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International concern for Haitians in the Diaspora.

During the last quarter of the 20th Century, many Haitians left their homeland in search of a better life, elsewhere. Because they left for a variety of reasons--social, economic and political--it is difficult to place them all in a single category. Based upon the "pull" and "push" factors which caused them to leave they are usually referred to as "economic migrants" or "political refugees." Regardless of the name given to them, they are among the most abused in our society, having undergone extraordinary distress in their efforts to reach the host country and sometimes having suffered equal hardship upon their arrival. The public exposure of their plight has brought about an international outcry both from governmental and non-governmental organizations. This paper will assess the international concern shown for Haitian migrants in the United States, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Haitians in the United States

Historically, the United States has been accused of pursuing a racist policy in regard to the granting of refugee status (USCCR, 1-19); therefore, it was not surprising that some of the international human rights organizations questioned its attitude toward Haitian migrants. Such a challenge took place June 22, 1979 when the International Human Right Law Group (US) complained to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) concerning the treatment of Haitian refugees. According to the petition, which was filed on behalf of the National Council of Churches, "the procedures employed by the United States in handling claims of these Haitian refugees violated regional and international commitments which the U.S. has undertaken." It was accused of failing to observe obligations which it assumed as a result of its membership in the OAS, and as a signatory of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Declaration), and the American Convention on Human Rights (Convention). The petition cited Article XXVII of the Declaration, which binds the U.S. "not only to act in accordance with its domestic laws in granting asylum to those seeking it, but must also act in accordance with international agreements," including the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (IHRLG, 2). Specifically, the United States was accused of:

* Depriving Haitian nationals seeking asylum in the U.S. of their rights to equal protection and to life and liberty.

* Depriving Haitian refugees of their rights to due process.

* Discriminating against Haitian nationals on the basis of their country of origin.

* Denying Haitian effective access to the U.S. courts due to harassment and other actions which interfere with legal representation.

* Returning Haitian refugees to Haiti where their lives or freedom are threatened on the basis of political opinion (IHRLG, 9).

Although the IACHR normally does not accept cases until domestic remedies have been exhausted, the petitioner suggested that a waiver of this requirement be made, inasmuch as "once domestic remedies have been exhausted, the Haitian refugee seeking political asylum in the U.S. is subject to immediate deportation and is placed in imminent peril of violations to his personal security and safety upon refoulement to Haiti (IHRLG, 11).

Although the State Department questioned the right of the IACHR to consider the issue, it agreed to allow the Commission to undertake an on-site investigation of the situation, if it decided that such was needed. The United States assured the IACHR that if such an investigation was made, it would do everything possible to facilitate the effort (USDS, 4).

In a memorandum to the IACHR, the International Human Rights Law Group suggested that in case the original petition was declared inadmissible because of nonexhaustion of domestic remedies, the Commission should conduct a study and issue a report on the situation of Haitian refugees in the United States. In pursuing this study it was advised to observe first hand the procedures used by the Immigration and Naturalization Services in screening the refugees. The IACHR was also asked to recommend that the United States file a report on ways in which it was seeking to protect Haitians' human rights (IHRLG, 2).

In April 1980, the IACHR received testimony concerning the alleged U. S. violation of human rights in regard to the treatment of Haitian refugees. After hearing complaints, the Commission sent a cablegram to the Secretary of State, appealing to him to suspend the "deportation of Haitian citizens who had been denied asylum as political refugees in the United States." Noting that it was currently considering the case of Haitian "boat people," it appealed to the U.S., for humanitarian reasons, to "cooperate with the Commission by refraining from any action which would result in the deportation of Haitian citizens seeking political asylum while the case is under study by the Commission (Carreno).

The issue of the Haitian exodus became further internationalized on September 23, 1981 when the U.S. and Haiti exchanged notes concerning their mutual interest in halting the illegal migration of Haitians to the United States through a program of interdiction. Consistent with the agreement, the U.S. was granted the right to board Haitian flag vessels and determine their destination and the status of their passengers. If such investigation suggested the violation of U.S. immigration laws or relevant Haitian laws, the Government of Haiti consented to permit the United States Coast Guard to detain the vessel while on the high seas, as well as persons aboard. Haiti also agreed to permit the return of the detainees to a Haitian port after the giving of prior notification. (HMIA, 3559-3561). On October 1, 1990, a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights contended that the United States' practice of repatriation violated international laws and standards which give Haitians fleeing political persecution the right to seek refuge in any country. Specifically, attention was called to Article XXVH of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which reads:
   Every person has the right, in case of pursuit not
   resulting from ordinary crimes, to seek and receive

   asylum in foreign territory, in accordance with
   the laws of each country and with international

