognise ratified international treaties as national law. There are no human rights courses in law faculties at the universities. IWRAW sources said they were aware of no government programmes to make these treaties known to the judiciary, police or other law enforcement agencies. There is a judicial gazette (Gazeta Oficial), but it is not distributed free of charge, and sources say that judges do not normally purchase it.

CEDAIL gave an example of the prevailing attitude of government toward human rights with an anecdote concerning the Ministry of Education. CEDAIL produced a set of public education booklets (one complete copy has been sent to the CESCR Committee) concerning the UN human rights treaties, the Dominican Constitution and the domestic legal codes that it wanted to make available to the public schools. The whole of the eighth booklet, entitled "Deberes," concerns the responsibilities of the individual to uphold social justice and human dignity. CEDAIL was informed by the committee within the Ministry of Education that supervises school textbooks that their materials "focused too much on rights and not enough on duties."

ARTICLE 2 (2) non-discrimination

In the months preceding the presidential elections in May 1996, media commentators and human rights groups decried rising repression against the country's black population. According to then presidential candidate Leonel Fernandez, now President of the Republic, approximately 160,000 Haitian (meaning: temporary or illegal workers with no claims to citizenship) supporters of black Dominican candidate Jose Francisco Peña Gomez had been illegally inscribed on the voter rolls.12 The Reformist Party of President Balaguer echoed the accusation. The president of the Central Electoral Junta declared that the allegations "were not sufficient to begin an operation verifying registered voters."13 Nonetheless, in the weeks before the elections, nearly 5,000 Haitians and Dominican-born Haitians were deported. What is more, it is alleged that the authorities confiscated identity cards from a large number of black Dominicans in what has been described as a campaign to frighten black voters from the polls. The president of the Dominican Committee for the Defence of Human Rights declared that the deportations were "purely political....racist, exclusive and focused solely on electoral gain."14 The president of the National Commission for Human Rights, Porfirio Nina, accused the government of violating international treaties with its arbitrary deportations and commented that "more than 350,000 foreigners of various nationalities live in the country illegally,...yet it is only those with black skin who are deported."15

The Movement of Haitian-Dominican Women (MUDHA) publicly denounced the deployment of the Dominican Armed Forces to carry out deportations of Haitian-Dominicans during the election campaign. MUDHA declared that it was a violation of Article 11 of the Dominican Constitution, which grants Dominican nationality to all those born on Dominican soil. The vice president of MUDHA, Lilliana Dolis, was quoted as saying that "the deportation of illegal immigrants is an act of sovereignty on the part of the state and ought not be questioned. However, it is worrisome when such measures are applied to Dominican citizens of Haitian origin."16 Most commentaries agree that the presidential campaign was characterised by strident anti-Haitian rhetoric, in which candidates and their supporters repeatedly alluded to presidential candidate Peña Gomez's Haitian background, his alleged practice of Voodoo rituals and to his supposed plan to unite the Dominican Republic with its neighbouring Haiti.17

Anti-Haitianism and racial discrimination

President Fernandez was inaugurated on a day that is also observed as the 133rd anniversary of Dominican independence from Haiti.18 The historical conflict between the two countries and the relatively greater poverty of Haiti has made it relatively easy for nationalist politicians in the Dominican Republic to scapegoat Haitian workers and manipulate the population into a morbid fear of the Haitian "threat." The Dominican Republic is dominated by a small white aristocracy, and its majority mulatto population tends to identify as white, but it is anti-Haitianism, rather than racism as such, which is the accepted prejudice in the Dominican Republic. The second Government report19 to the CESCR Committee describes the population of the Dominican Republic as follows:

"...there is no marked differentiation on ethnic grounds among this population, which is nearly completely integrated in all aspects of the nation's social, economic and cultural life." (para.4)

Identidad, a national organisation connected to the Caribbean regional women's network Red Afrolatinoamericana , suggests that the CESCR ask the government delegation why, if the Dominican population is so well integrated, is it a common practice to ask applicants to send photos when applying for jobs? Why are 'afro' hairstyles and dress prohibited in schools? Why are Afrocaribbean religious rituals suppressed? Since there are no more indigenous indios left in the country, why do identity cards contain a "white" category and three for "indios" of various shades -- indio, indio claro, and indio oscuro -- if the population is "nearly completely integrated" and these categories have no social basis?20 Identidad, along with other groups that advocate for the rights of black Dominicans, says that the prevailing mentality within the country, reflected by the above statement from the government report, is to deny that racism exists.

