Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

The Dominican Republic is a constitutional democracy with a
popularly elected president and a bicameral congress. The
Supreme Court heads an independent judiciary whose members are
appointed by the Senate. Political parties representing the
ideological spectrum from left to right freely and actively
participated in the May 1986 national elections, the sixth
consecutive elections since 1966. The current President,
Joaquin Balaguer, was inaugurated in August 1986; elections
are next scheduled for May 1990.
The National Police (PN), the National Investigative Board
(DNI), and the military serve as the security services. The
PN has principal general arrest authority, with the military
assuming arrest authority for armed forces personnel or
suspects apprehended by military patrols. The DNI is the
principal national investigative body and generally does not
have arrest authority. In May the Government created the
National Executive Council for the Control of Drugs to
coordinate domestic and international narcotics programs,
bringing under a single authority elements of the National
Police, military, and DNI. All branches of the security
services are responsive to civilian authority and committed to
the constitutional order.
The Dominican Republic has a mixed economy based primarily on
agriculture (approximately 20 percent of the gross domestic
product) and services. The Government accounts for nearly 25
percent of the gross domestic product and controls several
major industries (sugar, national airline, electricity, etc.).
Historically, sugar has been the principal export, although
tourism, free trade zones, and remittances from Dominicans
living abroad now generate more foreign exchange. The country
continues to face the burdens of a $3.5-billion external debt,
a 35-percent inflation rate, a rapidly growing population, and
concomitant high levels of unemployment and underemployment.
During 1988 discontent over the continued deterioration of
basic public services, substantial increases in prices, and
relatively low wage levels generated a series of
demonstrations--some of which became violent.
Dominicans continued to exercise and enjoy the broad range of
human rights provided by the Constitution. The political
environment remained unrestricted, and individuals and
political groups freely debated and criticized the Government's
policies and programs. One issue raised by human rights
groups, which has continued to generate criticism and
allegations of abuse within the Dominican Republic, was the
Government program of rounding up illegal Haitian residents
and requiring them to choose between a contract to cut sugar
cane or deportation.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
There were no known cases of political killings in 1988.
      b. Disappearance
There were no credible reports of politically motivated
disappearances in 1988.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture. Although not widely
practiced, excesses on the part of law enforcement officials
have occurred, and the press occasionally reports cases of
alleged police abuse. Access to the press and political
parties by prisoners and their families encourages the
Government to take corrective action. Government and police
officials have stated their intent to monitor police activities
and redress improper behavior, but have not always acted
effectively. As in previous years, there were several cases
in 1988 in which individual members of the police were accused
of beating suspects.
The inadequately financed prison system suffers from unsanitary
conditions and overcrowding. The Government publicly
acknowledged this problem in 1988, and the Attorney General's
office initiated a study to develop a solution. As an initial
step, in July the Director General of Prisons began much needed
repairs on La Victoria National Prison.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
There are no known instances of arbitrary arrest, illegal
detention, or exile of persons for expressing views contrary
to or critical of the Government. The Constitution stipulates
that suspects may be detained for a maximum of 48 hours for
investigation before arraignment, after which they must be
charged or released. This requirement is generally observed.
In July the Government initiated a campaign targeting juvenile
delinquents for pickup in neighborhoods plagued by high crime
and street gangs. In August it began sweeps of specifically
targeted establishments (such as night clubs and discotheques)
suspected of being used regularly by drug traffickers.
Although legal under Dominican law, these operations were
strongly criticized as being indiscriminate. In September the
police announced a more selective policy in detaining suspects.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
There are no known political prisoners. The Constitution
provides for a public trial. No special court for political
or national security cases exists, and civilians may not be
tried by a military court. Members of the armed forces are
tried by military courts, except under specified circumstances
and only after review by a military board. The appeals
procedure, which includes appellate courts and the Supreme
Court, is widely utilized. Court-appointed lawyers normally
are provided at public expense to indigents only in criminal
cases; they are seldom provided in criminal misdemeanor cases
in which their provision is at the court's discretion.
Prosecuting attorneys are appointed by the executive branch.
Judges at all levels are appointed and approved by the Senate.
They are nominally independent of the executive branch and are
subject to removal or transfer by a majority vote in the
Senate. Their terms of office correspond roughly to that of
the President and other elected officials. The newly elected
Senate can either designate their replacements or reconfirm
them. Judges earn a relatively low salary, and the fairness
and timeliness of some trials have been subject to allegations
of influence and manipulation. There is a widespread public
belief that a number of judges and prosecutors accept bribes.