In March 1993, the IACHR called upon the United States, as a matter of urgency, to review its practice of seizing Haitians on the high seas and returning them to their homeland without permitting them to establish whether they qualify as refugees, or as asylees under the Declaration. Likewise, IACHR urged the United States to protect the rights of Haitians already residing within its borders by not returning them to Haiti before determining whether they could qualify for refugee status under the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, or as asylees under the Declaration.. Referring to obligations in documents cited above, as well as principles and rules on international humanitarian law, the IACHR called upon governments of the Hemisphere:
   To take the emergency measures necessary to
   prevent the dangers and suffering experienced by
   those Haitians who, although forced to flee their
   country because of their repression and persecution
   by agents of those exercising authority in Haiti.
   have been or are being repatriated (OAS).

On November 8, 1996, the IACHR responded to a petition which had been filed six years earlier by acknowledging that the United States had violated international law in its treatment of fleeing Haitians by intercepting them at sea and forcibly returning them to their homeland. The NCHR had filed the charges during the Reagan and Bush (the senior) administrations in order to end the U. S. practice of interdiction (NCHR).

Not only was the Organization of American States concerned about the treatment of the Haitian refugees, but the United Nations as well. In May 1992, Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, criticized President Bush's executive order which ended the process of taking Haitians who were rescued at sea to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for questioning by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The U.S. was perceived as denying opportunities to those Haitians who were genuinely in need of international protection the right to present their claims; therefore, placing them in danger upon their return to Haiti. In defense of his policy, President Bush expressed doubt that Haitians were persecuted after they were returned forcibly. He maintained that the vast majority of those claiming to be political refugees were migrants seeking to better their economic conditions (Crossette). The violation of human rights and the violence perpetrated by the security forces caused the UNHCR to express fear that the returnees might be exposed to danger; however, it acknowledged that it was not in a position to determine the extent of their safety (UNESCO).

In May 1994, Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, urged the Clinton Administration to increase the 5 percent of Haitian applications which it was currently accepting. She noted that increased violence and the expanding suppression of human rights had become so crucial that it was necessary for the United Nations to place serious sanctions on Haiti. According to Ogata, the entire country was in an abnormal situation and because of this, those persons fleeing Haiti "should be given some kind of chance to stay outside of the country, at least until democracy is restored (Greenhouse, A5)."

Haitians in the Dominican Republic

Historically, the Dominican Republic has both profited from and has been embarrassed by the influx of Haitian migrants into the country. While the migrants have constituted a pool of cheap labor for the sugar cane growers, the Dominican treatment of them has brought the nation international condemnation. Robert Cressweller offered this description of a scene from the 1937 slaughter of more than 20,000 Haitians in the Dominican Republic:
   Bodies clogged the river. Bodies were piled into
   obscure little valleys. Bodies lay in village streets
   and on country roads and in gentle green fields.
   Trails of blood lay on dusty country lanes up and
   down the border. Blood dripped from trucks that
   carried corpses to secluded ravines for disposal
   (Cressweller, 154-155).

Since the 1937 tragedy, the Dominican Republic has constantly been condemned by the international community for its mistreatment of Haitian migrants. In a study of labor conditions in the Dominican Republic in 1978, the Anti-Slavery Society for the Protection of Human Rights, based in London, charged that most of the 280,000 Haitian immigrant workers and their families suffered from "chronic malnutrition, a variety of preventable diseases, high material and infant mortality, illiteracy and hopelessness (WCC, 12)."

Similarly, in a seminar sponsored by the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights (CEDH) in July 1980, six-teen Protestant church-related groups from Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the United States, condemned "the economic, social and political causes that have led to the exploitation of thousands of Haitians who work on sugar plantations in the Caribbean region in unjust circumstances (WCC, 12)." Also concerned with the situation was the World Council of Churches which concluded that "the conditions of migrant workers and the systematic exploitation which they suffer make it one of the worst situations in the world. Denied every basic right their plight can only be compared with the slaves of Caribbean history(WCC, 3)."

