Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1987

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. The military is fully responsive to
civilian authority and committed to the constitutional order.
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 Ricardo, was inaugurated
in August 1986; elections are next scheduled for May 1990.
The Dominican Republic has a mixed economy based primarily on
agriculture and services. The Government accounts for 20 to
25 percent of the gross domestic product and controls several
major industries. Historically, sugar has been the principal
export, although both tourism and remittances from Dominicans
abroad now generate more foreign exchange. The country
continues to face the burdens of a weighty external debt,
rapidly-growing population, and concommitant high levels of
unemployment, underemployment, and surging inflation.
During 1987 Dominicans continued to exercise and enjoy the
broad range of human rights provided by the 1966 Constitution.
The political environment remained unrestricted, and
individuals and political groups freely debated and criticized
the Government's policies and programs. Discontent over
increasing prices, wage levels, and deteriorating basic public
services generated a series of popular protests and local
strikes which culminated in a 24-hour general strike on July
28. The conviction of some officials of the previous
administration for corruption generated charges of political
persecution and executive interference with the judiciary.
The Government denied the charges.
A second human rights issue which generated criticism and
allegations of abuse within the Dominican Republic was the
government operation which picked up illegal Haitian residents
and offered them a choice between a contract to cut sugarcane
or face deportation to Haiti.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
     a. Political Killing
There were no known cases of government-instigated political
killings in 1987. The January 1985 murder case of foreign
exchange trader Hector Mendez and his chauffeur, in which
there were allegations of government and police involvement,
remained before the courts.
     b. Disappearanceppearance
There were no credible reports of politically motivated
disappearances in 1987.
     c. Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishmenture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture, and it is not practiced.
Excesses on the part of law enforcement officials have
occurred, and the press routinely reports cases of alleged
police abuse. Access to the press by prisoners and their
families encourages the Government to take corrective action.
Government and police officials have indicated a concern to
redress improper behavior by police but have not always
effected the needed changes. As in previous years, there were
several cases in 1987 in which individual members of the
police were accused of beating suspects. In July three police
officers were arrested for the shooting death of a student
during a demonstration in the provincial capital of San
Francisco de Macoris.
The inadequately financed prison system suffers from
unsanitary conditions. Many prisoners remain in prison for
lengthy periods while awaiting trial because of the slowness
of the judicial process.
     d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile or Forced Laborrary Arrest, Detention, Exile, or Forced Labor
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.
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law.
     e. Denial of Fair Public Trial 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
where 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, ending
when the newly elected Senate designates their replacements
(or reconfirms 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 at the lower court level accept bribes.
The slowness of the judicial system, a problem for many years,
has come under criticism from several sectors. Although the
right to judicial determination of the legality of detention
exists, preventive detention of those awaiting trial is legal
and commonly employed. A recent study indicated that over 85
percent of those incarcerated in the country's prisons are
still awaiting trial, including many who have spent years in
The prosecution and imprisonment of several members of the
previous administration on a variety of corruption charges was
accompanied by charges of executive influence over the
judiciary to discredit and politically undermine the
opposition. In addition to charges of political persecution,
there have been criticisms about delays, inflexibility, and
harshness in the judicial proceedings of those accused in
corruption cases, some of whom have been held for 10 months
without bail and without the commencement of their trials. In
December, however, the majority of those former officials
charged in various corruption cases were released on bail.
     f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home or Correspondencerary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
There were no reports of arbitrary governmental interference
in the private lives of individuals 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 in instances where there
is probable cause to believe that a crime is actually in
process in the residence. There were allegations that some of
the illegal Haitians rounded up by the military in November
and December were removed from their homes and forcibly
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
     a. Freedom of Speech and Pressof Speech and Press
These liberties are provided for by law and are respected in
practice. Dominican newspapers are privately owned and freely
reflect opposition points of view and 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 frequently exchange views.
There is no government censorship on political grounds. In
March marshals and police, misinterpreting a court order,
occupied the premises of a television station, owned by a
close collaborator of the previous Government, and began to
seize equipment. The operation was halted by the District
Attorney shortly after it began, but the station's equipment
suffered significant damage. The District Attorney explained
that the marshals misunderstood a court order to freeze the
assets of another company located at the same address and
owned by the same man. Subsequently the President, denying
the Government had prior knowledge of the seizure, ordered an
investigation and reiterated the Government's commitment to
basic civil and political freedoms and human rights.
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 Associationof 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.
Labor unions historically have not played a central role in
the Dominican Republic; less than 15 percent of the labor
force is organized. The trade union movement is fragmented
into numerous national labor confederations, most of which are
highly politicized. Moreover, the confederations exercise
only a limited degree of control over their affiliates.