The slowness of the judicial system, a problem for many years,
continues to come under criticism. Although the right to
judicial determination of the legality of detention exists,
preventive detention of those awaiting trial is legal and
commonly employed, and many of those accused remain in prison
for lengthy periods. A 1987 study indicated that over 85
percent of those incarcerated in the country's prisons were
still awaiting trial, including many who have spent years in
There have been accusations that political factors are behind
the prosecution of members of the previous administration on a
variety of corruption charges. In response to his 1987
indictment, ex-President Salvador Jorge Blanco announced in
July 1988 that he would present charges before the Inter-
American Commission on Human Rights (lACHR) that the Government
of President Balaguer had violated his human rights through
political persecution. Stating that the Government had not
intervened in the criminal proceedings. President Balaguer
also reguested the lACHR to investigate Jorge's allegations.
Jorge presented his charges to the lACHR in August. The
Commission is still considering the matter. Jorge, who had
been in the United States undergoing medical treatment since
mid-1987, did not return to the Dominican Republic to appear
at his criminal trial which began in Santo Domingo in
September. He was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison
and fined several million dollars. Jorge returned to the
Dominican Republic in November to appeal his conviction.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
There were no reports of arbitrary governmental interference
with the private lives of persons or families. Constitutional
safeguards against invasion of the home normally are observed.
A residence may not be searched except in the presence of a
prosecutor or an assistant prosecutor, excluding cases of "hot
pursuit" or instances where there is probable cause to believe
that a crime is actually being committed.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
These liberties are provided for by law and are respected in
practice. Dominican newspapers are privately owned and freely
reflect independent and opposition points of view as well as
criticism of the current Government. The numerous privately
owned radio and television stations air all political points
of view. Moreover, government officials and the media
freguently exchange views. There is no government censorship
on political grounds. The Government in 1987 announced an
investigation into the erroneous seizure of equipment from a
local television station. There were no public reports on
this incident in 1988, and both the Government and the station
have dropped the matter.
While customs authorities from time to time confiscate
Communist literature at ports of entry, books of all political
persuasions are readily available for public sale. University
autonomy and academic freedom are respected by the Government.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
These freedoms are provided for by the Constitution and are
respected in practice. Outdoor public marches and meetings
require government permits, which are routinely granted.
Indoor gatherings of political parties, labor unions, and
other associations are unrestricted.
Professional organizations of lawyers, doctors, journalists,
and others function freely and can maintain relations with
counterpart international bodies of diverse political
phi losophies
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Discrimination on religious grounds is prohibited by the
Constitution. There are no religious requirements to hold
public office, no restrictions on the practice of religious
faiths, and no social discrimination based on religion.
Approximately 95 percent of the population is Roman Catholic,
and the Church's preeminent position is accepted by the
populace at large and is recognized in the Concordat between
the Dominican Republic and the Holy See.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no unusual restrictions on travel within or outside
the country. Many political exiles returned after a 1978
amnesty, but a specific legal ban on the return of certain
members of the family of Rafael Trujillo, a former dictator,
still exists.
The status and treatment of Haitians living in the Dominican
Republic have been criticized by the press and private groups,
both in the Dominican Republic and abroad. The Haitian
community of approximately 500,000 is composed mainly of
illegal immigrants seeking improved economic conditions. Over
the years, many have come on labor contracts to cut sugar cane.
Illegal immigrants routinely are deported under Dominican
immigration law, while those seeking political refuge are not
repatriated if the Government determines that they have a
legitimate fear of persecution. Haitian President Manigat fled
to the Dominican Republic when he was overthrown by General
Henri Namphy in June, as did Namphy when he was deposed in
The Constitution requires that all foreigners abstain from
political activities in the Dominican Republic.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Dominican Republic is a functioning multiparty democracy
in which governments are freely elected by the citizenry.
Opposition groups of the left, right, and center operate
openly and participated in the 1986 elections in which nearly
three-quarters of the registered electorate voted, selecting
national, provincial, and municipal office holders.
Women's political rights have been recognized in legislation
since 1941. Forty-seven percent of registered voters are
women, and women hold both elective and appointed offices in
the Government. President Balaguer designated women governors
for 8 of the country's 29 provinces.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The access of international human rights organizations is
unrestricted. The Legal Advisor to the President asserted in
1987 that international human rights organizations could visit
the country to assure that legal due process is respected.
Private organizations which freely report and comn\ent on human
rights include the Dominican Human Rights Committee, the
Dominican Union for the Defense of Human Rights, and the
National Committee of Human and Labor Rights. These
organizations, as in the past, have criticized the treatment
of Haitian cane cutters (both residents and migrant workers)
in the sugar cane fields.
The Dominican Republic participates actively in international
and regional human rights bodies and supports efforts to
promote human rights in international forums. In July
President Balaguer offered full cooperation to the
Organization of American States in response to charges before
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the
Government of the Dominican Republic was politically
persecuting ex-President Jorge Blanco.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Sexual and racial discrimination are prohibited by law.
Divorce is easily obtainable by either spouse, and women can
hold property in their own names apart from their husbands.