In June 1981, as a result of a petition filed by Cecil Rodgers, the Workers' delegate from Suriname, the treatment of Haitian laborers in the Dominican Republic became a major item on the agenda of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Accusing the Dominican Republic of violating provisions of the Convention on Forced Labour, the petition criticized the country's practices relating to recruitment, transportation, housing, working conditions, payments and living conditions. Among the specific charges was that recruitment was "carried out on the basis of false promise," and force was utilized when sufficient numbers were not recruited, otherwise. Rodgers contended that "the use of forced labour, disguised as a social and economic outlet for workers is in fact a way for the Dominican state to make enormous profits." The ILO was asked to urge the Dominican Republic to halt its practice of forced labor and to initiate an inquiry to assure that the rights of Haitian workers were being observed (ILO, 135-136).

The ILO responded to the petition by establishing a committee of inquiry which proceeded to investigate the grievances. Among its recommendations was that a small number of qualified officials acting under the auspices of the Haitian Embassy in Santo Domingo be empowered to visit plantations and other places of labor in order to become aware of working conditions. It also recommended that the Haitian Government be permitted to conduct periodic visits for similar reasons. A third recommendation was those Haitian workers, given the lack of unionization, be allowed to designate representatives to work out day to day problems affecting them. In reflecting on a more durable solution to the problem, the ILO concluded that the treatment and conditions of the Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic will be influenced to a great extent by the "future prosperity of the Dominican sugar industry." According to the ILO, a major factor will be the willingness of the international community to act positively in providing more favorable trade opportunities for the country (ILO, 132-133).

During the decade of the 90s, there was, once again, a ground-swell of international concern for the Haitians in the Dominican Republic On June 11, 1991, Americas Watch, an international human rights organization, decried the abuse of Haitian cane cutters employed on plantations of the State Sugar Council. It was especially critical of what it considered to be "a forced labor regime affecting Haitian children ..." The issue became more publicized following an American television network broadcast of the situation. President Balaguer of the Dominican Republic responded by issuing Decree 23 of June 13, 1991 which provided for the repatriation of Haitians under 16 and over 60 years of age who were in the Dominican Republic without proper documents. (OAS, 1999, 319-320)

On June 26, 1991, the executive secretary of the IACHR sent a cable to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the Dominican Republic addressing the issue of the mass deportation of Haitians, considering it a violation of the American Convention on Human Rights. The Dominican Republic was requested to provide information concerning the action, and to suspend any measure intended to put the Repatriation Decree (No. 233-91) into effect. Likewise, it was urged to take the necessary steps to curtail the inflicting of irreparable harm on persons scheduled to be deported OAS, 1992, 258-259).

In reply to the communication, the Dominican Republic pointed out that as a sovereign nation the repatriation took place in accordance with its constitution and laws. It insisted that its action was not in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, inasmuch as the rights which the IACHR referred to, did not apply to individuals who were in the Dominican Republic illegally. In the letter, reference was made to the 1938 agreement between the two countries in which each government agreed to "take the measures necessary to prevent their nationals from crossing the borders into the territory of the other State without proper permission from the competent authority of the latter." The agreement further provided that "nationals of either State who are within the territory of the other State in violation of the latter's law shall be immediately repatriated or declared undesirable aliens by the competent authorities." The Dominican foreign affairs officer contended that in addition to being on sound legal ground, the Dominican Republic was serving the cause of human rights by repatriating aliens who had found themselves in a dilemma by having come to the country on the basis of false promises, and therefore wanted to be returned home. From a nationalist point of view, the Dominican Republic insisted that the more than a million Haitians in the country represented "a very competitive labor force that displaces Dominican workers." The tremendous burden they impose on the institutions of the country also was noted.. The Dominican Republic pledged to make needed information available to the IACHR.' (OAS, 1992, pp. 260-262).

The IACHR reacted to the Dominican pledge by asking its permission to visit the country to assess the situation. On August 2, 1991, the Dominican Republic complied by extending an invitation, and about two weeks later the observation team, led by Dr.Marco Tulio Bruin Celli, visited the nation. The delegation consulted Dominicans, both in and out of government, before concluding that there was sufficient evidence that measures taken by the government to enforce its recent decrees violated provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. It reported that through the enforcement of the decree, authorities had "unleashed an indiscriminate persecution against Haitians and their descendants" in order to remove them from the country. Included among those were Haitians who were born in the Dominican Republic and had the constitutional right of nationality. The Commission conceded that even though the Dominicans enjoy the privilege of sovereignty and are free from foreign political interference, they are limited by modern international law which protects human rights. The Commission noted that in regard to these individual guarantees, foreigners are considered the same as nationals. Lastly, it referred to a statement in the preamble of the American Convention on Human Rights which read, "that the essential rights of man are not derived from one's human personality, and that they therefore justify international protection in the form of a convention ... (OAS, pp. 275-277)."

