Attorney General and Human Rights Groups Order Investigation and Demand Accountability

The alleged persecution of Judge Ana Lee Florimón has lit a fire of controversy in the Dominican Republic.

Last week, Judge Lee Florimón accused prosecutors in the Public Ministry of engineering a campaign of harassment, where she and her family have been followed by a car. This coincides with attempts by prosecutors Yeni Berenice and Wilson Camacho in the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Prosecution of Administrative Corruption (PEPCA) to remove her from a four-year corruption investigation already rife with violations of due process, including lengthy preventive detentions and no charges or indictments.

This week, Attorney General Miriam Germán issued an official statement where she distanced herself from Berenice and the Public Ministry’s reckless behavior. According to Germán, after “some differences with members of the Public Ministry” it is clear that Judge Lee Florimón is being “monitored,” which is behavior that she would “never sponsor, order or tolerate” as it “disrespects rights.” Germán has ordered an independent investigation into the “pressure from the Public Ministry” that has resulted in the “transfers and sanctions of judges.”

While the Attorney General distanced herself and her office from the Public Ministry’s rogue prosecutors, prominent human rights organizations and members of civil society are demanding accountability.

On Wednesday, the Institutionality and Justice Foundation (Finjus) released a statement that urged an investigation that will identify those responsible for manipulating the judiciary. In their statement, Finjus “reiterated its commitment to the independence of the judicial function” and stated that a transparent judiciary is an integral pillar of Dominican society.

Judicial Harassment by PEPCA is the Latest in a Long Line of Human Rights Violations

Unfortunately, the persecution of Judge Lee Florimón is standard operating procedure for Berenice and Camacho, and their behavior has earned condemnation from the United Nations. Last November, the U.N. Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) identified Berenice as the “protagonist” of a “public discredit campaign” that she “orchestrated” from the Public Ministry in the arbitrary arrest of former Attorney General Jean Rodríguez Sánchez.

In their condemnation of the Public Ministry’s behavior, the U.N. WGAD stated that the Public Ministry violated “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.” After years of unchecked behavior, international arbiters of justice are finally shining a light on the litany of abuses carried out by PEPCA’s prosecutors.

In addition to the United Nations, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a hearing yesterday where human rights advocates demanded the government answer for its “negligence” in addressing the worsening human rights violations in the criminal justice system. Thanks to civil society groups like the Dominican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) raising the alarm for the OAS, the international community might finally recognize the Dominican Republic’s preventive detention crisis. According to the CNDH, over 80% of the inmates in Dominican prisons are held under preventive detention and there has been a “deterioration in prison conditions” with a 12,000-inmate capacity are holding almost 26,000 currently, with “about 13,000” living in “overcrowding and inhuman conditions.”

Intervention by international organizations that set the standards for the rule of law is the only hope of possibly addressing this crisis. In fact, PEPCA prosecutors are proud of their harassment of judges and enthusiastically defend the use of preventive detention. As recently as December, PEPCA’s own Wilson Camacho traveled to the U.N. Convention Against Corruption where he bragged about “Dominican-style” justice. Addressing the international audience, Camacho stated, “With pride, we invite you to look towards a country that, in addition to being valued for its beaches, merengue or bachata” is also known for its “strategic model of persecution.” 

Detaining individuals – including American citizens and legal permanent residents – for years without charge, and then packing them into facilities where they sleep on the floor and contract fatal diseases is certainly “Dominican style” justice. Systemically interrupting the right to a fair trial, engineering a public campaign of harassment, and having a judge and her family followed is PEPCA’s “strategic model of persecution.”

Camacho may get his wish – with international bodies like the U.N. Special Rapporteur and the IACHR paying attention, “Dominican-style” justice and its associated “strategic model” of persecution is supplanting the international community’s picture of the Dominican Republic.