Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Dominican Republic

Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights

4 November 2010

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has considered the third periodic report of the Dominican Republic on how that country implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Max Puig, Minister of Labour of the Dominican Republic, said that the report was the result of a great deal of work his Government had carried out with a great deal of responsibility and that the Dominican Republic, as a founding member of the United Nations, fully adhered to the principle of universality of human rights. The Dominican Republic had adopted a new constitution, which now included all the provisions of the international treaties and conventions. Among the rights that were now of constitutional level were the rights to, inter alia, food security, family rights, intellectual property rights, protection of minors and the elderly and the rights of persons with disabilities. The new constitution had also created the new Constitutional Court and an Ombudsman’s Office had also been established.

A considerable part of the Dominican Republic’s population, about 42 per cent, lived under the poverty threshold, said Mr. Puig. In view of the terrible tragedy of this year when Port-au-Prince was destructed by an earthquake, the Dominican Republic had suspended all repartition measures of Haitians. The first country that had assisted Haiti in the early hours after the catastrophe had been the Dominican Republic. Some 4,000 earthquake specialist volunteers had been present in Haiti on the day itself of the catastrophe and had stayed there for over a month.

Among the questions and issues raised by Committee Experts were questions related to the new constitution and the status of the Covenant therein; measures taken to fight corruption; why the Ombudsperson had not been named yet, two years after the creation of its office; whether the Ombudsman would apply for accreditation as an international institution under the Paris Principles; the treatment of people of Haitian origin and the situation of Haitian workers; cases of prosecutions and convictions with regard to discrimination; why the State party was devoting less than eight per cent of its Gross Domestic Product to the rights that were covered in the Covenant; whether civil society had been consulted in the drafting of the report; unemployment; child labour; the national minimum wage and how it was being set; the situation of workers in the free trade zones; the State party’s poverty reduction plan; efforts to provide social housing solutions; and the situation of the inactive national procedure to grant refugee status and how this affected applicants.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Puig said that they were very grateful for how the Committee had dealt with them. This type of exercise was extremely useful. It was a major challenge they had ahead of them but the results would be very helpful to the Government.

Also in concluding remarks, Jaime Marchan Romero, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for all the information it had provided the Committee with. The dialogue between the Committee and the State party should be continuous and ongoing and not only sporadic. The Committee hoped that its concluding observations would be of assistance to the State party.

The Colombian delegation also included representatives from the Permanent Mission of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Joint Electoral Board, the Ministry of Education, the Dominican Sugar Institute and the General Administration of National Goods.

The next meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, 5 November, when it will begin its consideration of the combined second to third periodic reports of Switzerland (E/C.12/CHE/2-3). The Committee is scheduled to consider the reports over three meetings, concluding on Monday, 8 November at 1 p.m.

Report of Dominican Republic

The third periodic report of the Dominican Republic (E/C.12/DOM/3) states that the Dominican Republic has taken important steps with regard to information, prevention and assistance to victims and information concerning trafficking in persons. The most significant advance has been the adoption of a law on unlawful trafficking in migrants and trafficking in persons, promulgated in 2003. Pursuant to that law cases have been initiated concerning persons accused of illegally introducing persons into Dominican territory and these have been severely punished. Other important advances include, inter alia, the creation, strengthening and expansion of the Inter-Agency Committee for the Protection of Migrant Women, which has made it possible to develop plans and policies of prevention, information and assistance to victims of trafficking in person in a coherent manner; the creation of a shelter for migrant women; and the contribution to dissemination of research and conduct of the first field survey on trafficking women in the country, leading to preliminary information providing an overview of trafficking in the country.

Concerning the right to an adequate standard of living, the report states that during the 1990s, the Dominican Republic experienced remarkable economic growth that improved the quality of life. Between early 1990 and 1998 poverty declined, albeit modestly, social indicators improved, and the country reached a favourable position to achieve many of the Millennium Development Goals. The impressive economic growth slowed from the year 2000 and the country found itself in an acute financial and economic crisis in the period 2002 to 2004. The economic crisis caused a significant decline in real income, a striking increase of 50 per cent in the poverty rate and a doubling of the number of people in extreme poverty in the country. Between early 2002 and late 2004, 15.6 per cent of the population became poor, and 7.2 per cent fell into extreme poverty.

