Last week, civil society leaders continued to expose more horrific human rights abuses and brutality at the hands of authorities of the Dominican Republic. In response to the worsening situation, a former director of prisons in the country pointed the finger at “corruption, sabotage and conspiracy” happening inside the Public Ministry with the knowledge of Attorney General Miriam German Brito.

Last Wednesday, the director of the Dominican legal aid society National Office of Public Defense (ONDP), Rodolfo Valentín Santos, announcedalarming cases of physical abuse” of detainees from evidence he witnessed during a recent visit to the overcrowded El Pinito de la Vega penitentiary. Valentín spoke to one victim of brutal beatings by prison staff who was then denied medical attention after suffering internal bleeding.

The news followed a criminal complaint filed last week by Dominican human rights activist Santiago Molina.  Molina alleges that a Dominican immigration officer raped a 14 year-old girl in her home. The complaint came shortly after Amnesty International denouncedworrying violations of human rights” against migrants at the hands of President Luis Abinader.

In an interview last Thursday, Roberto Santana, a former director of prisons in the DR, said “a train” of people inside the Public Ministry is responsible for corruptly “sabotaging” efforts to address human rights abuses in the country’s prisons. Santana said “the consequence” of this internal sabotage “was 13 deaths at La Victoria”, referring to the deadly fire that swept through an overcrowded prison that Abinader had promised to close but progress on constructing its replacement has been repeatedly halted.

The cramped and decrepit conditions in the Dominican Republic’s prison system are a direct result of the country’s enthusiastic embrace of preventive detention, where the accused are held for months, if not years, without any formal charges.

The Dominican National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH-DR) has decried the “corruption, torture, overcrowding, preventive measures turned into anticipated sentences” that are rampant in a prison system that is “a cemetery for the living” while President Abinader’s government has “no political interest” in reforms.

In November 2023, the U.N. Human Rights Commission Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) condemned the Abinader government for violating multiple provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Human Rights which prohibit arbitrary arrest. WGAD concluded that the Public Ministry through prosecutors Yeni Berenice and Wilson Camacho “orchestrated” a “public discredit campaign” and “systematically interrupted” the right to a defense to former Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez Sanchez.

Civil society groups have echoed these concerns: 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 alarm about the Dominican Republic’s preventive detention rate and systemic violations of due process.

On Monday this week, the U.S. State Department issued its 2023 country report on human rights in the Dominican Republic and noted “significant changes” for the worse in the last year. The deterioration of human rights included “unlawful or arbitrary killings; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy” as well as “serious government corruption”.

According to the 2023 report, the Dominican government “did not take credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses.”

If the Dominican government refuses to hold its own officials accountable for their escalating violations of human rights, when will the Biden Administration turn words into action? What signal is the United States sending to human rights advocates when the State Department details such outrageous violations in a report but there are no consequences for the abusers?