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The Dominican Republic has a strong framework for the protection of political rights and civil liberties. However, pervasive corruption undermines state institutions, and discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants, as well as against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, is a serious problem. Press freedom is restricted by criminal defamation laws and the harassment of journalists.
- Observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) deemed May’s presidential, legislative, and municipal elections credible. However, they called for major reforms to guarantee equal access to party financing and media coverage, and expressed concern about serious complications involving new electronic voting and vote-counting infrastructure.
- In February, the Constitutional Court struck down sections of a press law criminalizing defamation of government bodies and public officials, but preserved some other criminal defamation provisions.
- In September, a lawyer working on issues related to discrimination against Dominicans of Haitian descent was attacked in connection with his work.
The ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) maintained its hold on power in simultaneous presidential, legislative, and municipal elections held in May 2016. An OAS observation mission called the polls credible, but cited a number of irregularities, including vote buying. It additionally called for significant structural reforms to promote fairness in the public financing of political parties and campaigns, and, citing a “high degree of unfairness in access to the media,” called for mechanisms to guarantee better access to public and private media for smaller political parties.
Additionally, the introduction of a new electronic system for voter identification and registration, counting votes, and transmitting election results created significant complications during the election period. These included technical problems with voting equipment as well as inconsistencies in vote-counting procedures, as some parties, distrustful of the new system, insisted that votes at some locations be counted manually. Delays in tabulation resulted in the full final results not being made public until 13 days after the elections. Six people were killed in election-related violence the Central Election Board (JCE) head claimed had erupted out of frustration with delays created by demands for manual vote-counting. Opposition parties blamed the JCE for problems with the polls, contributing to tensions surrounding November’s elections by the PLD-controlled Senate of new JCE members.
Human rights violations against Dominicans of Haitian descent, as well as the reported mistreatment of Haitian immigrants, have continued in the wake of a 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that stripped thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality. In 2016, individuals who were able to apply for a restoration of nationality under legislation adopted after the 2013 ruling continued to report problems accessing citizenship documents and registering their children as Dominicans. Additionally, many people affected by the 2013 ruling were unable to exercise their right to vote in the 2016 elections. Lawyers and others working to defend the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent have reported receiving threats. In September, a prominent lawyer working on the issue was attacked by unknown men in Santo Domingo, in what appeared to be retaliation for his work. The status of an investigation into the attack was unclear at year’s end.
While the law guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, journalists face intimidation and violence when investigating sensitive issues, particularly drug trafficking and corruption. However, 2016 saw some advancement in press freedom after the Constitutional Court in February struck down a provision of the press law that criminalized defamation of government bodies and public officials. However, it maintained criminal penalties for defamation committed against private persons, the president, or foreign leaders. Separately, the Chamber of Deputies approved amendments to the Criminal Code that would decriminalize abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, but maintained criminal penalties for abortion in all other cases, including for pregnancies resulting from rape and in which a fetus has malformations incompatible with life.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in the Dominican Republic, see Freedom in the World 2016.