On the right to adequate food, the report states that the Dominican Government has implemented a series of programmes to ensure food to all needy people. To combat poverty, the State has granted loans to 14,700 micro-entrepreneurs, who generated 46,000 new jobs. Some 3,400 popular markets have been built to give the poorest households access to food at subsidized prices. More than 45,000 title deeds to plots have been granted to poor families, in addition to conversion of 14,400 dirt floors into concrete floors.

Presentation of Report

MAX PUIG, Minister of Labour of the Dominican Republic, introducing the report of the Dominican Republic, said that the report was the result of a great deal of work his Government had carried out with a great deal of responsibility. The Dominican Republic, as a founding member of the United Nations, fully adhered to the principle of universality of human rights.

Mr. Puig said that the Dominican Republic had adopted a new constitution, which now included all the provisions of the international treaties and conventions. Among the rights that were now of constitutional level were the rights to, inter alia, food security, family rights, intellectual property rights, protection of minors and the elderly and the rights of persons with disabilities.

The new constitution also included the possibility for referendums and plebiscites to be held, said Mr. Puig. The new constitution had created the new Constitutional Court and an Ombudsman’s Office had been established. They now also had instruments to fight corruption.

The new constitution included provisions for professional secrecy, a journalist clause, and recognized the language of gender as a signal of egalitarian treatment. It was not simply that all of these rights now had constitutional ranking. A 2005 decision of the Supreme Court had formally established what they called the “constitutional bloc”, meaning that the constitution was based on an equal hierarchy between the national and the international law, said Mr. Puig. With all of these rights now enshrined in the constitution, the Dominican Republic had now come to realize a 40 year long process of democratization.

Mr. Puig highlighted the fact that the island of Saint Domingue was shared by two states. And a fair part of the Dominican Republic’s sister republic had been displaced or had moved to the Dominican Republic. Further, a considerable part of the Dominican Republic’s population, about 42 per cent, lived under the poverty threshold.

Concerning the right to documentation, persons who did not have appropriate documentation were in fact “dead civilians”, said Mr. Puig and this was why they had taken steps to address the situation. There were currently 364,000 Dominicans with no personal identity documents or birth registration. The central registration body had taken measures to deal with this lack of identity papers, said Mr. Puig.

In 2007 a resolution had established a “foreigners’ book” to address the issue of children born in the Dominican Republic from parents with no documents, said Mr. Puig. It sought to provide a legal framework to certify the birth of these children and to guarantee their right to identity. The foreigners’ book did not however take into account stateless persons, because children born in the Dominican Republic from stateless persons would automatically get the Dominican citizenship. They had also started to reorganize the civil registry in order to complete all files that were incomplete.

On the right to equality and non-discrimination, Mr. Puig said that discrimination was not a State policy and was not accepted. These attitudes were specifically condemned. Any manifestation of discrimination or racism in the Republic was of individual nature. The Dominican Republic was a country which had experienced slavery. With slavery came also the justification for it. Thus, measures had been taken to remedy any forms of discrimination. The equality of all before the law was guaranteed by the law and the Supreme Court had established provisions that certain laws were not applicable when it could be considered that it formed obstacles to certain parts of the population.

In view of the terrible tragedy of this year when Port-au-Prince was destructed by an earthquake, the Dominican Republic had suspended all repartition measures of Haitians, said Mr. Puig. He also pointed out that Haitian immigrants represented 12 per cent of the population but 23 per cent of the country’s healthcare help was destined to these immigrants.

Mr. Puig said that women and men had the same rights in the Dominican Republic. Concerning positive discrimination, 33 per cent of the candidates to electoral posts had to be women.

Many cases of family violence had been filed in the Dominican Republic and there were now units providing security to women and special police was trained to deal with violence against women. The State was acting to achieve a change of attitudes, said Mr. Puig.

With regards to trafficking and smuggling of persons, both were constitutionally forbidden. The Government had had to take measures to deal with this type of violations. A National Commission had been established which had been tasked to come up with a national strategy to tackle the problem, said Mr. Puig. Specific instruments to deal with commercial sexual exploitation of minors had also been adopted.

