The Dominican Republic holds regular elections that are relatively free, though recent years have been characterized by controversies around implementing a new electoral framework. Pervasive corruption undermines state institutions. Discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants, as well as against LGBT+ people, remain serious problems.
- The National Human Rights Commission and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that, as of October, police and security forces had committed at least 41 extrajudicial killings during the year. After police shot and killed a young couple in their car in April, President Abinader announced the creation of a special commission for police reform.
- Throughout the year, the Anti-Corruption Office (PEPCA) continued to investigate administrative corruption in former president Danilo Medina’s administration, opening several new investigations into the prior administration’s operations. By September, PEPCA had linked at least four current legislators to drug trafficking and money laundering networks and had suspended or removed nine officials from office.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is both head of state and chief of government and is elected to a four-year term. A 2015 constitutional amendment allowed presidents to run for a second term. In 2020, Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) was elected president over the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) candidate Gonzalo Castillo, ending the PLD’s 16-year tenure. Voter turnout was low at 49.6 percent, compared to 68 percent in 2016.
Observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) monitored the elections and deemed the polls credible, lauding the Central Electoral Board’s (JCE’s) measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus at polling stations and the consensus among political forces in postponing the election. However, inconsistent enforcement of social distancing and curfew measures benefited the PLD, and both parties used pandemic-related food, services, and medical supplies to incentivize voters. OAS observers reiterated issues with electronic voting and repeated calls for compliance with parity requirements for women candidates and better supervision of parties’ and candidates’ finances under existing regulations.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The Dominican Republic’s bicameral National Congress consists of the 32-member Senate and the 190-member Chamber of Deputies, with members of both chambers directly elected to four-year terms. The PRM gained majorities in both chambers in the 2020 legislative elections, which were held alongside the presidential election.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
Despite its shortcomings, the JCE operates with some transparency and cooperates with election monitors, opposition parties, and other relevant groups. The 2019 Electoral Regime Law and the 2018 Law of Political Parties, Groups, and Movements established the country’s new electoral framework. A Special Prosecutor for Investigation and Persecution of Electoral Crimes and Offences was instituted by the Electoral Regime Law, but election observers expressed concerns about its political independence. The 2020 elections exposed gaps in the implementation of campaign finance laws—demonstrated by unregulated distribution of gifts and humanitarian aid, candidates’ failure to submit required budgets and expenditure reports, and a lack of transparency in public fund allocations to candidates.
New members of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) were appointed in July 2021; so far, only four cases from the 2020 election cycle have come before it. However, a December 2021 Constitutional Court decision invalidated the law that assign the TSE’s jurisdiction to hear electoral crimes trials, recognizing instead ordinary criminal courts. Separately, the Superior Administrative Court invalidated a JCE resolution on party financing in June.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties are generally free to form and operate. However, newer and smaller parties struggle to access public financing and secure equal media coverage. In April 2021, the Constitutional Court allowed parties to maintain legal status if they achieve congressional or municipal representation, expanding the rule that previously required dissolution if they failed to gain at least 1 percent of the vote. A minimum amount of time that competing candidates must be associated with their party was declared unconstitutional in 2019.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because the Constitutional Court eased legal restrictions that posed significant obstacles to smaller parties.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||3.003 4.004|
Opposition parties and candidates generally do not face selective restrictions during election periods but are disadvantaged by elements of the electoral framework. In July 2020, the main opposition party, the PRM, ended the PLD’s 16-year tenure and won a majority in the National Congress.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
People are generally free to exercise their political choices. A history of violent police responses to social and political demonstrations may deter political participation by some, and economic oligarchies and organized crime groups have some influence over the political sphere. Electoral laws require some accountability for campaign finances, but political parties and presidential candidates do not always comply. The Specialized Directorate for Financial Control was established in December 2020 to monitor public and private financing for political parties and electoral candidates.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
Gender parity laws requiring between 40 and 60 percent of candidates for the National Congress be women were not respected during the 2020 elections. The percentage of women in Congress decreased; women hold 48 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 4 in the Senate.