Demonizing Haitians as the "silent invasion," while keeping racial identity among Dominicans themselves at the level of vague prejudice, shame and fear, has been an advantage to the State, because it has been virtually impossible to document discrimination. Black Dominicans are commonly identified as Haitians and are susceptible to the same or similar treatment. One practical administrative reason for this lies with the arbitrary and corrupt practices surrounding the issue of the cedula.

The cedula

As in many parts of Latin America, it is extremely difficult in the Dominican Republic to obtain public services, conduct business transactions or to move about freely without a cedula, or personal identification card. MUDHA, which works specifically with Dominican women of Haitian descent, says that it is difficult to register black children, particularly if they are born of one or two Haitian parents. According to CEDAIL, hospitals in the Dominican Republic issue birth certificates, but they are not required by law to officially register births. Poor people in general have difficulties being documented, partly because they don't know the system and do not take their children to be documented. The older a child becomes, the more difficult it becomes for him or her to be documented. Haitian children, who are rarely born in hospitals and whose mothers do not themselves have a cedula, have even less chance of acquiring one.

Haitian migrants

During the time of the Trujillo dictatorship, it became customary to bring Haitians into the Dominican Republic to cut cane, and this practice has persisted. There remains among Dominicans, despite high levels of unemployment, an aversion to living in the shanties next to the cane fields, called bateyes, and to cutting cane. This aversion has been an advantage to plantation administrators, who, by perpetuating the terrible living conditions in the bateyes, remain more or less at liberty to hire Haitian braceros, male temporary agricultural workers, as cheap labour. The state-run Dominican sugar industry is in an administrative crisis, and the egregious corruption in the bateyes continues.

Women in the bateyes

One of the problems specific to women derives from the common assumption that only braceros come to the Dominican Republic, and this has made women administratively invisible. According to MUDHA, women have always been brought to the cane fields along with men, because it is cheaper and more convenient for landowners and plantation managers to maintain a resident population of workers than transport them back and forth across the Haitian border. Also, the earnings of a resident population circulate inside the bateyes, which contain general stores and bars, much like company towns anywhere in the world. Along with increased profits, long-term settlements produce more braceros. Legally, the bateyes are only hostels for temporary workers, but human rights groups, including MUDHA, have confirmed that they are in fact permanent settlements containing entire families, many of whom have been living in the country all their lives, and whose children have been born and raised in the Dominican Republic.

Since there is no official recognition of these populations, there is little or no attempt to provide education, health or other primary services. Living conditions are terrible. The people are discouraged from speaking Creole, their native language, and are repressed in other ways. The Government claims that it has provided schools in some long-term settlements, but MUDHA claims that these are inadequate, without educational materials or trained teachers. (It is said that these schools have been used as displays for visiting human rights workers, with chairs, for example, transported to the schools and then sent back where they came from after the observers have gone.)

Integral to the system of corruption in the bateyes is the practice of selling illegal identity cards to the braceros, making it possible for them to remain in the country for a long time with a succession of temporary ID cards. Although current Dominican nationalisation laws stipulate that after a certain period aliens can apply for citizenship, this provision has not been extended to Haitians. In fact, it has been proposed in Congress that Haitian workers not be allowed to acquire citizenship, by birth or naturalisation. There is concern that the new president, who has played on anti-Haitian fears during the campaign, and is in a very weak position with regard to the political right, will not oppose this law.

Only the braceros are given temporary ID cards, which give them the right to occupy a shack and to other minimal services. Since women are not supposed to be in the bateyes in the first place, they are not entitled to shacks on their own, or to health or other services, unless they have a son old enough to cut cane, or provide sexual favours to the delegated authority (often Dominican-Haitians who have acquired a degree of seniority). Some women in the more established bateyes have never seen a doctor in their lives. It is claimed by MUDHA that women in the bateyes are particularly susceptible to high blood pressure, tuberculosis and gynaecological-related cancers. They are also susceptible to nervous disorders. One reason given for this is that the women and children who do not cut cane always remain in a very confined space, surrounded by the cane fields. There is no running water, no access to potable water and no place to put garbage.