Concerning the rights of women, Mr. Puig said that 50.2 per cent of the population of the Dominican Republic was made up of women. At the level of education, men and women were equal. An increasing number of women were finishing secondary school and university. This was also bringing significant changes to the workplace where there increasingly were women in decision-taking positions.

Concerning child labour, Mr. Puig said that he also chaired the committee against child labour. They already had local committees being set up which were implementing the national strategy for the eradication of child labour on the ground. Further, a new study on child labour was currently being undertaken. The results would be available in November.

With regard to the labour code adopted in 1992, it allowed freedom of association and the free exercise of trade union rights, said Mr. Puig. They had also adopted a strategic planning 2000-2012 to implement the labour code, especially the provisions of non-discrimination, equal opportunities and for the development of the social security system. They had also set up programes to guarantee the employability of young persons between 16 and 18 who had dropped out of school and were not working, to avoid them being recruited into criminal programmes.

Mr. Puig also said that there was a vicious circle that they had to break: low levels of training brought about low levels of productivity and low levels of salary. In order to raise the level of salaries, they had to break that vicious circle.

Concerning the right to health and social security, Mr. Puig said that it had been left hanging during the last century but in 2001 they had finally established a social security system.

On the right to education, Mr. Puig indicated that eight school grades were compulsory. The difficulties they faced had to do with the quality of the education. Children were attending school but the State had to make sure that they were learning worthwhile things.

Concerning the rights of migrants, the Dominican Republic received immigrants and was sending emigrants. They had a close link with the major sending country; especially in the light of the enormous tragedy of this January which had struck Haiti. The first country that had assisted Haiti in the early hours after the catastrophe had been the Dominican Republic. Around 4,000 earthquake specialist volunteers had been present in Haiti on the day itself of the catastrophe and had stayed there for over a month.

Questions by Experts on Articles One to Five of the Covenant

Addressing issues linked to articles one to five of the Covenant, Committee Experts asked questions related to the new Constitution, could the delegation provide any case law regarding the rights that were covered by the Covenant?

One Expert had said that he had heard other conflicting information concerning the status of the Convention in the constitution and that the Supreme Court had backtracked from its opinion that the Covenant was in fact international law, and that the Covenant thus did not form part of the constitution. Could the delegation elaborate on this?

One Expert noted that in its concluding observations on the Dominican Republic’s last report, the Committee had congratulated the State party for the measures it had taken to fight corruption. However, the problem still seemed to exist nowadays, along with impunity, especially of state agents. There were several cases of extrajudicial killings and of excessive force being used. Did the State party intend to establish some form of committee of inquiry in order to investigate those cases of human rights abuses?

Also why had the Ombudsman not been named yet, more than two years after the creation of the post? The post of assistant Ombudsperson for children and youth was also vacant, noted an Expert. The law and the institutions were there but the positions were not filled in. This did not make a good impression. Was there any timeframe for the selection of candidates in these positions? Further, would the Ombudsman apply for accreditation as an international institution under the Paris Principle?

Another Expert noted that the delegation had talked a lot about anti-discrimination, but was there any anti-discrimination law in the Dominican Republic?

One Expert touched upon the unequal treatment, if not mistreatment, of people of Haitian origin in the Dominican Republic which seemed to be quite a continuous problem. Since the earthquake there was certainly an increase in the inflow of immigrants from Haiti. How did the Government address the problems arising from this situation?

Another Expert noted that the report being presented today should have been submitted in 1999 and that the Committee had not gotten any reasons why the State party had not been able to deliver its report in time. Could the delegation elaborate on this?

An Expert wondered whether there was any human rights institution in the country apart from the Ombudsman. Also how far did the Ombudsman correspond to the Paris Principles?

One Expert noted that although the Dominican Republic had experienced slavery itself, it had only signed the Slavery Convention and had not ratified it. Why was that so?

An Expert noted that it was not sufficient to promulgate laws. Government measures and actions were equally important to confront the problem of discrimination. Were there any concrete cases of prosecutions and convictions with regard to discrimination that the delegation could share with the Committee?

The Dominican Republic became a State party to the Covenant in 1978, as well as to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the same time. This spoke for the fact that the Republic was according the same importance to those two sets of rights. However, it was devoting less than 8 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product to the rights that were covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Was that not implying that the rights if the Covenant were not as prominent as civil and political rights for which there was more funding? Further, what was the delegation’s view on the Covenant’s Optional Protocol?

