The Dominican Republic holds regular elections that are relatively free. Pervasive corruption undermines state institutions and the use of excessive force by police is a problem. Discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants, as well as against LGBT+ people, remain serious problems.
- Anti-Haitian sentiment continued to intensify in the Dominican Republic and the year was marked by an escalation in deportations of Haitian migrants; as of November, more than 136,000 people, reportedly including 1,800 unaccompanied children and hundreds of pregnant women, had been deported to Haiti.
- The Anti-Corruption Office (PEPCA) confirmed in May that former president Danilo Medina was under investigation for his involvement in administrative corruption.
|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. 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. However, a December 2021 Constitutional Court decision invalidated the law that assigned the TSE’s jurisdiction to hear electoral crimes trials, recognizing instead ordinary criminal courts.
|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.
|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. 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|
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.
None of the key ministerial posts in the president’s cabinet are currently held by women, despite the government’s stated commitment to promoting gender equality. However, the vice-president is a woman. Gender parity laws requiring between 40 and 60 percent of candidates for the National Congress be women were not respected during the 2020 elections. Women hold 53 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 28 percent of the total seats, and 4 in the Senate, 13 percent of seats. In September 2022, the OAS and the TSE committed to work on a plan of action to guarantee conditions for full participation of Dominican women in politics, with support from the Inter-American Commission of Women and the Canadian government.
|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.
|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. In May 2022, the Anti-Corruption Office (PEPCA) confirmed that it was investigating former president Danilo Medina and his involvement in administrative corruption. The ongoing investigation into Medina’s administration had resulted in the 2020 arrest of Medina’s brother and had linked several legislators to drug trafficking and money laundering networks. In July 2022, the Organic Law of Domain Extinction, which made it easier for the government to seize foreign and domestic assets connected to illegal activity, was enacted.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
The government does not always operate with transparency. State agencies often provide inaccurate or incomplete responses to information requests. 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, and 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.
In a September 2022 speech to mark the beginning of an international “Open America” conference held in the Dominican Republic, President Abinader argued that an uptick in reports of corruption is a sign of a more open government because it shows that citizens are empowered to participate in governance. He also touted the findings of the 2021 Open Budget Survey, released in May 2022, in which the Dominican Republic ranked 9th in budget transparency of the 120 countries surveyed.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
Dominican 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.
In July, Abinader launched an advisory commission led by a journalist to draft an update of the country‘s 1962 law on free expression. Amid heavy criticism, the government withdrew a cybersecurity bill it had submitted to Congress in June; the bill maintained and in some cases increased criminal punishments for defamation and included other potentially repressive provisions.
|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 July 2022, police broke up a demonstration for the reopening of hospitals led by members of the Dominican Medical College (CMD), reportedly assaulting protesters in the process.
|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.
Despite a request by the public prosecutor’s office that they be tried for embezzlement and fraud, all 11 people charged in the Los Tres Brazos case were exonerated by a judge in June 2022; the case involved a land sale alleged by PEPCA to be corrupt.
|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.
According to data from the World Prison Brief, around 60 percent of people being held in Dominican prisons are in pretrial detention.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Prisons in the Dominican Republic remain overcrowded, with an occupancy level of more than 162 percent, and rates of murder and other violent crime are high. President Abinader announced in April 2021 the creation of a special commission for police reform after police killed a young couple in their car that month. Police violence continued to be a problem in 2022, with rights advocates saying that race and economic status were often a factor in the illegitimate use of force by Dominican authorities. In May 2022, a public outcry followed the death of David de los Santos, a 24-year-old who had been fatally injured while in police custody. Seven people, including four police officers, were arrested soon after his death, which was the third death of someone in police custody in a 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 continue to face persistent discrimination, which was exacerbated by unrest in Haiti in 2021 and 2022. They face obstacles in securing legal documents and difficulty registering their children as Dominican citizens, and without identification, they are ineligible for any social assistance. In October 2022, 14 social and human rights organizations demanded action from the attorney general’s office to combat hate crimes and human rights violations against Haitian immigrants, citing several recent examples.
Dominican authorities deported tens of thousands of people to Haiti in 2022 despite unrest and dangerous conditions there. More than 136,000 people had been deported as of November, reportedly including hundreds of pregnant women and 1,800 unaccompanied children.
In the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, published in July, the Dominican Republic rose to 84 out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, up from 89 in 2021.
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.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 10/ 16
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
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.
In February 2022, President Abinader lifted COVID-19-related movement restrictions. Construction of a border wall between the Dominican Republic and Haiti that would inhibit the movement of thousands of Haitian workers began in February 2022 and progressed steadily during the year.
|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. In September 2022, the government, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), and UNICEF launched a four-year initiative to prevent childhood marriages.
Poor medical care has left the country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region, though a public health bulletin in July 2022 indicated that that rate fell by 36 percent in the first five months of the year, from 96 in the same period of 2021 to 63. Meanwhile, a total ban on abortion had been in place since 2015.
|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 US Department of Labor in September 2022 released its seventh report since 2013 documenting poor working conditions and abuses of labor rights in the Dominican Republic’s sugar industry, which primarily employs Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent.
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 2022 Trafficking in Persons report classified the country as Tier 2, grouping it with countries whose governments do not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards. Notably, in August 2022, a large human trafficking network was dismantled, with at least 80 Venezuelan and Colombian women rescued; 16 people, including active police and former military personnel, were charged for running a sex trafficking network.
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Global Freedom Score68 100 partly free