Several of the confederations are affiliated with regional and
international labor organizations. A significant portion of
organized labor is Communist controlled or influenced. The
politically affiliated organizations frequently pursue
partisan political objectives as much as workers' economic
demands. Rising unemployment (nearly 30 percent) and the
nation's weak economy have hampered the growth of organized
Unions have the right to bargain collectively and to strike
but operate under the handicap of a dated labor code, written
during the Trujillo dictatorship (1930-61). For example,
unions have few rights vis-a-vis management, and there is no
effective protection for organizers or union officials. Labor
leaders and others were freely permitted to organize and
conduct a nationwide general strike on July 28, as well as
other protests. The July 28 strike was essentially peaceful;
however, violence did erupt in several places. One man was
killed in a clash between police and protestors in Santo
Domingo. Protestors blocked some streets with garbage and
burning tires.
Prior to the July 28 strike, summer protests over poor social
conditions and demands for improved public services also
degenerated into violence in some instances. Police and
security forces reacted in a measured fashion in the majority
of such incidents.
Professional organizations of lawyers, doctors, journalists,
and others function freely. Like the unions, these
organizations are free to maintain relations with counterpart
international bodies of diverse political philosophies.
     c. Freedom of Religionof 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.
However, approximately 95 percent of the population is Roman
Catholic, and the Church's preeminent position, accepted by
the populace at large, is recognized in the Concordat between
the Dominican Republic and the Holy See.
On April 28 and 29, Mormon properties in Santo Domingo and
five other provincial capitals were attacked with homemade
bombs. Church sources reported that there were no injuries
and that damage to the various facilities was not extensive.
The media speculated that these attacks were related to the
22nd anniversary of the U.S. military intervention in the
Dominican Republic.
     d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreignof 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. Over the years, many have come on labor
contracts to cut sugarcane. Among Haitians in the Dominican
Republic were 800 persons, mostly opponents of former Haitian
President Duvalier, who had received political refugee status
from the Dominican Government. In addition, there were
another 1,000 de facto (but not officially recognized)
political refugees. After the fall of the Duvalier regime in
February 1986, the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) , in cooperation with the Dominican and
Haitian Governments, arranged to assist refugees, both
registered and unregistered, requesting voluntary repatriation
back to Haiti. In all, since 1986 some 3,000 persons have
been repatriated to Haiti with UNHCR assistance; many more
have returned unassisted. Less than 250 officially recognized
political refugees remain in the Dominican Republic, although
UNHRC officials believe many more might be eligible for
refugee status.
Illegal immigrants are routinely 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. In November and December, the
military engaged in roundups of Haitians allegedly residing
illegally in the Dominican Republic. Several hundred Haitians
were detained and relocated to state-owned sugar mills where
they were allegedly registered and offered a choice between a
contract to cut sugarcane or face deportation to Haiti. It is
not known how many were actually repatriated. A few 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 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 Gonvernment
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. The large
voter turnout and active participation of the three principal
parties (the ruling Social Christian Reformist Party, the
Dominican Revolutionary Party, and the Dominican Liberation
Party), in the Dominican Congress underline the favorable
climate for political pluralism.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The access of international human rights organizations is
unrestricted. Responding to criticism that the Government is
using the courts to persecute members of the previous
administration, the Legal Advisor to the President asserted in
September that international human rights organizations could
visit the country to assure legal due process is respected.
Private organizations which freely report and comment 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 canecutters (both residents and migrant workers) in
the sugarcane fields.
The Dominican Republic participates actively in international
and regional human rights bodies and supports efforts to
promote human rights in international forums.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Sexual and racial discrimination are prohibited by law, and
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. 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. 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
The Dominican labor code prohibits employment of youths under
14 years of age and restricts the nighttime employment of
youths aged 14-18. 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, and young people,
including minors less than 14 years old, engage in a wide
variety of work which violates labor regulations.
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 acceptable standards. The Government's
ability to enforce all aspects of its labor legislation is
limited by manpower and resource constraints. The existing
social security system is inadequate. In 1987 the Government,
responding to workers' demands, took steps to raise the basic
minimum monthly salary from 250 to 350 pesos (about $62 to
$88) for private sector employees. Some smaller businesses
and agricultural workers are exempt from the new pay scale.
The minimum wage of public sector employees was increased from
250 to 275 pesos (about $62 to $69) with an additional
increase to 300 pesos (about $75) scheduled for January 1988.
There was no contract between the Governments of Haiti and the
Dominican Republic to bring in Haitian canecutters for the
1987 harvest. As in the past, however, human rights groups
and other organizations charged that Haitian laborers in the
sugarcane fields were subject to substandard living and
working conditions