An Expert noted that the Catholic Church was sometimes taking a mediating role between the Government, the opposition and diverse other groups. He wondered whether other religions had similar powers or duties. Or was there a differential treatment between one church and the other?

Also, had civil society been consulted in the preparation of the State Party’s report? Further, what was the status of human rights education and where did human rights education fit in, asked an Expert.

What was the amount of official development assistance that the Dominican Republic had received? And how had the amount of this assistance evolved over the last ten years? What percentage of that official development assistance had gone to the establishment of a genuine economic infrastructure for the country, wondered an Expert. To what extent did the delegation feel that this development assistance had helped in protecting economic, social and cultural rights?

Response by Delegation

Answering those questions and others, the delegation said that they had consulted many civil society organizations in the drafting process of the report and had listened to them. But everything in the report reflected the position of the Government, as it was a governmental report.

On jurisprudence on economic, social and cultural rights, the delegation indicated that there was such material, but that it did not go as far since the adoption of the new Constitution. As an example, the delegation indicated that the Supreme Court had invalidated certain provisions of the civil code which required citizens to pay a deposit to claim certain rights. The Supreme Court had invalidated this provision as it had considered that only rich people were enjoying these rights. The article of the civil code was thus annulled.

Concerning the new Constitutional Court, the delegation said that its members had not yet been appointed.

On the issue of funding economic, social and cultural rights, the delegation indicated that the Government was currently discussing the budget and it was contemplating a better distribution of resources for certain sectors such as health.

Concerning measures to hold back corruption, the delegation said that while it had not been completely eradicated, the situation had evolved. For example in the Labour Ministry, greater requirements had been established for the recruitment of employees, ongoing training was being provided to them and salaries had increased. With these measures, the quality of work had improved and the level of corruption had decreased.

Turning to extrajudicial killings and impunity, the delegation said that there were many examples of abuse of power but any public official committing an excess was brought before the courts.

As to the situation of the Ombudsman, the delegation said that it had been set up legally two years ago. The legislative chambers were tasked with the appointment of the Ombudsperson and its Deputy. The Chambers had not yet reached an opinion because they had been quite busy during the adoption of the new constitution. The legislator had had much work to do in this period. However, the pre-selection of the main Ombudsman had now begun.

Concerning the Optional Protocol, the delegation said that the Government was currently studying their accession to it and they hoped that this would become a reality very soon. The Government was working towards protecting the rights provided for in the Covenant.

Concerning undocumented workers, the delegation said that any worker was granted the same rights to assistance by the Ministry of Labour. The status of a worker asking the help of the Ministry was not checked, in order to avoid that undocumented workers, who feared that their illegal status would be discovered, avoided making use of that possibility.

Concerning why Haitian migrants could not vote in the Dominican elections, this was because voting was granted only to Dominican nationals, said the delegation. However there was a possibility for Haitians to accede to the Dominican nationality.

Concerning the criminal procedure code, it laid out the procedure and formalities that should be followed in cases of discrimination. The delegation would compile a list of cases for the Committee.

On whether the work carried out by Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic was not tantamount to slavery, the delegation said that they had not seen any such cases. However, the foreign companies that had established the sugar plantations at the beginning of the last century had brought in people from the British colonies in the Caribbean to administer the plantations, as well as Haitians to work as cane-cutters. Today there was no worker in the Dominican Republic against his will.

Concerning the treatment of Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic, the delegation said that there were no violations of human rights in the case of foreign workers. All foreign workers in the Dominican Republic had come in a voluntary fashion on the territory. Nobody had forced them to come and they were free to leave at any time. Free movement was guaranteed to everyone on the territory of the Republic.

Further, remuneration in the Dominican Republic was paid according to the type of work. Trade union freedom and freedom of association was guaranteed, said the delegation.

Free advice was guaranteed to any worker by the Ministry of Labour, including undocumented workers and foreigners. Everyone had access to the courts, without this implying any type of repression or punishment. In a specific case given by the delegation, 500 day labourers, most of them Haitian, had sued a sugar company and had requested a written contract. They had won their case before the courts.