A 2013 Constitutional Tribunal decision stripped hundreds of thousands of Dominican-born descendants of Haitian migrants of their citizenship, and thus their right to vote. Discriminatory attitudes and occasional acts of targeted violence against Black Dominicans (perceived to be Haitians) and LGBT+ people discourage their political participation, though more than 64 percent of LGBT+ people voted in the 2020 elections.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Government and legislative representatives are generally able to determine national policies in a free and unhindered manner. Despite a one-week shutdown of the Chamber of Deputies in June 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both legislatures operated freely during the year.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption remains a serious, systemic problem at all levels of the government, judiciary, and security forces, as well as in the private sector. Reports indicate that politicians routinely accept bribes. A 2016 US Justice Department report on the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht revealed that $92 million had been paid to public officials in the Dominican Republic to obtain contracts for major infrastructure projects in the country during three consecutive governments. Numerous officials from prior administrations were linked to the scandal, but only seven were formally charged. In October 2021, a Dominican court convicted a former Odebrecht representative and the former minister of public works for bribery and money laundering; four others who were on trial for similar offences were acquitted.
In 2021, PEPCA continued to investigate administrative corruption in former president Danilo Medina’s administration, which had resulted in the 2020 arrest of Medina’s brother, and opened several new investigations into the prior administration’s operations. By September 2021, PEPCA had linked at least four current legislators to drug trafficking and money laundering networks and had suspended or removed nine officials from office.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The government does not always operate with transparency. Although state agencies generally respond to information requests, they often provide inaccurate or incomplete responses. Public officials are required to publicly disclose assets, but NGOs have cast doubt upon the accuracy of these disclosures. Public contracting and purchasing processes are opaque; a September 2021 report exposed millions of dollars in missing taxes from purchases of luxury and other vehicles imported under the names of Dominican legislators, who have exemptions.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
The law guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. Several national daily newspapers, many local publications, more than 300 privately owned radio stations, and several private television networks operate in the country alongside the state-owned Radio Televisión Dominicana (RTVD). However, ownership of private outlets is highly concentrated and public funding of media lacks transparency.
Journalists risk intimidation and violence when investigating drug trafficking and corruption and may also face legal or regulatory pressure as a result of their investigations. During the pandemic, state authorities threatened, attacked, arrested, and detained journalists, although the press members were exempt from curfew restrictions. Charges for defamation and insult brought against journalist Marino Zapete for corruption allegations in 2019 were dropped in 2020, and his accuser was fined. Zapete and other journalists increasingly turned to YouTube in 2021 to escape the limitations of the traditional media.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is generally upheld. However, the Catholic Church receives special privileges from the state, including funding for construction, and exemptions from customs duties. In September 2021, the education minister announced that bibles would be given to public school students.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees regarding academic freedom are generally observed.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally free to express personal views in public and private without fear of retribution or surveillance. In January 2021, the director of police threatened legal consequences for individuals who post content online, including through videos that he called “smear campaigns,” portraying or alleging police abuse.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution, and demonstrations are common, but sometimes subject to violent dispersal by police. In March 2021, activists began camping outside the National Palace to support expanded abortion legislation, while religious groups mobilized against it. Police dispersed the camp in April while enforcing COVID-19 protocols.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of association is constitutionally guaranteed, and the government respects the right to form civic groups.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||3.003 4.004|
Workers other than military and police personnel may form and join unions, though over 50 percent of workers at a workplace must be union members to engage in collective bargaining. Workers must exhaust mediation measures and meet other criteria for a strike to be considered legal. In practice, union membership is discouraged, and workers risk dismissal for joining.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
Judicial independence is hampered by corruption and the judiciary is susceptible to political pressure. Reports of selective prosecution and the improper dismissal of cases continue.