Roughly five per cent of the cane cutters are women. They receive half of what men receive.

Residents of bateyes live in perpetual insecurity, not only because there are periodic deportations, but because of the nature of the deportations themselves. MUDHA claims that when these events take place, people are rounded up and taken in trucks to the border, but they are not handed over to the Haitian authorities. Rather, their heads are shaved, they are branded or tattooed on the head with an identifying mark, and told to run for their lives. According to MUDHA many Haitians have been killed trying to run back to Haiti.

Old Haitian workers who have lived many years in the bateyes are not deported. Rather, they are simply ignored. Younger workers, on the other hand, are not free to leave. MUDHA gave a specific example of one man who tried to leave and was chained up in plain sight for several days as an example to others. Whenever men try to organise for better conditions or salaries, they are subject to punishments, such as the demolition of their shacks. (see photo sent by MUDHA)

Haitians in the construction industry often receive only a living allowance while they are on the job, the balance to be paid when the work is completed. It is claimed, however, by MUDHA and other groups, that supervisors often pay off police to deport these workers before their work is completed. The daily newspaper El Siglo reported in May 1996 that Haitians working for the National Institute for Safe Drinking Water, in the Arenoso area in the northern part of the country, were regularly arrested and deported on pay days.21

Black Dominicans

There are no disaggregated statistics to help determine the real situation of black Dominicans in employment, housing, health, the prison system or any other sector.

According to research conducted by Identidad, black people appear in only about two per cent of school textbooks, and when they do appear, they are 'folklorised' in traditional costumes and in stereotyped roles as service workers. Likewise, blacks seldom appear in television commercials, and when they do, they appear as security guards, maids and shoecleaners. The main exception to the service worker stereotype is baseball players. Black Dominicans have managed to acquire a positive public image in sports, music and dance, but a wider range of jobs still tend to require "buena presencia," which, in addition to a clean and tidy appearance, means light-skinned, and for women, it also suggests that the job applicant be young and attractive.

The growth of the tourist industry has increased the visibility of black people. They find employment easily in tourist hotels and other jobs in the industry, because the tourists want the feeling of Afrocarribean culture on their vacations. The "Miss Tourism" pageant queen, for example, is usually black or very dark-skinned, while the queens of most other pageants are white.

Organisations like Identidad, MUDHA and others claim that the Government violates their cultural rights by allowing the police and local communities to suppress Afrocaribbean or African-identified activities such as religious rituals and festivals that feature African drums. They say that the police break up such activities, destroy the drums and disperse the participants. African-related religious rituals are condemned by the Church, and the police either actively suppress these activities, or they stand by and fail to take action when communities carry on the suppression themselves. Black Dominicans say that they routinely experience antagonism when they express themselves or self-consciously identify as black.

Discrimination in the legal process

Substitute prisoners

Members of the Coordinadora agreed that it is common practice for the police to arrest a wife or female relative of an accused and to hold her in prison to force an accused to turn himself in to the authorities. A well-known example was given of one eighty-five year old woman who was incarcerated in a prison, where conditions are infamous, and used as bait for the police to catch her son. This particular abuse is practised quite commonly in the bateyes, by imprisoning children in order to force their parents to come and claim them, so that the family can be deported. (see photo of child and mother who claimed her )

Economic discrimination in the prison system

According to CEDAIL, conditions in prisons are a clear consequence of economic discrimination. La Victoria, the main prison, was constructed for 4,000 inmates and holds about 11,000. The main reason for the overcrowding is that eighty per cent of these inmates have not been formally charged, many of them because they simply cannot afford it. Until they are charged, inmates are responsible for paying their own way. They pay for their bed, a decent cell, even a space that removes them from violent, diseased or unstable prisoners. To be charged, inmates need to be transported to the Palacio de Policia and to the courts, but police transport is insufficient, so inmates pay about 400 pesos (US$30) to be transported by taxi. Some trials -- only a wealthy inmate could afford this -- have required up to one hundred trips to court. The prison does not provide food on weekends, so inmates must buy food from vendors who come into the prison. This situation is harder for women, who often do not have anyone to bring them food, while many of the men have wives who do so. One reason sources give for the brutal conditions in prisons is that the military has assumed decision-making powers which rightfully belong to the civilian prison authorities.