With regard to the sugar industry, the delegation said that it had been the main productive activity until a few years ago. Today the Dominican economy rested mainly on tourism and the economic activity in the free trade and export zones. There were now less foreign workers that were coming to work in the sugar industry. Seasonal migration to work in the sugar cane harvests had decreased. The work camps of the sugar cane workers had also changed; from dorms many of them had become communities with schools, health centers, parks and churches. There had been a social change in these places. Sugar cane workers also receive social security.

The Dominican social security system was open to Dominicans and legally documented foreigners. Even so, the national council had established a special system to care for seasonal workers, said the delegation.

With regard to the goals in terms of eliminating poverty, the delegation said that the Dominican Republic was undertaking a long-term plan; a very broad national strategy for development was being developed with a twenty-year timeframe. There was currently a debate taking place all throughout the country concerning this strategy; meetings were taking place between civil society, social workers, political parties and churches, amongst others.

The national strategy also sought to increase productivity, said the delegation, to increase the wealth of the people. They knew that they had to transform the economy in order to create a society where all of the economic, social and cultural rights were guaranteed.

Concerning the reduction of corruption and how they had responded to it, the delegation said a significant number of employees and civil servants had been brought before the courts in recent years on charges of corruption. Several public servants had been given firm sentences from one to up to five years imprisonment.

Follow-up Questions

Raising some follow-up questions, Experts said, with regard to corruption, could the delegation be more specific and provide the Committee with a list of prosecutions? Also could the delegation provide a similar listing of cases prosecuted for trafficking of women and children?

Other questions asked by the Experts included what would be the permanent budget for the Women’s Ministry? On sexual harassment in the work place, could the delegation give more specific information on the legislation and what happened in practice?

Answers by Delegation

In their answers to the Committee to these questions and others, the delegation indicated that in 2003, there had been a huge banking crisis in the Dominican Republic, due to fraud carried out by four of the major banks. It had cost 25 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product to address this situation.

With regards to prosecution against sexual harassment, the delegation said that special units to prosecute these crimes had been created. The delegation would also provide a detailed list of prosecutions to the Committee. Further, labour inspectors had also been trained by the Ministry of Women.

Concerning the budget of the Women’s Ministry for 2011, the delegation said that it was currently being discussed in Parliament. The 2011 budget would be very similar to that of 2010. Because of the crisis, only two ministries had seen increases in their budgets: the Health Ministry and the Ministry of Education. But increases in these sectors would also have a positive impact on women’s issues.

Questions by Experts on Articles Six to Nine

Turning to articles six through nine, Experts asked questions on: unemployment; the impact of the legal rules that applied to the formal sector on the informal sector; child labour which seemed to continue to be a problem in the State party; the national minimum wage and the social security system.

Concerning Haitian cane-cutters, one Expert noted that the Committee had information about Haitians being afraid of joining the trade unions.

Another Expert noted that while the State party had put in place a care system to cover the needs of temporary workers, what about those who were permanently in the informal sector?

An Expert said that the Committee had information that free trade zones still carried out pregnancy tests. Was the State party aware of these practices which violated labour rights, and what was it doing to stop them?

How did the Tripartite Commission go about setting the minimum wage? What were the criteria? Why were so many worker categories excluded from the minimum wage, such as those from the construction and sugar cane sectors?

Response by Delegation

Answering these questions and others, the delegation said, with regard to unemployment and the informal sector, that indeed there was a high percentage of the Dominican workforce working in the informal sector. According to the recent statistics approximately 56 per cent of the workforce was in the informal sector. The informal sector also covered independent or freelance people who did not have a salary. There were thus considerable difficulties in guaranteeing access to social security and it was also difficult to get taxes from these workers. It limited the State’s ability to redistribute goods and services. These figures were close to the average of the Latin American region.

In 2000, the level of unemployment had been 14.7 per cent, said the delegation. After the 2003 economic crisis, it had risen to 19.5 per cent. Since 2004 to today the level had been around 14.3 per cent. The age pyramid in the Republic affected this, as 100,000 young workers joined the market every year. Even in a situation of economic growth, not enough jobs were being generated to meet the demand. For the Dominican Republic to retain unemployment at the current level, it would need at least a 4 per cent growth in its gross domestic product per year.