In an effort to resolve the problem, the IACHR recommended that the Dominican Republic take steps to regularize the status of Haitians who have been unable to benefit by provisions of Decree 417-90 issued on October 15, 1990. It also was urged to ":revoke any legislative or administrative measure aimed at impairing the rights of foreigners or Dominicans of Haitian origin and to suspend immediately the mass expulsions of Haitian nationals." Consistent with Decree 233-91, the Dominican Republic also was asked to:
   Provide the necessary facilities to Haitian nationals
   who voluntarily request their return to Haiti with
   all the guarantees and considerations, without
   harming their basic rights, and granting the
   corresponding work benefits.

      Pay compensation to those Haitian nationals
   who were expelled from the Dominican Republic
   without their corresponding work benefits.

      Grant facilities aimed at allowing persons who
   allege that they are Dominicans to return to the
   country so that they may exercise their right to
   prove Dominican nationality (OAS, 1999, pam.

Following its on-site visit, the IACHR was informed by the Dominican government that it had suspended the expulsions as of September 30, 1991.

The UN Commission on Human Rights also investigated the Haitian problem and noted in its report of 1992 that there was "indiscriminate and arbitrary detention of persons of Haitian origins." It offered this description:
   The agents of the Dominican Government,
   particularly the police and the military, using force
   and threats, are arresting and herding together
   Haitians of every age and occupation. Those who
   are to be expelled are imprisoned before being
   taken to the Haitian frontier, where they are left
   with only the clothes they stand up in. Arrests
   occur in the streets, in the fields, on the farms and
   on construction sites. Some people are beaten up
   and generally ill-treated at the places where they
   are held before being deported. They have to leave
   behind their possessions and their entitlements ...
   (UNESCO, 42)

According to the UN Commission, by taking such actions the Dominican Republic violated Article 11 of its Constitution, which stated that "everyone born in the Dominican Republic is Dominican, except for the children of diplomats or people in transit." The Haitians who were involved were not children of parents who were in transit. The Commission also noted the violation of Article 7 of the Civil Code, which states that "all persons born on the territory of the Republic, whatever the nationality of their parents, are Dominican." The Commission maintained that to expel persons born on Dominican soil had the effect of depriving them of their nationality (UNESCO, 43). It also noted the violation of Article 20 and 22 of the American Convention on Human Rights, as well as provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Rights of the Child--all of which the Dominican Republic had ratified (UNESCO, 44).

In June 1997, The IACHR undertook another on-site visit to the Dominican Republic and heard complaints concerning massive expulsions of Haitians and some Dominicans of Haitian origin. Human rights groups reported that an estimated 25,000 Haitians were deported in January and February, and smaller numbers were continuing to be expelled. According to testimony given, the Government frequently denied those deported the opportunity to prove that they were residing legally in the Dominican Republic. Neither were they given a chance to prove how long they had been in the country, nor their conditions of employment nor family ties with the country. There were also complaints that the speedy and violent manner of the deportation made it impossible for workers to take their property or collect their wages (OAS, 1999, para. 325-327). This criticism also was made:
   the deportees are held in establishments in which
   they receive little or no food during their days of
   confinement, and in some cases they have been
   beaten by the Dominican authorities. At no time
   are they allowed to inform their family members of
   their expulsion (OAS, 1999, para. 328).

Likewise, incidents were reported where "children were taken by force from their homes when the parents were working," and "wives were deported while the husbands were away from home (OAS, 1999, para. 328).

International human rights organizations also have attempted to improve the conditions of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic by bringing pressure to bear on the government of the United States. In May 1989, Americas Watch petitioned the U.S. Trade Representatives (USTR) to conduct an inquiry to determine if the Dominican Republic was meeting the requirements set forth in the U.S. trade laws regarding trade preferences." Although, the USTR, representing the President, is required to undertake periodic reviews to determine the "continued eligibility" of any country receiving trade benefits, it has been accused of failing to do so. When it accepted the Americas Watch petition and began holding hearings on September 26, 1989 this was regarded as a significant first step. Dominican officials were perceived as not being very cooperative during the hearings. They were said to have responded to the charges by denying them or by attempting to discredit the reports. In this effort they cited Dominican law which prohibited such abuse while disregarding the actual practices of the abuses. The report noted that a greater effort was made to "rebut evidence of violation" than to seek to correct the abuses (AW, 1990, 49-51).