Article 3

Equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights

In relation to Article 3 of the Covenant, the Government report states that

"...there are more women than men in the country. This variable is maintained in other respects, such as the professional sphere, where more women than men go on to higher studies. The percentage of women in businesses of all kinds has increased considerably owing to the high qualifications of women candidates for such jobs and for posts of responsibility in both the public and private sectors. In this connection, it should be pointed out that a large number of women hold Government posts as heads of ministries or as directors of important departments in the public administrations." (para 29)

These assertions are either misleading or insupportable, according to sources in the Dominican Republic. Women's groups agree that more women than men now graduate from professional and higher studies, but many of these women are working in jobs for which they are overqualified. Their superior education has not, for the most part, translated into increased economic or political power. Also, as some professions have become feminised, the salaries and status of its professionals has dropped. As to the Government's allegation that increasing numbers of women hold high-level positions in the public sector, women's groups contend that there are no women at the highest levels, and that the overwhelming majority are still at the lowest level.

These NGOs say that they have been unable to document basic economic and social conditions that they believe are discriminatory, because government statistics are rarely, if ever, disaggregated by sex. On what basis, they ask, does the Government report assert that the high qualifications of women candidates has led to a considerable increase in the percentages of women in businesses and in posts of responsibility in the private and public sectors?

There is currently only one woman in the Senate, and 17 in the Chamber of Deputies. While a number of women are appointed as governors, these are basically puppet positions, as they are appointed by the President from within his party and they function as the President's representatives.

The Coordinadora, which represents over forty NGOs, has been sufficiently concerned about the low numbers of women in decision-making positions that it has presented to Congress a reform of the Electoral Law. This reform would give women and minorities the benefit of a quota system which would apply not only to elective positions but to positions throughout the entire State apparatus, including the judiciary and the executive branch.

There is one government department established to promote equality between men and women in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, the Dirección General de Promoción de la Mujer (DGPM). According to informed sources, this government department is able to pay the salaries of its staff, but there is no budget to enact any of its ambitious plans. These sources also say that the staff members are political appointees who have no special training or previous experience working with women's issues. These particular informants would like to ask the Government delegation what specific training or experience is required for a woman to be appointed to a technical or high-level position in the DGPM?

Women and Agrarian Reform

The Law of Agrarian Reform was passed in 1962 and reformed in 1968 to declare that the land given out through the 1962 law would be considered "bien de familia," meaning for the good of the whole family and supposedly cannot be sold or mortgaged. In 1972 other reforms were made to complete what is today the Agrarian Code. In this Code women are not benefited directly with "parcelas," or pieces of land -- only as wives of parceleros, but not in their own right. The Coordinadora has proposed a reform of this law, so that women heads of household may be specifically entitled to receive parcelas. It is estimated that in 1991 female-headed households already accounted for more than twenty-three per cent of rural homes.22

Because the Code says "heads of household" without specifying sex, some say that women already have the right to benefit from the Agrarian Reform law. In practice, however, the Dominican Agrarian Institute does not give land to women heads of household. Women have no administrative mechanism that allows them to file a complaint against this practice.

Another problem is that upon the death of a parcelero the wife cannot inherit the parcela, although the children can. If there is no grown son, the family has to leave the parcela.. If the parcelero abandons his family, the Agrarian Institute can decide either to give the parcela to the wife or the oldest son, or it can decide that they are not fit to work the land and take it away from them, paying compensation for the work they have done, but not for the land itself. Also, since common law marriages are not recognised in the Dominican Republic, if the parcelero leaves, the common law wife and children must leave the parcela. A common law husband can sell or mortgage his parcela without the consent of the common law wife. (This also happens with respect to married couples, since most men carry cedulas that say they are single.)

The Agrarian Code in its current form makes it difficult for women to apply for agricultural credit, because they do not have collateral. Also, rural women often do not have a cedula, without which it is impossible to enter into a legal transaction.

Articles 6, 7 and 8

The right to work, to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work and the right to join trade unions

Free Trade Zones (FTZs)

Free Trade Zones have played a leading role in the creation of new jobs for women in the Dominican Republic. They have given thousands of women paid employment in a time of economic crisis, allowing them to feed their families and to take on an increasingly active role in household decision-making.23 Nevertheless, thirty years after the first industrial park was established, unacceptable working conditions and abuses continue.

