2007 Archive

Clinic Associate Director Roxanna Altholz '99 Leads International Outcry Against Dominican Government's Attack on Human Rights Defender

Roxanna Altholz '99, associate director of Boalt's International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRC), played a central role this past week in rallying opposition to the Dominican Republic government's effort to strip human rights activist Sonia Pierre of her citizenship. Pierre is a vocal defender of the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. The government's action follows days after it complied with a 2005 order by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to pay $22,000 in damages to clients of the IHRC, Violeta Bosico and Dilcia Yean, Dominican girls to whom the government had denied birth certificates because they are of Haitian descent. [Read the Miami Herald story.]

On March 31st, the Dominican Central Electoral Commission issued a report alleging that Pierre, the 2006 winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Award, was not entitled to a Dominican birth certificate and citizenship because her mother was in the country illegally when she registered Sonia's birth in 1963. The government began its probe into Pierre's status after receiving fraud allegations from the Fuerza Nacional Progresista, an extreme right-wing political party.

Altholz was attending a conference in the Dominican Republic when the government leaked news of its investigation to the local press, and she immediately alerted the international officials and local activists attending the conference. Altholz and her colleagues devised a strategy that both mobilized public support from a wide spectrum of Dominican organizations and brought about quiet diplomacy by major international figures. The resulting groundswell of support has been accompanied by a sympathetic outcry from major Dominican politicians who oppose the government's actions against Pierre.

Pierre is the general coordinator of the Association of Women of Haitian Descent and--with IHRLC and the Center for Justice and International Law--represented the two Dominican girls in an eight-year legal battle that culminated in the Inter-American Court's decision against the Dominican government. The landmark international ruling ordered an overhaul of the Dominican Republic's birth registration system to eliminate the discriminatory policies and practices that leave thousands of children of Haitian ancestry unable to claim their rightful Dominican citizenship.

Pierre's plight has been covered by the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, among other major news outlets. To date, the Dominican government has not called off the process of stripping Pierre's citizenship. The IHRC is continuing to play a central role in the work of the ad hoc coalition that has sprung up to defend her.