The USTR's review of Dominican labor practices revealed significant evidence that forced labor was being used in the sugar industry. According to Americas Watch, in spite of the information received, however, the USTR did not suspend trade benefits, choosing, instead to extend the review for another year. America Watch concluded that in spite of the inaction of USTR, its investigation made an impact on Dominican labor practices. It noted that announcements concerning important reforms being made in the sugar industry took place at the same time the nation was defending its labor practices before the USTR and in its post-hearing submissions (AW, 1991, 32). In spite of their efforts, Americas Watch and other human rights organizations have had only limited success in persuading the United States to play a more active role in changing labor practices in the Dominican Republic.

The struggle to obtain better treatment for Haitians in the Dominican Republic continues to be an ongoing campaign of international human rights organizations. On November 19, 1999 the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and several allied.

The USTR's review of Dominican labor practices revealed significant evidence that forced labor was being used in the sugar industry. According to Americas Watch, in spite of the information received, however, the USTR did not suspend trade benefits, choosing, instead to extend the review for another year. America Watch concluded that in spite of the inaction of USTR, its investigation made an impact on Dominican labor practices. It noted that announcements concerning important reforms being made in the sugar industry took place at the same time the nation was defending its labor practices before the USTR and in its post-hearing submissions In spite of their efforts, Americas Watch and other human rights organizations have had only limited success in persuading the United States to play a more active role in changing labor practices in the Dominican Republic.

The struggle to obtain better treatment for Haitians in the Dominican Republic continues to be an ongoing campaign of international human rights organizations. On November 19, 1999 the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and several allied organizations wrote a joint letter to the president of the Dominican Republic deploring the human rights abuses of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. It urged the government to halt immediately the "on-going mass expulsions and to conduct all legal reparations in accordance with international due process guarantees ..." The letter while conceding the sovereignty of the Dominican Republic, insisted that "the methods used by the government to control migration conform to the standards set forth in legally binding international human rights agreements to which the Dominican Republic is a party (NCHR, 1999).

Haitians in the Bahamas

Haitians who left their homeland and landed in the Bahamas found it attractive for two reasons. Its more promising economic conditions appealed to those who were seeking a new permanent home, and secondly it closeness to the United States made it a convenient way-station for those seeking to make their way eventually to the American shores. Initially, Haitians were welcomed to the country since they provided it cheap labor, but as unemployment became a problem, and the large number of Haitians began to overwhelm the Bahamian culture, the government made an attempt to regulate the flow of additional migrants into the country and took steps to expel some who were there.

Dawn Marshall, in her book, The Haitian Problem contended that the Bahamian policy toward illegal Haitian migration was determined, in part, by "the lack of international concern." By 1967, however, the Haitian problem had escalated and had become internationalized. In response to the growing crisis, Dr. Francisco Urrutia, representative of the United Nations Commission of Refugees, visited Nassau and discussed the problem with the governor, premier and the minister for internal affairs. Following his conferences, he expressed satisfaction that the problem had developed because of Haitian migrants and not refugees. Having determined that the Haitians in question were not refugees, the United Nations refused to become involved (Marshall, 121-122).

Two years later, the Bahamian government found it necessary to respond to a hunger strike called by 93 Haitian prisoners to retain their freedom. In an open letter, which attracted international attention, they cited as their allies the International Commission of Human Rights and the International Commission for Justice. The prisoners posed a question as to what would be the reaction of the international community if it was aware that they were compelled to go on a hunger strike in order to regain their freedom? The letter proceeded to address problems which the signers would face if deported:
   By going to Haiti, fighting Duvalier, a lot of us
   could die. We are not afraid by the idea of death.
   The watchword is "Freedom or Death" since we
   can't have this freedom, we have decided to go to
   the death by this hunger strike ... enough is enough
   Freedom or death (Marshall, 122).

As a follow-up to the prison incident, the Bahamian Government held discussions with other nations and the United Nations. Contrary to the earlier statement of 1967, an official of the UNHCR came to the Bahamas and offered assistance in resolving the problem. As a result most of the Haitians returned to Haiti and for those who did not, homes were found elsewhere (Marshall, 123).

In November 1980, following the Cayo Lobos tragedy, the Bahamas became the center of international criticism, once again. World attention was focused on the way the Bahamian government responded to the more than 100 boat wrecked survivors who landed on one of its tiny islet. La Voz, a publication of the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights, with offices in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, called for multilateral involvement and specifically the intervention of the UNHCR. Also appealing for intervention were Haitian organizations in New York, Miami, Washington, Santo Domingo, San Juan and Paris. They requested the UN refugee organization:

* to set up an international authority responsible for organizing in a more human way the conditions to which the Haitian refugees are subjected wherever they land.

