U.S. Special Presidential Advisor for the Americas Christopher J. Dodd traveled to the Dominican Republic from March 7 through 9 in a visit that “underscores” the U.S. commitment to “defend democratic governance and the rule of law”, according to the State Department.

Special Advisor Dodd attended on the sidelines of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Annual Meetings in Punta Cana, but he arrived as the Dominican Republic is facing rising international pressure to confront the worsening human rights abuses in its justice system.

On February 28, Dominican civil society organizations confronted the Dominican government before the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) over “constant human rights violations” throughout the justice system, such as “corruption, torture, overcrowding, preventive measures turned into anticipated sentences” and a prison system that is “a cemetery for the living”.

At the same time, a Dominican judge denounced a campaign of intimidation and persecution against her and her family from the Public Ministry.  The Public Ministry was also condemned by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) last November for “systematic interruption” of the right to a defense, illegal prolonging of preventive detention and practicing arbitrary arrest in violation of international human rights obligations.

The pattern of human rights abuses has sparked action by civil society organizations before international bodies to hold the Dominican government and state entities accountable and pressure the Dominican Republic to halt the backsliding on the rule of law.

The State Department is also fully aware of the human rights crisis. Its 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices for the Dominican Republic documented “credible reports” of “unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and other government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions” as well as “arbitrary detention and arbitrary interference with privacy.”

American citizens and legal permanent residents have also faced arbitrary detention, including African Americans who have been racially profiled by Dominican authorities. The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued an alert in November 2022 after U.S. citizens, especially “darker skinned U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens of African descent” were reported to have been arbitrarily detained by Dominican authorities.

Special Advisor Dodd’s role includes the promotion of human rights in the Americas and to “advance the implementation of key initiatives President Biden announced at the Summit of the Americas” in 2022. These initiative includepromoting democratic values and good governance” and supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

To fulfill that mandate, Special Advisor Dodd and his team should review the mounting evidence of worsening human rights abuses in the justice system and pressure the Dominican government to end the human rights violations, ensure accountability for the perpetrators and immediately comply with the country’s international human rights obligations.