Justices of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court are appointed to seven- and nine-year terms, respectively, by the National Council of the Judiciary, comprised of the president, the leaders of both chambers of Congress, the Supreme Court president, and a congressional representative from an opposition party. President Abinader in September 2021 proposed constitutional reforms to improve the council’s political independence.
In August 2021, the Constitutional Court declared virtual hearings—started during the pandemic—unconstitutional, a ruling praised as reinforcing the rule of law.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Corruption and politicization of the justice system have significant impact on due process, and strongly limit access to justice for people without resources or political connections. Corruption within law enforcement agencies remains a serious challenge.
Data from September 2020, the most recent statistic available, show that 58 percent of people being held in prisons were in pretrial detention.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Prisons are severely overcrowded, and rates of murder and other violent crime are high. Initial reports from Citizen Security Observatory indicated a 22 percent increase in homicides in 2021 compared to 2020. The National Human Rights Commission and NGOs reported that, as of October 2021, police and security forces had committed at least 41 extrajudicial killings during the year. President Abinader announced in April the creation of a special commission for police reform after police killed a young couple in their car that month.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Dominicans with European features or lighter skin color enjoy systemic advantages. Dominican-Haitians and Haitian migrants face persistent discrimination, which was exacerbated by growing unrest in Haiti in 2021. They faced obstacles in securing legal documents such as identification cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, and have difficulty registering their children as Dominican citizens. Without identification, they are ineligible for any social assistance, including COVID-19 vaccines; the government has implemented vaccination requirements for public spaces and businesses, effectively excluding many Dominican-Haitians from accessing public services. Women experience a significant amount of workplace discrimination, and the gender pay gap was 20 percent, as of 2020.
Before he left office in 2020, former president Medina granted citizenship to 750 individuals who had their citizenship stripped by a 2013 court ruling that denationalized individuals whose parents were undocumented foreigners; this particularly affected those of Haitian descent. President Abinader granted nationality to another 50 individuals in April 2021. However, the decrees were not implemented by state institutions, and many were unable to regain their citizenship. In March 2021, the Supreme Court of Justice affirmed the JCE’s practice of issuing new birth certificates for those affected by the 2013 ruling, which further impedes their ability from ever claiming Dominican citizenship.
LGBT+ people experience occasional violence, as well as discrimination in employment, education, and health services. They are barred from working in certain public sectors, such as the police and armed forces. Changes to the penal code proposed in 2021 fail to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
While citizens are generally free to move around the country, arrests for violating COVID-19-related restrictions continued in 2021. In October, the government began requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to access some public spaces. The government in February also announced “emergency” plans to construct a 236-mile fence on the Haitian border that would inhibit the movement of thousands of Haitian workers. People who are six or more months pregnant would also be prohibited from crossing into the country.
Asylum seekers and refugees must pay a fee to gain travel documents. People of Haitian descent without identification cards cannot attend university or obtain formal jobs.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
Private business activity remains susceptible to undue influence by organized crime and corrupt officials.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Violence and discrimination against women remain pervasive. In January 2021, President Abinader prohibited marriage for individuals under 18 years of age and issued a decree that created the Cabinet for Women, Young Women, and Girls within his office. Poor medical care has left the country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region. A 2015 Constitutional Tribunal decision effectively reinstated a complete ban on abortion, and in June 2021, the Chamber of Deputies voted against decriminalizing it in cases of rape or incest, risk to the life of the pregnant individual, and when the fetus cannot survive outside of the uterus.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Many workers in the country are employed informally, leaving them without legal protections. Haitians who lack documentation and clear legal status are particularly susceptible to forced labor but are often overlooked by antitrafficking initiatives.
The Dominican Republic remains a source, transit, and destination country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for sexual exploitation and forced labor. The US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons report highlighted that the government has failed to revise its trafficking laws and does not report on the number of victims who received care.
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Global Freedom Score68 100 partly free