* to require this international authority to watch carefully the situation of the 25,000 refugees in the Bahamas threatened with deportation after Jan. 18, 1981.

* to work for the analysis and the eventual elimination of the real reasons that explain the dramatic exodus of the urban and rural masses from Haiti (La Voz).

The Miami Herald in an editorial of November 12, 1980, viewed the Cayo Lobos crisis as posing "a test of the humanitarian instincts" of the United States, Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti and it concluded that all four failed the test. It expressed regret that nations would argue over who had jurisdiction while the victims "waited in vain for help." Although the Herald_agreed with the Bahamians in blaming the "despotic Duvalier dynasty" for plundering and oppressing that "poverty stricken land until its people's only hope is to flee," the paper did not hold the Bahamas blameless. The editorial observed:
   ... it cannot excuse the Pindling government's long
   delay in responding to the desperate plight of
   the 118 human beings who were marooned on
   Cayo Lobos. When people are near starvation,
   they must be fed at once. Officials can argue
   afterwards about jurisdiction (MIH).

According to the 1981 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual summary of human rights conditions of countries which receive foreign assistance from the United States, there were between 12,000 and 20,000 illegal Haitians residing in the Bahamas. The report noted that because of the small overall population of the Bahamas, the large number of immigrants appeared to overwhelm the country. It acknowledged the concern expressed by some Bahamians that the nation was becoming "too Hatianized," and that the influx of immigrants was overstraining the already overburdened educational system. Effects also were being felt in the areas of housing, health and employment (USDS, 1982).

In response to an invitation from the Government of the Bahamas, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited the country on May 22-27, 1994 to observe the condition of Haitian refugees. It reported that during its visit, it found the Bahamian Government to be very cooperative. Among the leaders consulted were the prime minister, leader of the opposition and minister of social development. Interviews also were held with the director of the Salvation Army and representatives of various churches. On-site visits to "shanty towns" throughout the nation also were undertaken. The Commission expressed satisfaction that the Bahamas were providing for the fleeing Haitians a variety of social services including education, which was on par with that available to Bahamian children. It concluded that the small nation "was absorbing a proportionately larger share of the Haitian diaspora than any other state in the hemisphere, a fact that weighed heavily on its budget and on its infrastructure." As a consequence of this drain on the country, the Commission solicited support from the international community to assist the Bahamas (OAS, 1994).

The U.S. State Department, in observing the Bahamian response to the influx of Haitians, concluded that the existence of an estimated 35,000 Haitian migrants in the Bahamas was a very "sensitive social, economic and political issue." It gave high grades, to the small nation for respecting the rights granted to migrants in its constitution. The State Department noted that following the return of President Aristide to power the Bahamas once again established relations with Haiti and negotiated an agreement providing for the return of 800 Haitians living in the Bahamas illegally per month over a one year period. Free transportation and limited financial incentives were offered by the Bahamas in order to encourage Haitians to leave voluntarily, but few accepted the offer USDS, 1996).

Again, during the spring of 2000, the Bahamian policy toward Haitian boat people, became an issue of international interest. The deportation of Haitians who were shipwrecked without asylum hearing became a concern of Amnesty International--a London-based human rights organization. On May 2, 2000, it expressed concern regarding the treatment of Haitian migrants in the Bahamas. It maintained that these asylum seekers should not be returned to their home country until an independent body has fully examined their individual asylum claims. Amnesty perceived Haitians as "fleeing a very volatile situation, where they may potentially be exposed to persecution." It insisted that authorities of the Bahamas assume responsibility for making sure that this is not the case and to offer protection to Haitians in need of it (Al).

