Will the head of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations follow through on the Human Rights Council’s Decision?
It’s been nearly two months since the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) released an explosive report that documented significant human rights violations by the Abinader government, particularly against former Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez Sanchez.
While the WGAD’s decision has been summarily dismissed by the Dominican prosecutors who are the arbiters of the country’s preventive detention crisis, the silence from the Biden administration has been deafening.
This week, on behalf of the Dominican Justice Initiative, Hispanic Leadership Fund President Mario H. Lopez sent a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (U.N.) Linda Thomas-Greenfield urging follow through on the U.N.’s condemnation the actions of the Dominican government and bring swift reforms to its systemic deprivation of liberty.
The WGAD report revealed that the Dominican Republic’s top prosecutorial duo, Yeni Berenice and Wilson Camacho, in their capacity as the heads of the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Prosecution of Administrative Corruption (PEPCA), “orchestrated” a “public discredit campaign” and “systematically interrupted” the right to a defense. In the letter to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, Mr. Lopez also noted that “according to public records and reports in the Dominican Republic’s media, Ms. Berenice Reynoso has carried out identical or similar actions detailed in the WGAD decision against in dozens of other individuals in other cases.”
The letter further urged Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield to “publicly reinforce the mandate of the WGAD and the Human Rights Council,” and since it is clear the Dominican government is not going to abide by the WGAD’s decision, “a country visit” is necessary “to ensure the government implements its recommendations and brings an end to the preventive detention crisis.”
U.N. and U.S. Lawmakers Call for Action while the Biden Administration Remains Silent
The DR’s preventive detention crisis is neither new nor contained. As far back as 1999, the Organization of American States (OAS) strongly criticized the Dominican Republic’s use of preventive detention for infringing on due process rights, as well as “prolonged detention cases” which violate “the right of presumption of innocence guaranteed by Article 8(2)” of the American Convention on Human Rights. A report from the Dominican legal aid agency National Office of Public Defense (ONDP) shows that in nearly 25 years, nothing has changed – up to 70 percent of all detainees in DR prisons are currently behind bars under an order of preventive detention – held for months or years without knowing the charges or evidence against them.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul raised deep concerns around the fact that the Americans have been caught up in the DR’s preventive detention crisis. Chairman McCaul expressed alarm that the State Department “does not have a complete accounting of the number of Americans that are currently imprisoned in the country,” and called attention to the “endemic issue of preventive detention” which has impacted “Dominicans, and very likely, Americans as well.”
Chairman McCaul’s concerns were echoed by U.S. Representative Troy Nehls in a letter to the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, questioning whether U.S. tax dollars were being used to wrongfully detain U.S. nationals in the Dominican Republic. Representative Nehls was rightly concerned that taxpayer funds are “being used to unreasonably deny the due process rights of American citizens and legal residents living outside the U.S.”
Despite the glaring mistreatment of American citizens and legal permanent residents, the Biden Administration has rolled out the red carpet for the Dominican government and continuously ignored a pattern of arbitrary deprivation of liberty that the U.N. and U.S. lawmakers have condemned. From the President Abinader’s White House meeting in the fall to White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Tom Perez’s recent visit to the DR, the Biden Administration is elevating a regime that systemically violates human rights.
While the rest of the Biden Administration is letting Ms. Berenice, Mr. Camacho and the entire Dominican government get away with flagrant human rights violations and systemic injustice, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has an opportunity to demonstrate U.S. leadership on the world stage. It is imperative that the U.S. Mission to the United Nations reinforce the mandate of the Human Rights Council and help bring an end to preventive detention in the Dominican Republic.