It is important to bear in mind that the Dominican government plays an important management role, not merely a regulatory role, in the administration of the Free Trade Zones, particularly through the Corporation for Industrial Promotion (CFI). The State owns fourteen of the existing thirty-three FTZ industrial parks, while the private sector manages seventeen, and two are under mixed administration.24


In 1986, a Korean manager in one of the FTZ factories kicked a pregnant worker, Raphaella Rodriguez, causing her to miscarry, precipitating a nation-wide demonstration against conditions in the Free Zones. The armed forces were called in to protect Koreans as demonstrators began marching toward the Free Zones.25

The 1986-87 uprising, as it is referred to by FTZ activists, produced the first labour union in the zones. Although technically illegal, it was regarded as an important beginning, because it forced managers to negotiate with workers for the first time. However, the uprising also resulted in a public campaign by investors, who threatened to pull out of the Dominican Republic. The government responded by prohibiting all union organisers from entering the Free Zones. Workers, mainly women, responded in turn by conducting an international campaign to tell the world about conditions in the Free Zones, lobbying the US Department of Commerce, denouncing violations of ILO treaties and occupying churches and other public places inside the country, including the Ministry of Labour (which they claim to have done 200 times). Organisers were repeatedly jailed during this campaign, which resulted in some concessions regarding union activity and modifications to the Labour Code. However, the principle of "fuero syndicale," (the stipulation that workers cannot be fired while attempting to form a union for the first time), is neither observed by management nor enforced by the Ministry of Labour.

Among the 469 enterprises existing in December 1995, only 130 labour unions have been registered, less than ten of which are active. CIPAF/OXFAM notes that "in all the years that FTZs have existed in the country, only two labour unions have ever been able to sign collective bargaining agreements."26 Nonetheless, the Secretary General of the United Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers informed IWRAW that there have been undeniable improvements since the national demonstrations in 1986-87. Women are no longer locked into factories or forced to work overtime without pay. Unions can at least sit down and negotiate informally with employers.

Working conditions

Despite a slight decline, garment manufacturing accounts for sixty per cent of FTZ employment.27 In 1995 women accounted for almost sixty percent of the total FTZ labour force, although the percentage of males has increased rapidly in recent years as the unemployment situation in the country worsens. The overwhelming majority of women in the FTZs are assembly workers. Men are also assembly workers, but even at this level the work is gender-segregated. Men dominate the higher status technical and managerial positions.28

While conditions for assembly workers may have improved over time, they are still very bad. Workers are still restricted to a certain number of passes (two or three) per day to use the toilets. They are not allowed to leave work to see a doctor. FTZ companies employ their own doctors, although women claim that they provide little or no medical attention, and that their real function is to perform pregnancy tests and in some cases AIDS tests. A study of about 700 FTZ workers found that reproductive disorders are one to three times more common after a woman begins work in an FTZ factory.29 Pregnant women are routinely fired, and sexual harassment is still a common complaint. (Employers opposed the definition of harassment as a criminal offence throughout the negotiation process between government, workers and employers that preceded the enactment in 1992 of the new Labour Code of the Dominican Republic.)30

Workers are afraid to denounce these conditions, because so many others are waiting to step into their jobs. This adds to already elevated levels of stress. Assembly workers are subject to production quotas and must race against the clock in very hot and noisy environments. Thus, despite its youthful nature, the FTZ work force wears out fairly quickly. Young women, often from the rural areas, with no previous work experience, move from one short-term contract to another, acquiring few or no transferable skills and no social security benefits, until they become unfit for further work in the FTZs.

Characteristics of the FTZ labour force

The labour force in the FTZs constitutes, to a large extent, a self-contained reservoir of unskilled workers.31 Very little labour comes into the FTZs from the domestic manufacturing sector, despite its high rate of unemployment. The exception is the few skilled workers required in the FTZs, who are usually drawn from the outside. Likewise, it has been observed that mainly only skilled labour transfers back into the domestic economy.32

The garment industry in particular is isolated from the domestic economy and does not contribute to improving the human resource base of the country. FTZ firms claim that a substantial amount of training takes place. Labour activists, corroborated by a recent study by D.T. Mathews, contend that very little of this training contains any cognitive or theoretical component and that the bulk of it, particularly in the garment making operations, deals with work habits and related issues.33