Amnesty viewed the "imminent forcible return of asylum-seekers" as being motivated by practical consideration related to the large number of Haitians in the country, but it did not consider that to be a justification for evasion of responsibilities by the government of the Bahamas. Amnesty insisted that the "planned forcible return of Haitian asylum-seekers" violated obligation which the Bahamas accepted as a state party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. It accused the government of the Bahamas of failing to ensure persons arriving in the country in search of asylum "effective access to a full and fair procedure to determine whether they would be at risk of human rights violations if returned to their country of origin.(AI)"

Amnesty also urged Bahamian authorities to adhere to international standards by ceasing immediately their practice of detaining Haitians seeking asylum, preventing them from having access to interpreters, and acquiring legal assistance from the UNHCR and non-governmental organizations offering such services. It noted that "asylum-seekers in the Bahamas are being held with common criminals, in conditions which are inhumane, unsanitary and overcrowded" which it viewed as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." The Bahamas Government also was urged to abide by international standards relative to the detention of refugees under the age of eighteen. Amnesty suggested that the Bahamas Government take steps to establish procedures to determine asylum claims in keeping with relevant international standards, including the establishment of "an independent and specialized decision-making body, with provisions for an effective appeal against any decision to refuse asylum." The Bahamas was requested to allow asylum-seekers to remain in the country until the appeal procedure was completed (A1). Specifically, Amnesty referred to 222 Haitian nationals who were detained in Fox Hill prison on April 28, 2000 and 123 who later were placed in the custody of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in Matthew Town. Amnesty reported that Haitians who were apprehended were not told of their right to apply for asylum nor permitted to consult with legal counsel nor acquire the aid of interpreters. Neither were they informed of their right of access to the UNHCR (A1).

Criticisms of the Bahamas have not been as harsh as those directed at the United States and Dominican Republic. Many international critics appear to take into consideration the small size of the Bahamas and the large influx of Haitians. Generally, the Bahamas has been applauded for its efforts, and other nations have shown a willingness to lend aid to the country in resolving the problem.


Abuse of Haitians in the diaspora has long existed and it appears that it will continue to be a major problem for the international community for years to come. Advocates of human rights perceive a bias against Haitians based upon their race and cultural background which make them unwelcome in the three countries included in this study. In spite of attempts to eliminate racial prejudice in the United States, discrimination based on race is a standard feature of American life. Haitian refugees were never extended the same welcome given refugees with similar complaints, and the blame has been attributed largely to their skin color. Several studies also revealed that black Haitians also face similar race problems in the Dominican Republic. In the Bahamas, which is predominately black, the problem is perceived as being more of culture heritage than race. The small population of the Bahamas can easily be overwhelmed by an influx of Haitian with a different heritage. This study found that the greater the influx of Haitians in either of the countries during a given period the harsher are the measures used against them.

Advocates of human rights have sought to alleviate the plight of Haitians by bringing pressure to bear on the host nation. International embarrassment has been one of the weapons which they have used to persuade offending nations to adhere to their human rights obligations. The most common response by the three nations was to seek to limit the flow of Haitians into their countries through bilateral treaties. While these agreements might have been satisfactory to the consenting nations, they did not give consideration to the needs of those who felt compelled to leave their homeland. International human rights organizations have criticized these treaties, noting that they violate the rights of the fleeing Haitians and, for the most part, organs of the United Nations and OAS have agreed.

When human rights advocates failed in their efforts to influence the accused nations, they appealed to "third nations" which were in positions to influence the offending nation. Illustrative of this were continued efforts of human rights organizations to persuade the United States to use its influence to alleviate the abuse of Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic. The assumption was that the United States, as its major trading partner, could use trading preference and foreign assistance as major weapons to secure Dominican adherence to international law. The United States has been criticized for not using options available to it to relieve the Haitians' plight both at home and abroad.

Failing to achieve its goal by appealing directly to the host nations and those nations which have influence upon them, human rights advocates have turned to organs of the Organization of American States and the United Nations. Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter encourages the solution of problems within regions when possible. With that in mind, it has been the Inter American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS which has heard most of the complaints concerning abuse of Haitians in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and the United States. Its involvement has been almost continuously in the Dominican Republic and periodically in the Bahamas and the United States.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees also has been involved in a search for a solution to the problem. Records indicate that it has investigated abuses in all three countries and has attempted to work with the host countries in finding solutions. Also concerned because of the subject matter is the International Labor Organization which has been involved in efforts to alleviate the plight of Haitians in the Dominican Republic, most of whom are abused migrant laborers rather than political refugees. These and other international organizations have fallen short in efforts to alleviate the plight of the Haitians

While international organizations associated with the Organization of American States and the United Nations have been helpful in their efforts to relieve Haitians of their plight, more credit should be given to non-governmental organizations, in particular the international human rights organizations. Efforts by the international organization often resulted from initiatives of the human rights organizations. While nation states have been hesitant in bringing charges against other nations states, international human rights organizations have been more daring--presenting most of the petitions to the IACHR and UNHCR. As in the past, suffering Haitians in the diaspora will have to continue to look to the international human rights organizations for relief.