Nonetheless, women traditionally have not shared equal social
and economic status or opportunity with men, and average wages
for men remain significantly higher than those paid to women.
There is subtle social discrimination against darker-skinned
Dominicans, although this has not prevented their success in a
variety of fields, including elected political office.
Dominicans, for historical reasons and because of sharp
cultural differences, generally are prejudiced against
Haitians. This prejudice carries over to a minority of
Dominicans in the population who are of Haitian descent.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides for the freedom to organize labor
unions, and also the rights to strike and to lockout in private
industry. However, unions operate under the handicap of a
dated labor code (1951) that gives unions few rights vis-a-vis
management and gives no effective protection for organizers or
union officials. The labor code specifies in detail the steps
required to constitute a legal union, federation, or
confederation, and labor has objected that the Government can
use the failure to comply with every detail to withhold
official recognition. The code defines the right to strike
but also denies the right to strike to workers in public
services and prohibits general strikes. Although the code
denies strike privileges to public service workers, these
unions have not been deterred from strikes--including work
stoppages in 1988 by doctors, nurses, teachers, agronomists,
and sanitation employees. The International Labor
Organization's (ILO) independent Committee of Experts in 1988
noted several deficiencies in the Dominican labor code,
including the prohibition of sympathy strikes and political
Organized labor in the Dominican Republic represents about 15
percent of the work force and is divided among eight competing
and highly politicized confederations. The confederations
exercise only a limited degree of control over their
affiliates. Unions represent the entire political/ideological
spectrum, and several are associated with regional and
international labor organizations. The American Institute for
Free Labor Development (AIFLD) estimated that, based on the
membership of Dominican organized labor, 32 percent were
affliliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade
Unions (ICFTU), 16 percent with the World Confederation of
Labor (WCL) , and 25 percent with the Communist dominated World
Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) . An additional 22 percent
are affiliated with the Communist regional trade union
organization (CPUSTAL) . The politically affiliated
organizations freguently pursue partisan political objectives
as much as workers* economic interests, but are independent of
government control. The ailing economy and high unemployment
and underemployment have hampered the growth of organized
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The labor code clearly stipulates that workers cannot be
dismissed because of their trade union membership or
activities. Still, there are complaints that these protections
are ignored and that labor leaders are being discriminated
against. Criticism is often directed at article 69 of the code
which essentially permits an employer to dismiss a worker
without cause.
Although the labor movement is growing and collective
bargaining is increasing, both are greatly limited by the
competition and fragmentation of labor and labor's scarce
financial and manpower resources in hard economic times. One
of the fastest growing economic sectors is the industrial free
trade zones which began in the late 1960 's and now employ over
80,000, representing the third largest source of employment
after the Government and the sugar industry. The free trade
zone labor force, over 70 percent female, is generally
nonunionized. However, in the second half of 1988, labor
representatives charged that workers identified in applications
for union recognition were dismissed from free trade zone
companies shortly after the presentation of documents to the
Secretary of Labor.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law. There was no
contract between the Governments of Haiti and the Dominican
Republic to bring in Haitian cane cutters for the 1988 harvest.
As in the past, however, human rights groups and other
organizations charged that Haitian laborers in the sugar cane
fields, especially those in the country illegally, were
subject to abusive living and working conditions and in some
cases were forced to work against their will. The allegations
against the Government--which controls a major part of the
sugar industry through a parastatal corporation—were that
Haitians were rounded up by government forces and required to
choose between deportation or signing a sugar cane cutter
contract. Some domestic human rights groups expressed concern
that such actions may have impinged on the legal and human
rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent as well as Haitians
residing legally in the Dominican Republic. The issue has been
under review for a number of years by ILO supervisory bodies,
which continue to express their concern.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Dominican labor code prohibits employment of youths under
14 years of age, and restricts the nighttime employment of
youths aged 14 to 18. The labor code also provides that
employees under 18 work no more than 8 hours a day, and
specifies that those 18 years and younger may not be employed
in dangerous or unhealthy jobs. In practice, many of the
restrictions in the labor code are ignored. Young people,
including minors less than 14 years of age, engage in a wide
variety of work which technically violates the labor
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The labor code establishes that all workers are entitled to 24
hours of rest after 6 days of work; in practice, a typical
workweek is Monday through Friday plus half a day on Saturday.
Safety and health conditions at the workplace do not always
meet legal standards. The existing social security system does
not apply to all workers and is underfunded, with the result
that benefits are low, payments often delayed, and the medical
care that is provided is limited and available only in the
major cities.
In 1988 the Government, in response to terms worked out in
church sponsored talks among the government, labor, and
business sectors aimed at maintaining real wages in the face
of high inflation, raised the basic minimum monthly salary from
$55 to $80. Some smaller businesses and agricultural workers
were exempt from the new pay scale, and in some instances local
levels of government were not required to pay the mandatory
minimum wages to their own public employees