To this, one had to add the workers coming from abroad, especially Haiti. It had been said that the Haitian-Dominican border was quite porous. The country with the least level development was naturally drawn to a neighboring country with a higher level of development, said the delegation. While the density of the population of Haiti was almost double of that of the Dominican Republic, the Dominican Republic had a six times larger economy than that of Haiti.

All this together was creating a situation of an unlimited workforce. This created a downward pressure on the level of salaries, said the delegation. The constant massive influx of workers on the market was also putting a break on improving productivity. In order to address this situation, the Government was developing a national strategy and relevant employment policies.

Although they were a small country, the labour market was quite differentiated, said the delegation. Most of the textile companies for example operated in the free trade zone areas, i.e. they were tax-free. In 2003, these zones had reached a high-point of 200,000 employees.

Further on employment, the delegation said that female unemployment was threefold that of men. Unemployment of young people was fourfold higher than that of adults. Thus the Government had developed specific programmes targeting these two groups.

Turning to the sugar industry, the delegation said that it was an industry where, in the past, labour practices had been inappropriate, with foreign and child workers. Inspections carried out by the Labour Ministry in recent times had not revealed any such practices. This was explained by the fact that the sugar companies were making efforts in order to protect their image. This ensured them with the possibility to export to the United States, for example. There was a self-interest that things were being done properly.

The delegation said that one problem with regard to child labour was that a very high percentage of the Dominican population saw child labour as a good thing for the development of the child and that they thought that it made children responsible. This was a cultural problem.

Concerning minimum wage, the delegation indicated that there was no general minimum salary in the Dominican Republic, but there were 14 categories of several minimum salaries, each of them being applied to another sector. For example there was a minimum wage for sugar workers, one for the hotel sector, and so on. Each of the sub-categories had three sub-categories, according to the size of the enterprise. This meant that in total there were 42 different minimum salaries. The whole system was quite complicated and they would need to improve it in the future.

As the Experts had indicated, the minimum salary was indeed very low and often not sufficient, said the delegation. This was linked to the unlimited workforce on the market, as indicated before.

The minimum salaries were being revised by the Government every two years but not all at once together. So every few months or so there was a revision in one of the minimum wage category. This was done on the basis of the rate of inflation. Further, the Government had a position which said that the revision should also be based on the sector‘s productivity improvement, as this improvement should also be shared with the workers. However, that position was not accepted by the employers.

The delegation also noted that the Dominican Republic with 200 labour inspectors was the country of the Central American region with the highest average of inspectors per workers. But this was still not sufficient to address all the problems.

Concerning trade unions, the delegation said that there was an increase in unions in the free trade zones. This was due to the fact that the United State’s Consumer Association was investigating in these zones. Thus the companies had an incentive to allow trade unions, if they wanted to be able to sell in the United States.

The delegation also indicated that Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic were getting the same salaries as Dominicans.

Follow-up Questions

In follow-up questions, Experts asked for clarifications on the minimum wage, what was allowing it to be so low when there were tripartite negotiations? As the delegation had indicated, these minimum wages had not increased for several years now. Were there any other examples in the region where a general minimum wage was being applied?

Questions by Experts on Articles Ten to Twelve

Turning to articles ten to twelve of the Covenant, Committee Experts asked questions on health insurance; abortion; domestic violence; adequate housing; maternal mortality and what kind of efforts were being done to reduce it; the national policy on housing; and public spending on health services.

Experts also asked whether there was, in the education budget, a programme on sexual and reproductive health. Was sexual abuse criminalized in the State party? And how was it criminalized?

An Expert noted that the figure concerning persons living below the poverty line of 42 per cent was from 2004. What was the latest figure? Further, all reference points in the report were from 2002 or 2004. Could the delegation provide more recent information and statistics?

Also, had the State party adopted a human rights approach in its poverty reduction plan, asked an Expert? Did it integrate economic, social and political rights? Did it target vulnerable individuals and groups such as children, young women, HIV/AIDS affected persons and persons with disabilities?

Concerning adequate housing, an Expert wondered whether the State party was planning to devote sufficient funds to ensure that social housing solutions would be built.

An Expert noted that two-thirds of murdered women in the Dominican Republic were victims of domestic violence. Had there been any measures by the State party to create specialized courts? What efforts were being undertaken to further protect women?

