WASHINGTON, DC – Last month, Howard University African American Studies Professor Nikongo BaNikongo, Ph.D., filed a lawsuit in the International Criminal Court (ICC), located in Hague, Netherlands, on behalf of Haitian sugar cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic who have been denied residency for themselves and their children born in the country. The complaint seeks to hold Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina Sanchez, criminally responsible for the injustice. It requests that the ICC prosecutor investigates Sanchez in his capacity as president for “Crimes Against Humanity stemming from the mass expulsion of Haitians and failing to exercise due diligence in securing the rights of Haitian workers in the DR.”
“The Dominican Republic has the obligation to look after the rights and the quality of life and justice as it pertains to citizens and foreigners. In our case it is foreigners,” says BaNikongo.
For several generations Haitians have worked on sugar cane plantations, known as bateys, in the Dominican Republic. Over time, families have given birth to children born in the Dominican Republic, however, the government has declared that the offspring of Haitian-born parents cannot be considered citizens, despite being born in the country.BaNikongo says the government has not provided a reasonable way for them to establish residency in the Dominican Republic.
“As a non-citizens, the Haitian workers lack the rights to healthcare, opening bank accounts and they are being expelled back to Haiti,” says BaNikongo. “They’ve been gone for so long that Haiti is unfamiliar to them. They don’t’ know anyone there.”
Over the past three years, BaNikongo has been taking Howard students to Haiti and the Dominican Republic each summer to research and advocate on behalf of the workers involved in this crisis, which impacts approximately 500,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.His team has concluded that the only way to stop the injustice facing the Haitian workers was to file a criminal complaint against the President of the Republic. Although several international commissions have found the government of the Dominican Republic guilty of violations of Human Rights, the government continues to refuse to provide reasonable means to remedy their situation. However, BaNikongo is hopeful that the International Criminal Court will rule in their favor.
“We are asking the office of the prosecutor to investigate based on our findings. As a result, he could issue a warrant for President Sanchez’ arrest, in the same way that Saddam Hussein was deemed to be a war criminal,” says BaNikongo.
Kadeen Menzie, a recent political science graduate of Howard University, participated in one of Professor BaNikongo’s mission trips to the Dominican Republic and helped the sugar cane workers fill out the paperwork to apply for residency. She describes the experience as eye-opening and life changing.
“I wasn’t born in the U.S., I was born in Jamaica and I have a child that was born in America,” says Menzie. “If I had to go through everything they are going through for residency, it would be very difficult for me. So, I can imagine what they are going through, having come from a third world country myself but never having it this bad.”
During the mission trip, Menzie helped pass out seeds for those in need to plant in order to grow food to eat. She recalls how happy everyone was in spite of their current situation.
“To us it was just seeds, but to them it was a lot more than just seeds. When I saw how these folks were living, it made me appreciate the little I had growing up,” says Menzie, who now plans to do humanitarian work after graduate school. “You can cry about something when you feel like you don’t have enough, but there are people out there who have less and are still making it. They were happy, they are fighters.”
# # #
Photo cutline: Sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic lined-up to have Residency Rights applications prepared by Howard University Professor BaNikongo and his team in Fall 2017.
**In The International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands
Residents of Bateyes Cacata, Santa Rosa & Batey #16 of the Region of Bayahibe, Dominican Republic v. Danilo Medina Sanchez, President of the Dominican Republic