Last weekend, the Dominican Republic celebrated Judiciary Day, where the press lauded the judiciary’s commitment to human dignity and modernization. Yet amidst these celebrations, Judge of the Fifth Court of Instruction Rosalmy Guerrero admitted “there is an excess of preventive detention and that is part of the awareness that the Judiciary must have.”
This acknowledgement of the human rights crisis of preventive detention undoubtedly adds pressure on prosecutors Yeni Berenice Reynoso and Wilson Camacho. The duo has so far ignored the growing condemnation of preventive detention by hiding behind millions in funding from USAID for supposedly committing “to democratic reforms.”
Their claims are at odds with reality. Voices across the judicial and legal spectrum in the Dominican Republic are clamoring for reform, citing the denial of due process stemming from excessive use of preventive detention.
The president of the Equity and Social Justice Foundation (FEJUS) Fidel Lorenzo Meran, numerous jurists and university professors, and top officials at the Institutional and Justice Foundation (FINJUS), all raised serious concerns about these violations of due process. A recent FINJUS assessment declared that “only cases that involve greater severity and complexity should be judicially prosecuted with this measure.” Nevertheless, Reynoso and Camacho take this to mean any case they come into contact with.
And Supreme Court of Justice president Luis Henry Molina decried the ongoing use of preventative detention noting, “the object should not be to impose coercive measures, but rather to serve justice, promptly”.
The Dominican legal aid agency National Office of Public Defense (ONDP) detailed the preventive detention crisis in their April 2023 report, which found that 70% of all detainees in Dominican prisons are held on a preventive basis, matching what the OAS found in its extensive 1999 condemnation of the Dominican criminal justice system.
Concern from U.S. Congress, Biden Administration Yet to Comment
The crisis has gone on for 25 years, but has finally caught the attention of members of Congress and the State Department. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman (HFAC) Michael McCaul published a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressing concern over the number of American nationals arbitrarily held under preventive detention orders in the DR, along with questions around how USAID funding supports these preventive detention programs. Describing it as “an endemic issue clearly impacting Dominicans, and very likely, Americans as well,” McCaul asked Blinken “to take immediate action and thoroughly investigate these cases,” to no response.
Representative Troy Nehls (R-TX) has furthered these questions, asking the Department of Justice whether taxpayer funded programs are supporting the DR’s excessive use of preventive detention orders against American nationals. Again, no comment from the Biden Administration.
McCaul and Nehls’ concerns match the State Department’s findings from its 2022 Human Rights Report on the Dominican Republic, putting a spotlight on this dire situation. Yet despite this attention on a desperate human rights situation, the Biden administration remains silent.
Yeni Berenice Reynoso and Wilson Camacho’s Support of “Dominican Style” Justice
This past fall, international condemnation of preventive detention in the DR at the hands of Reynoso and Camacho came to a head when the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) found the Public Ministry’s behavior violated numerous articles of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convenet on Civil and Human Rights. The WGAD’s report also highlighted Reynoso directly as being the “protagonist” of a “public discredit campaign” that “systematically interrupted” the right to a defense.
Yet, Camacho denied the claims of the Working Group, claiming preventive detention measures are a “result of a series of judicial processes” and “therefore legal.” Reynoso was even more combative, co-signing a politically charged press release that attacked the legitimacy of the UN Working Group and dismissing any claims of human rights violations in the specific case as “blackmail.”
Camacho’s feigned outrage at the United Nations did not stop him from traveling to Atlanta last month for the U.N. Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), where he bragged about “Dominican style” justice. In a speech to the conference attendees, Camacho stated, “With pride, we invite you to look towards a country that, in addition to being valued for its beaches, merengue or bachata” is also known for its “strategic model of persecution.” Denying basic due process rights is certainly “Dominican style” justice.
Interesting that Berenice and Camacho accuse the UN of blackmailing the DR, and then praise the UNCAC. Is it because they’re using UNCAC as a tool to achieve information and data against PEPCAs targets?
Time for Accountability
One must question who in the administration is ignoring all these public alarm bells. With the mounting calls for accountability and Dominican prosecutors openly flaunting their violations of basic due process, the question is how many more human rights violations until the Biden administration stands up for rule of law in the Dominican Republic?