The right to personal liberty is a basic freedom recognized by international organizations like the United Nations and Organization of American States (OAS) and guaranteed by the constitutions of the world’s leading democracies.
The OAS’ Principles of Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas clearly states, “The law shall ensure that personal liberty is the general rule in judicial and administrative procedures, and that preventive deprivation of liberty is applied as an exception, in accordance with international human rights instruments.”
In the Dominican Republic, preventive detention has clearly become the rule, not the exception. Over 70 percent of the prison population is held on a preventive basis. Yesterday, Listin Diario reported that of the 25,641 inmates in the Dominican prison, 10,654 are serving sentences, while 14,807 are in pretrial detention, as “a measure of coercion.” The levels of preventive detention are causing concern “among lawyers and university professors, who ask judges and prosecutors to stop making excessive and abusive use of pretrial detention.”
Milton Ray Guevara, President of the Constitutional Court, is among those criticizing the excessive use of preventive detention in the criminal justice system. Yesterday, the head of the country’s highest court stated, “preventive detention in the Dominican Republic was a true problem” and solutions “must be found to overcome these difficulties.” Ray Geuvara’s comments echo the concerns of Luis Henry Molina, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice; Pablo Ulloa, the Executive Vice president of the Institutionality and Justice Foundation; Jorge Subero Isa the former president of the Supreme Court of Justice; as well as elected officials Ramón Alfonso Genao, Aníbal Díaz, Sandro Sánchez, Amado Díaz and Dionicio Restituyo, the latter of whom is president of the Human Rights Commission of the Lower House.
According to Public Prosecutors Berenice, Camacho, There’s Nothing to See Here
While respected voices of the judiciary and constitutional courts identify the humanitarian crisis facing the Dominican Republic, prosecutors continue to minimize and downplay the scale of the problem.
Earlier this week, Wilson Camacho, the Deputy Public Prosecutor in Pepca (Prosecutor’s Office Against Administrative Corruption) mocked those imprisoned and their families in a series of posts on X downplaying the crisis. Yesterday, Yeni Berenice, a fellow Pepca prosecutor, also took to social media to minimize the severity of the DR’s preventive detention crisis.
In her profile on X, Berenice describes herself as an admirer of Nelson Mandela. She would do well for the Dominican Republic to remember Mandela’s famous adage: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”
The Dominican government Claims the Rate of Preventive Detention is Worse in the United States
The Dominican government knows it has a real problem that has been exposed after U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul sent a letter to the State Department raising concerns with the amount of Americans held in the DR’s jails.
While the Pepca prosecutors minimized the severity of the crisis, the Roberto Hernández Basilio, Director General Directorate of Penitentiary and Correctional Services (DGSPC), attempted to get ahead of the State Department’s response to McCaul by releasing his bureau’s statistics. During his PR campaign, Hernández Basilio stated “the Dominican Republic with a less unfavorable preventive detention rate than that of the United States itself.”
This would be a laughable claim if thousands of people weren’t currently suffering in Mr. Hernández Basilio’s jails without due process. Preventive detention is used in the Dominican Republic as a coercive measure against the accused, where thousands are held for months or years without ever knowing the charges against them. Making spurious comparisons cannot change the facts about the humanitarian crisis under Mr. Hernández Basilio’s administration.