The bulk of FTZ enterprises in the Dominican Republic are low-investment assembly operations that provide very few of the elements necessary to generate domestic-based, higher level production. Particularly in the garment sector, little more than routine assembly operations for mainly US multinationals takes place. Although the FTZs are one of the country's main sources of foreign exchange, they are a classic example of low value-added assembly production that is wholly dependent on externally based "mature" industries. Their only real competitive advantage is cheap labour.34 One plant manager in a garment conglomerate was quoted by OXFAM:

"Free Trade Zones emerged in a special situation, thanks to special legislation, special support, a favourable environment. Now things have changed, now we have globalization, conditions are not as favourable and thus we have to change. What makes me sad is that our advantage lies in the poverty of the Dominican people. When Dominican business representatives promote our country internationally, it's our low salaries they sell, that's the advantage they promote...We have to find other ways...."

Implementing the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the current economic environment

Informed Dominicans are aware that one of the critical economic challenges for the new government is to break out of its self-defeating dependence on cheap labour as a competitive advantage. Some economic analysts urge that dependence on the US market, and the constraints of its tariff agreements, do not necessarily condemn the Dominican economy to its current system of FTZs. Analysts are already observing the declining importance of cheap labour as the primary competitive advantage in certain industries. According to the former president of the Free Trade Zone Association of the Dominican Republic, Jose Ceron, more than 20,000 jobs have been lost in the Zones since 1995, in part due to the regional consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The competitive advantage of the Dominican Republic is beginning to erode.35 Experts say that it is critical for the Dominican Government to be proactive in facilitating a transition towards more sustainable models of economic development.36 Some refer to this as the necessity to turn the free trade zones into genuine "development zones."37

Until now, State policy has offered the greatest advantages to foreign-based industries and allowed domestic industry to wither. It is unclear whether or not the new President has the political leverage to initiate much needed reforms in such areas as customs procedures as well as procedures and laws governing the relationships between FTZs and domestic producers. Equally important, however, is the need for much greater State investment in education and training. Current State expenditure on education is less than half the average in Latin America. The public school system is badly managed, faculty is poorly paid and unmotivated.38 High dropout rates are getting even higher, because of the fundamental lack of faith in the educational system as a means of social and economic mobility. An economic development policy at least partly based on a competitive work force rather than a competitive wage scale is being urged by many as the best means to promote the rights and well being of workers, as set forth in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Article 10 Protection of the family

Economic conditions have led to dramatic cultural changes in the Dominican Republic, most notably in the structure of the family. Traditionally, manhood was inseparable from taking responsibility for one's children, even children born out of wedlock. As a well-respected Dominican journalist said: "the value of fatherhood is being lost, with nothing to replace it." This is reflected by a disturbing new pattern in migration. Dominican migration until the 1990s involved extended families, including sons as well as daughters, males in almost equal proportion to females. In the past few years, however, another wave of migration has been developing which involves predominately females emigrating to European cities. Although many go to be domestic servants, many also go to work as prostitutes.

A decade ago in the Dominican Republic it was considered shameful to be a prostitute. Now, among the poor, it is not unheard of for husbands to help their wives or other female members of the family to migrate for prostitution, leaving the children to be raised by grandparents. It is said that whole municipalities rely on financial support from women working in Europe, and campesinos in the most economically depressed areas increasingly shelter the hope that young female members of the family will save them by going to Spain and elsewhere in Europe to work. Perhaps most of these young women do not migrate with the intention of becoming prostitutes, but there are numerous reasons why many of them end up doing so. Some are tricked, others are influenced by the amount of money that can be made. Because of the financial support they provide their families, it becomes very difficult for these women to return home. (See pamphlet sent to the CESCR Committee) If a prostitute becomes the family's main provider, the young woman increases her status within the family. The social consequences for the family, however, can be extremely negative, particularly for males, who, if they can no longer be breadwinners for their families, have lost status and function. As men become less responsible parents, women enter the self-defeating cycle of bearing children for a succession of potential providers.

The government of the Dominican Republic has no policy or attitude about this socio-economic phenomenon, or about the exploitation of women migrants, because it has not yet acknowledged that these problems exist. One reason for this may be that the remittances of this new wave of migrants provide the government with an important additional source of foreign exchange.