On healthcare, what was the percentage of the population that was solely dependent on the public health sector? While the public health sector offered free medical services, access was not guaranteed, presumably because of lack of sufficient health workers. Could the delegation elaborate, asked an Expert.

An Expert noted that the Dominican Republic had a national procedure to grant refugee status but that it had been inactive for some time now. This had led to persons that have now been waiting for their claims to be decided upon for four to nine years. This affected a lot of persons. What was planned to address this?

Response by Delegation

In its responses to the Committee, the delegation said that the sugar industry has been losing its importance in the past years. The sugar industry currently accounted for 1.5 per cent of the Dominican Republic’s Gross Domestic Product. The Government had had no involvement in the sugar industry in operational terms since 2000. The entire industry was now in private hands. The State participated in the sugar industry only in terms of standardization and regulation of the sector. In addition, the State provided educational and health services to the sugar industry. The sugar factories benefited from 25 very well equipped healthcare centres with 70 or more doctors employed. These offered all necessary medical services to the workers.

The sugar cane communities also had health centers, said the delegation, in addition to the public health sector’s health centers. The sugar cane communities enjoyed a whole series of services from the State. There were 88 schools with well trained teachers providing basic primary education in the communities. The communities had 7,000 modern homes with all the necessary basic services such as roads, drinking water, schools, health services, and churches for all major represented religions.

Issues of trafficking and domestic violence were of concern to the State, said the delegation. Concerning the existing infrastructure to combat these, there were specialized courts for family issues that had been established and there were centres for women victims. The statistics for 2006 were of around 45,000 registered complaints and 85 per cent of them had been from ill-treated women and 15 per cent from ill-treated men.

Concerning the minimum wage, the delegation said that a seminar to learn from other Latin American States on how to establish new criteria for a minimum wage had been planned to take place last month but it had been postponed to next January. The aim of the Dominican Republic was to reach a minimum wage that would cover all the basic needs of a family; it should allow one to get all the necessary goods and services for a decent living.

Concerning the social security, the delegation said that the system they had put in place was a progressive one and that coverage had gone from 20 per cent coverage to 40 per cent, which had been reached this July. The system was thus constantly growing. The State was also bringing increasingly more resources to the subsidized regime.

On maternal mortality, much progress needed to be done, said the delegation. Infant mortality of children aged under five years of age had gone from 59 per thousand in 1998 to 36 per thousand in 2007. Thus, by 2015 infant mortality would be of 24.2 per thousand births. This was still in excess of the target of the Millennium Development Goals but they would be very close to it.

Concerning the housing situation, the delegation said that 600,000 families were affected by the housing shortages. It was difficult for the State to meet the demands for new buildings. The State had built 200,000 housing units in 2006 but this was not enough to meet the demands. Thus, the State was also rehabilitating existing units. Over the last ten years they had rehabilitated around 400,000 housing units.

Concerning evictions, the delegation said that the Government had made major efforts to address the housing situation, particularly with regard to the registering of properties. The State was trying to improve the order in that area. Measures had been taken to limit as much as possible the use of public force and it should not be used unduly. The State was also ensuring that evictions were happening in a fashion that respected the law. It was true that there had been instances where things had not been done properly, but the State was working to address this.

Follow-up Questions

In follow-up questions, Experts asked questions on the minimum wage and on access to HIV/AIDS medicine.

One Expert wondered if the reason behind the high level of the mortality rate was because of the quality of the hospitals. The Committee’s General Comment 14 highlighted basic criteria for the health care services sector: availability, accessibility and quality. While health coverage had increased from 20 to 40 percent in recent years in the Dominican Republic, what about the quality of health services?

Also an Expert said that the question on the national refugee status determination procedure had not been answered by the delegation.

Answer by Delegation

Answering these questions and others, the delegation said that they were aware of the fact that their minimum wage system was quite complex and they recognized the fact that they needed a general minimum wage system.

On the mortality rate and the quality of the healthcare system, the delegation said that the issue of the quality was guaranteed but that unfortunately it was accessible only for the 40 per cent who benefited from access to healthcare.

