Judge denounces “public discredit campaign” and harassment of family;
New facts support an investigation of Public Ministry by U.N. Special Rapporteur

Human rights abuses in the Dominican justice system, already under fire before international bodies, took a dramatic turn last week at the Second Investigative Court of the National District in Santo Domingo.

In open court, Judge Ana Lee Florimón said she is being “persecuted” and she and her family have been followed “by a white car.” This pattern of harassment coincides with prosecutors Yeni Berenice and Wilson Camacho attempt to remove her from a four-year corruption investigation that has gone past the legal limit with lengthy preventive detentions and no charges or indictments yet filed.

Lee Florimón was set to rule on Berenice’s request to – yet again – extend the investigation past its legal limit when the Public Ministry filed a last-minute recusal petition to block it. This led defense lawyers to denounce a “judicial coup d’etat” against the rule of law. On Friday, facing Berenice and Camacho in court, Lee Florimón said that “ten thousand public discredit campaigns” can be waged against her, but “the truth will always come to light.”

Berenice and Camacho were condemned last November for acts of “persecution” by the U.N. Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) in the arbitrary arrest of former Attorney General Jean Rodríguez Sánchez. In court, Lee Florimón made it clear that this type of manipulation is not only damaging the integrity of the Dominican judicial system but affecting her personally.

The WGAD determined that Berenice was the “protagonist” of a “public discredit campaign” that she “orchestrated” from the Public Ministry, and “systemically interrupted” Rodríguez Sánchez’s right to a defense. While under investigation for alleged corruption, he was imprisoned under a preventive detention order for 18 months without being charged, and Berenice interfered with multiple attempts to legally challenge his detention, WGAD concluded.

The opinion said these actions were in “violation of articles 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 2, paragraph 1, and article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

IACHR Hearing to Tackle Human Rights Abuses in Justice System

The intimidation of Judge Lee Florimón comes as the Dominican Republic faces a contentious February 28 hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the highest-level human rights investigative body for the Americas, for human rights abuses of prisoners in the justice system.

Over 80% of those in Dominican prisons are under preventive detention orders and face universally “inhuman conditions”, says the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH), which demanded the IACHR hearing.

A previous report from the IACHR and annual reports from the National Office of Public Defense (ONDP) reveal that preventive detainees are rarely charged in the Dominican Republic and held for longer periods than a sentence would have drawn from a trial and conviction. This violates the American Charter on Human Rights, which is the basis for the IACHR’s investigations.

Other Violations Already Referred to U.N. Special Rapporteur

The WGAD referred extensive evidence of human rights violations in the Rodríguez Sánchez case to U.N. Special Rapporteur on judicial independence, Margaret Satterthwaite. Her office has a mandate from the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate violations of judicial independence. The WGAD found that the Dominican justice system did not provide minimum remedies to Rodríguez Sánchez after Berenice persecuted him and interrupted his right to a defense.

The same U.N. Special Rapporteur also investigates the kinds of intimidation against judges that Lee Florimón denounced on Friday.

Should more complaints about Berenice and the Public Ministry be referred to Satterthwaite’s office, particularly linked them to intimidation of judges, pressure would mount for a wider U.N. human rights investigation of the Dominican Republic.