Article 10 (2) Pregnancy and childbirth protection for working mothers

Article 232 of the Labour Code ostensibly prohibits an employer from firing a woman because of pregnancy, but it also says that if this happens, then the employer must pay the woman five months salary. This is obviously not a prohibition but a condition that the employer must fulfil if he wants to fire a woman because of pregnancy. Most employers can easily afford to pay the requisite compensation, and their willingness to do so prevents women from appealing to the law in the first place.

Common law marriage

One NGO wishes to bring to the attention of the CESCR Committee a potentially misleading comment in paragraph 82 of the Government report. The report states that men and women are "free to form a common law marriage," but it does not go on to clarify that such unions are not legally recognised.

It is estimated that sixty per cent of unions between men and women in the Dominican Republic do not involve legally recognised marriage. As to property acquired during an unrecognised union, in the majority of cases, due to culture and tradition, the property will be in the man's name even if the woman has worked or paid equally to acquire it. This means that if there is a separation or the man dies, the woman loses everything. It also means that the man can sell, mortgage or in any other way dispose of the property at his will.

Ironically, this is not so different from the situation of a legal wife. Even though the law says that there are two property regimes a couple can choose -- separate property and community of property -- most couples choose community of property. This should mean that the husband cannot dispose of the property without the wife's consent, and that in case of a divorce the wife and husband should share equally in the property. Although the law says that husbands and wives are equal before the law, the law also says that the man is the sole administrator of this common property, so that when a man decides he wants to divorce his wife he can begin to sell the common property, and by the time the divorce is final, there is practically no common property left. The law says that the wife has two years to challenge this state of affairs after the divorce, but a challenge to the sale of the common property is an expensive and complicated procedure. Also, in practice the husband usually registers the divorce and pays off the bailiff so that the wife does not find out about the divorce until it is too late for her to legally challenge the division of the common property. This is a common practice and there is no law to prevent it or to sanction the person who commits this form of fraud.

Article 11 - The right to adequate housing

The Ciudad Alternativa in the Dominican Republic working with the international Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) have submitted detailed information to the CESCR Committee concerning Dominican State housing policy and its consequences. IWRAW wishes only to add the expressed concern of the Coordinadora that women are not beneficiaries of the government housing programmes. However, they have been unable to document this because housing statistics are not disaggregated by sex. The Coordinadora would like the Committee to ask the Dominican Government delegation what percentage of women have been beneficiaries of government housing programmes, and how are they able to document this?

Article 12 - The right to health

As in many other countries around the world, the Coordinadora reports an increase in sexual and domestic violence in the Dominican Republic, as well as an increase in the number of registered complaints. The government, and society in general, still tends to either ignore the problem of sexual violence, or to recognise only the most aberrant cases, or cases in which habitual abuse finally erupts into extreme violence.

NGOs emphasise that the lack of gender-specific statistics is a serious constraint to practical research on gender violence, or for that matter on any issue important to the welfare of women.

Domestic violence as a public health issue

The legislature is currently reviewing the entire health sector and preparing provisions reforming the Health Code. A general reform was passed recently in the lower house of Congress that recognises domestic violence as a public health issue, but there is apparently not much support for this legislation in the Senate. Women's NGOs are currently campaigning to get the reform passed.

According to members of an international agency working in the Dominican Republic, government programmes funded by the International Development Bank and the World Health Organisation were set up to assist victims of domestic violence. However, these programmes were badly managed and the donors have since rescinded their support. Currently, all programmes related to domestic abuse and violence against women are supported by NGOs. The State rhetoric on the subject of gender-based violence is progressive, but so far there has been very little effective, practical action.

Maternal mortality

Despite the very high number of hospital births in the Dominican Republic -- ninety-three per cent institutional deliveries, one of the highest rates in Latin America -- maternal mortality remains very high. IWRAW sources believe that this statistical anomaly is the result of callous and neglectful medical care. Ninety-seven per cent of women receive at least minimal pre-natal care, and yet this has not affected the high rate of maternal mortality.