AI                  Amnesty International
AW                  Americas Watch et. al.
HMIA                Haiti: Migrants Interdiction Agreement
IIRLG               International Human Rights Law Group
ILO                 International Labour Organization
NCHR                National Coalition for Haitian Refugees
OAS                 Organization of American States
USCR                U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
USDS                United States Department of State
UNESCO              United Nations, Economic and Social Council
WCC                 World Council of Churches

Amnesty International (2000), "Bahamas: No Safe Haven From Persecution," News Service 080/00 A1 Index: AMR 14/04/00, 2 May.

Americas Watch et. al. (1991), "Half Measures: Reform, Forced Labor and the Dominican Sugar Industry," New York, March.

--(1990), "Harvesting Oppression: Forced Haitian Labor in the Dominican Sugar Industry," New York, June

Carreno, Edmundo Vargas (1980), Cablegram to Cyrus Varce, Secretary of State (U.S.A), April 7.

Crasweller, Robert D., (1966), Trujillo The Life and Times of A Caribbean Dictator, New York: The Macmillan Company.

Crossette, Barbara (1992), "U.N. Official Rebukes U.S. on Haitians" New York Times May 28.

Greenhouse, Steven (1994), "U.S. is Besieged by Appeals to Allow More Haitians In," New York Times May 11, A5.

Haiti: Migrants Interdiction Agreement" (1988), Signed September 23, 1981, United States Treaties and Other International Agreements V. 33, Part 4,1979-1981, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 3559-3561.

International Human Rights Law Group-U.S. (1979), "Complaint Alleging a Violation of Human Rights in the United States of America," Submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Washington, DC, June 22.

International Labour Organization, Report of the Commission of Inquiry (to examine the observance of certain labour conventions by the Dominican Republic and Haiti with respect to the employment of Haitian workers on the sugar plantation of the Dominican Republic), Geneva, Switzerland, 1983., pp. 135-136.

La Voz, December 1980.

Miami Herald, Nov. 12, 1983, "Morality and Cayo Lobos"

Marshall, Dawn L, The Haitian Problem Mona Kingston Jamaica_Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1979, P. 121-122.

National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, Feb. 12, 1997, "OAS Vindicates NCHR Claims on Refugee Policy."

--, November 1999, "Haitian Rights Group Argues for Regional Approach in Response to New Round of Dominican Expulsions of Haitian Immigrant," Haiti Insight Online.

Organization of American States, Annual Report_81st Session, OEA/Ser. L/ 11.81 rev. 1, Doc. 6, 14 February 1992, pp.258-259.

--, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti._OEA/Ser.L/ VH.85, Doc. 9 Rev., February 11, 1994.

--, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, "Visit of Observation on the Haitian Refugee Situation in the Bahamas" in Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti MRE/RES. 6/94, Washington, DC, 1994.

--, Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Dominican Republic OEA/Ser. L/V/II. Doc. 49, Rev. 7,7 October 1999, para. 319-320.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, The Tarnished Golden Door Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing office, 1980.

United States Department of State, Memorandum in Response to the Complaint Alleging a Violation of Human Rights in the United States of America Washington, DC, Feb. 1, 1980, p. 4.

--, "Bahamas Human Rights Practices," in Country Report on Human Rights for 1981 Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1982.

--, "Bahamas Human Rights Practices," in Country Report on Human Rights for 1995, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996.

United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, (1992) "Advisory Service in the Field of Human Rights," an Addendum to the Report on the Human Rights Situation in Haiti," prepared by Marco Tulio Bruni Ceffi.

--, Commission on Human Rights (1992) "Advisory Services in the Field of Human Rights, Report on the Human Rights Situation in Haiti," prepared by Marco Tub Bnmi Ceffi, Independent Expert, in accordance with Commission on Human Rights Resolution 199 1/77, Doc. E/CN.4/1992/50, 31 January 1992., p. 42.

World Council of Churches, 1980, Sold Like Cattle Haitian Workers in the Dominican Republic, Geneva Switzerland.


Jake C. Miller received his B. S. Degree from Bethune-Cookman College. M. A. from the University of Illinois, and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He taught political science at Fisk University in Nashville. Tennessee and Bethne-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. Currently. he is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Bethune-Cookman College. He authored: Black Presence in American Foreign Affairs (University Press of America), Plight of Haitian Refugees Praeger and Prophets of a Just Society (Nova Science Press).
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Author:Miller, Jake C.
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Date:Mar 22, 2006
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