Will dual citizenship happen? Plan to extend rights abroad in legislative limbo

BHR 12-11: Click here to download our latest edition.BHR 12-11: Click here to download our latest edition.On May 8, 2011, Haitian lawmakers voted – by an overwhelming majority – to amend the article in the constitution that would do away with the law that bans dual citizenship. This meant an estimated 4 million Haitians living abroad would finally have a say in the political process in Haiti. In addition to voting rights, they would be able to run for lower levels of office, among other rights granted through this amendment of the 1987 constitution.

For many Haitians living abroad who provided economic support of loved ones which bolstered Haiti’s economy for many years, this was welcomed news. Dual citizenship remained an unlikely possibility until major political strides were made in the last year – due mostly to the significant role the diaspora played in the aftermath of the earthquake. Political, private sector, civil society leaders acknowledged that Haiti would need its diaspora to rebuild.

However, dual citizenship has yet to become law in Haiti.

According to a report published in October by Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains-RNDDH (National Network of Human Rights Defense) one of the largest human rights organizations in Haiti, the constitutional amendment that was published in the country’s official newspaper Le Moniteur, contained several errors. What was published differed from what was actually adopted in parliament said RNDDH.

The Embassy of Haiti based in Washington, DC, agrees.

“The language recorded in the minutes of the deliberations that occurred during the [49th] legislative [session] did not match the language published in Le Moniteur, said an official at the Embassy. “We have to wait for the reconciliation of the language minutes and the final bill.”

Once a bill is passed in the parliament, for it to become law, it must be published in the Le Moniteur. This final step for ratification of laws falls under the purview of the executive branch.

The constitutional amendment was published on May 13, 2011 – the day before President Michel Martelly took office. Once several officials and groups – including RNDDH – called out the discrepancies, Martelly withdrew the published amendment.

The discrepancies were found in a number of issues, including voting requirements. This is very important, according to musician and former presidential candidate Wyclef Jean. In November, Jean performed at a Haiti benefit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and openly expressed his views on dual citizenship before the show.

“Until you have a law which states you can evenly participate in the stake of what’s going on, you will always face conflict. You cannot ignore reality of legislation,” said Jean.  “It helped Israel and Dominican Republic out.  We’re still in a situation where you say you want to help your country, but at the same time you say if I can’t be part of saying who I want to have as the next president and I’m giving you my remittance money, I’m collecting over $2 billion, you have to respect me.”

The status of the constitutional amendment remains unclear. However, longtime advocates for dual citizenship remain hopeful it will become law sooner rather than later.

The Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti, a Chicago-based nonprofit that played a key role in dual-citizenship advocacy, wrote an open letter to President Martelly in September asking him to push for the publication of the amendments.

“The hope is that the it happens, so that we don’t have to wait another five years to start the process all over again,” said Aline Lauture, treasurer of the group. “We think dual citizenship will become law and that Haiti will benefit from it.”

Implementing the law abroad

In the US, the Embassy of Haiti in coordination with the consulates would be charged with implementation of new civic functions such as the voting process. The Embassy says it has yet to explore the possibilities and challenges of implementation of dual citizenship. They will wait for instructions from the government of Haiti.

“We cannot get instructions for something that does not yet exist… Once it becomes law, we have to analyze it, to see how it affects the diaspora here in [the US],” said William Exantus, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy.

While this is unprecedented for the Haitian community, several immigrant groups here in Massachusetts have dual citizenship, and thus are eligible vote in two elections.

In August, the Boston Cape Verdean consulate coordinated with several civic associations in communities including Dorchester, Roxbury and Brockton to enable Cape Verdeans with dual citizenship to vote in the presidential elections.

“To vote, you need a Cape Verdean passport and to register with the consulate,” said an officer from the consulate. “When elections come around, we send information to registered voters about where to go vote. There was a pretty decent turnout in last August’s elections.”

The consulate was unable to provide exact numbers of voters for this election.

The Brazilian community also has dual citizenship, though Brazilians living abroad can only vote in the presidential elections. During the October 2010 elections (when Brazil elected its first woman president, Dilma Rousseff) thousands of Brazilians waited in long lines to vote at Framingham High School – the only location designated by the Brazilian consulate.

“[Voting] is a very important issue in the community because Brazilians have become more active civically both in the US and in Brazil, especially since dual citizenship became law in 1994,” said Heloisa Galvão of the Brazilian Women’s Group. “Most [people in the community] were following the elections. The consulate informs all the Brazilian newspapers and local organizations about the location to vote.”

Haiti’s neighbor, the Dominican Republic, also has dual citizenship. An estimated 200,000 Dominicans have registered to vote abroad since a bill passed in May 2011 establishing that Dominicans living abroad can vote in the 2012 presidential elections. It also includes a provision to elect seven overseas legislators. Two of the legislators will represent the Caribbean and Latin America, three will be elected for US and Canada and the final two for Europe.

According to the Dominican consulate in Boston, in order for Dominicans to vote, they must obtain a Cédula de identidad y electoral, a national identification card with a unique number, from the Junta Central Electoral. This ID enables citizens to register with the consulate – which provides details on local voting locations.

Embassy officials say that Haitians don’t have the habit of registering with institutions that represent the government of Haiti – including the Embassy itself and the local consulates.

“The only times Haitians really use our services,” said Exantus, “[is] to update passport, update any other immigration documents or in a case of emergency they think we might be able assist with.”