Thousands of doctors around the country went on strike in February 1996 and marched to the presidential palace demanding better wages and benefits,39 forcing President Balaguer to call in military doctors to take their place in operating rooms. The Government is well aware that the health services in general need reform, and until this takes place, the inferior treatment of women during pregnancy and childbirth will continue. However, even if administrative reforms take place and doctors receive adequate compensation for their work, UN experts interviewed by IWRAW believe that the country's unacceptably high level of maternal mortality is a reflection of the low priority accorded women's reproductive health and a clear example of state gender discrimination.

While abortion remains illegal, family planning services receive an inadequate proportion of government health spending. Women do not have adequate access to contraception. Birth control education is provided only by NGOs such as Profamilia. NGOs and popular organisations currently shoulder the main burden of women's health education. The government has created a Comité National de Mortalidad Materna, but it is not a priority office and has no budget to actualise any of the ambitious rhetoric of its recently published "Plan de Acción Nacional para la Reducción de la Mortalidad Materna," a national plan for the reduction of maternal mortality.40


1 En El Paraiso/In Paradise, (CIPAF/OXFAM, Dominican Republic, 1996). back

2 Grasmuck, Sherri and Pessar, Patricia R., Between Two Islands: Dominican International Migration, (University of California Press, 1991) 39. back

3 Grasmuck and Pessar 39. back

4 Grasmuck and Pessar 90. back

5 Grasmuck and Pessar 95. back

6 Grasmuck and Pessar 93. back

7 Grasmuck and Pessar 93. back

8 "WTO Praises Dominican Republic," Lloyd's List International, 17 February, 1996. back

9 Grasmuck and Pessar 48. back

10 En El Paraiso/In Paradise. back

11 The Coordinadora includes organisations that are not exclusively women's organisations but which contain sectors or departments that focus on women's issues. It is the Coordinadora which produced the Dominican Republic's non-governmental report to the Beijing World Women's Conference. back

12 "Controversy Over Deportation," Inter Press Service, Global Information Network, 7 May 1996. back

13 "Controversy Over Deportation" back

14 "Controversy Over Deportation" back

15 "Controversy Over Deportation" back

16 Alphonse, Henri, "Deportations of Haitians Denounced," Inter Service Press, Global Information Network, 2 May 1996. back

17 "Jose Francisco Pena Gomez Will Face Leonel Fernandez In Presidential Runoff June 30," NotiSur-Latin American Political Affairs, Latin American Database/Latin American Institute, 24 May 1996. back

18 Darling, Juanita, "President of Dominican Republic Takes Office With Eye to the Future Caribbean,", Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Company, 17 August 1996. back

19 E/1990/6/Add. 7, 15 March, 1995, hereafter referred to as the second Government report. back

20 Some Black Dominicans have fought and managed to have the word "negro/a" inscribed in their identity cards. back

21 "Controversy Over Deportation" back

22 En El Paraiso/In Paradise back

23 En El Paraiso/In Paradise back

24 En El Paraiso/In Paradise back

25 IWRAW's background information about the beginning of the labour movement in the FTZs comes from Mayra Jiménez, Secretary General of the United Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers, an affiliate of the United Confederation of Workers. She joined the first demonstrations in 1986 in the Free Zones as a fourteen year old worker. back

26 En El Paraiso/In Paradise back

27 En El Paraiso/In Paradise back

28 Mathews, Dale T., "Export Processing Zones in the Dominican Republic: Their Nature and Trajectory," diss. University of Sussex, 1995. back

29 Reigo, A. del; Martínez, M. y Orestes, A., "Daños reproductivos en trabajadoras de Zona Franca: el Caso de la República Dominicana,"1994, referred to in En El Paraiso/In Paradise. back

30 ibid. back

31 Mathews, Dale T. back

32 Mathews, Dale T. 211. back

33 Mathews, Dale T. 323. back

34 Mathews, Dale T. 323. back

35 "Free Trade Zone Job Slump," Caribbean Update, 1 August 1996. back

36 Mathews, Dale T. 225. back

37 Mathews, Dale T. 225. back

38 Grupo de Acion por la Democracia, Agenda Nacional del Desarrollo, Vol. I, (Pontifica Universidad Catolica, Madre Maestra, June 1996). back

39 "Dominican Republic: Health Services and Financing," Caribbean Update, Vol. 12 No. 4, 1 May 1966. back

40 published by the Secretaria De Estado De Salud Publica Y Asistencia Social, Santo Domingo, 1995. back




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