The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) has published more documented evidence of the serious human rights violations taking place in the justice system of the Dominican Republic in its annual report on human rights in the region.

The IACHR report is the latest in a series of legal condemnations and extensively sourced reports detailing serious human rights abuses being committed by the DR’s Public Ministry. The variety of entities detailing the abuses includes the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The Dominican government continues to refuse to acknowledge the reality and is threatening retaliation against critics who report on it.

Among the grave concerns expressed in the IACHR’s Annual Report were “the excessive use of pretrial detention and the deplorable conditions of detention” in an overcrowded prison system where “the overcrowding rate was 163.4 percent.”

The National Office of Public Defense reports that the prisons of La Victoria, Bani, Azua, San Juan de la Maguana and Barahona are the most overcrowded. In this scenario, the excessive use of preventive detention allegedly appears to be one of the main causes of overcrowding,” the human rights organization concluded.

The IACHR also detailed the “deplorable conditions” in prisons that violate human rights standards, described in the report as: “i) the lack of medical attention; ii) the lack of medicines for people with terminal illnesses; iii) the lack of mattresses for 40 percent of the prison population in the traditional model prisons; iv) scarce technical and custody staff; and v) no effective separation by gender” in multiple facilities. The human rights monitor added that the Dominican government has cut the budget allocated to address these abuses.

The report emerged ahead of the June 26 opening of the 54th OAS Annual Assembly in Asuncion, Paraguay, where three of the seven judges who sit on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will be elected by the body. The court is the enforcement body for violations of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR). As a party to the ACHR, the Dominican Republic committed to abide by the court’s rulings. The IACHR has the power to refer cases of ACHR violations by state entities like the DR’s Public Ministry – which DJI has extensively documented — to the court.

Mounting International Condemnation

At a February hearing before the IAHCR in Washington, D.C., prior to the latest report’s release, Dominican human rights advocates clashed with DR officials who attempted to downplay the seriousness of overcrowding and the preventive detention crisis.

This coincides with the concerns raised in the U.S. State Department’s report in April which concluded that the human rights abuses in the DR are getting worse. The State Department documented “unlawful or arbitrary killings; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention” and other serious “significant human rights issues”.

In November, the UN’s Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) condemned the Dominican government in regards to the case of former Attorney General Jean Rodríguez Sánchez, who was under investigation for alleged actions while in office. WGAD noted the use of arbitrary detention, violation of due process and systematic interruption of the right to a defense by prosecutors at the Public Ministry. WGAD concluded that the Public Ministry violated the “right to a fair trial” and stated that “preventive detention must be the exception and not the norm.” In the strongest possible terms, the WGAD also condemned the “persecution” carried out by prosecutors and raised questions about the independence of the Dominican justice system.