Concerning the question on the refugee commission, the delegation said that it was true that it had not worked for some time. However, there were very few persons arriving in the Dominican Republic who met the requisites for political refugee status. What they had were mostly economic refugees. But, they did have some cases of political refugees, thus they did have to have an active commission active. As an example, they had had two Chechens some time ago who applied for refugee status. Thus, they had to provide care to these people and ensure that the commission’s activities be resumed.

Also, concerning the housing situation, the delegation said that quite apart from their own problems and the accumulated housing deficits, the fact was that the Republic was located in a region of tropical storms and they had to frequently provide housing solutions for people whose homes had been destructed.

Questions by Experts on Articles Thirteen to Fifteen

Taking up articles thirteen to fifteen, Experts asked questions on what the State was undertaking to address the high levels of illiteracy. On the high level of school dropouts, one Expert wondered if this was not linked to the limited quality of education. What was the status of access to Internet in the rural areas? Did vulnerable groups have access to Internet?

Another Expert noted that the level of school dropouts was quite high but no explanation was given for the reason for this. Could the delegation give the exact school dropout rates for the primary and secondary level?

An Expert asked a question on the adult education system, what were the statistics of adult education? What was the proportion of migrants in adult education?

One Expert noted that some children started school at a very late age, could the delegation explain why it was so? Also there was information which said that children born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents had not received birth certificates and identity cards and they could thus not enroll in schools. Could the delegation elaborate on this?

Concerning universities, an Expert noted that there were private ones in the Dominican Republic, but were there also public ones? Was it competitive with the private?

Another Expert noted that the Republic was quite off-track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of universals access to primary education. Why did so many children not attend primary school? Also, what programmes were there in the State party with regard to education in sexual and reproductive health?

Concerning culture, an Expert said that it seemed that the State attached very little budgetary importance to the development of culture. How was the State addressing the right to culture and ensuring the people’s participation in it?

Response by delegation

Answering these questions and others, the delegation said that in 2008 only 1.8 per cent of the State’s budget had been earmarked for education. This year it had been 2.4 per cent. Their goal was to reach a percentage of 4 per cent for each year. The proportion was increasing every year but they had not yet reached the objectives they had set themselves.

Concerning the situation in schools, their major problem was not enrollment, as they had the second highest school enrollment rate in Latin America, but the quality of education was at stake. Almost 25 per cent of school children enrolled in primary education repeated grades. In order to ensure that children stayed in school they had introduced breakfasts in school which had had a clear impact. Children’s performance had also increased greatly thanks to the breakfast programmes, said the delegation.

As to the access to Internet, the delegation said that they had made great efforts. They had created 68 technology community centers and 40 additional ones were under construction. Some 84 million pesos had been invested in this project. There were also 600 digital rooms in schools where computer skills were being taught.

On whether it was true that there was discrimination against immigrant children in the Dominican schools, the delegation said that this was not the case. Formerly there had been a provision that said that children who did not have birth certificates could not attend school but this law had been repelled in 2002.

Concerning university, the delegation said that there was one single public university in the country. It had local branches throughout the country. It guaranteed access to all citizens to university education. Enrollment was free but in the private sector courses had to be paid for. The enrollment rate in private universities was quite the same as in public ones, but the quality differed between both systems. In some areas it was the public university system which was better than the private one. One could state that the public university system was competitive with the private system.

Concerning the indigenous community, the delegation said that they had been wiped out within the first 50 years of the conquest. The State was now trying to enhance its indigenous elements and was trying to take into account things like food traditions. They were also making efforts to value and enhance all the elements that had to do with the African culture.

Concluding Remarks

MAX PUIG, Minister of Labour of the Dominican Republic, said that they were very grateful for how the Committee had dealt with them. This type of exercise was extremely useful. For them it was not a kind of exam or an obstacle that had to be overcome, but a way to improve themselves. They would make additional efforts to provide the Committee with additional information. It was a major challenge they had ahead of them but the results would be very helpful to the Government.

JAIME MARCHAN ROMERO, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for all the information it had provided the Committee with. The delegation had tried to follow up on all the information of the situation since 1997, the date of the last report. The dialogue between the Committee and the State party should be continuous and ongoing and not only sporadic. The Committee hoped that its concluding observations would be of assistance to the State party. The Committee urged that the implementation of the recommendations would be done with the broadest possible involvement of civil society.

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