Washington, D.C., July 19, 2021. – The Chamber of Deputies of the Dominican Republic approved, on June 30, a reform to the Penal Code that excludes sexual orientation as a ground for discrimination— organizations and activists that defend and promote the rights of LGBTI+ people in the country are engaged in a legal and social battle for the Senate not to ratify this Penal Code. Ratification would inevitably expand the grounds of discrimination against the community with different sexual orientations and gender identities.
The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) spoke with human rights activist and lawyer Juan Alberto Francisco, who explained that efforts to reform the Penal Code have been underway for more than 20 years, but they have always been hampered by the dominance of conservative groups in both the House, Senate, and even at the Executive level. An example of hindered progress includes the 2015 reform that was vetoed by former President Danilo Medina, which included three grounds for terminating a pregnancy.
Francisco noted that it was only in August 2019 that a bill recognizing sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination was introduced. However, the latter was left out in the draft prepared by the Justice Committee of the Chamber of Deputies. When it was finally put to the vote on June 30, 92 Members voted against sexual orientation being covered by Article 187, which refers to the grounds for discrimination.
The specialist said that another worrying change within the article includes a paragraph that reads: “there shall be no discrimination where the service provider or contractor bases its refusal on the grounds of religious, ethical or moral conscientious objection or on institutional requirements.”
“That means that in the event that the LGBT community is excluded from any health service, from any employment, even from any commercial establishment, it will not be considered discrimination,” says Christian King, a trans non-binary activist and representative of the organization Trans Siempre Amigas (TRANSSA). “This is a setback considering that TRANSSA has used the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office, and we have obtained compensation for damages caused to LGBT people who have been discriminated against in that regard,” he adds.
After approval in the Chamber of Deputies, it is up to the Senate to vote on this Penal Code reform. Although there is still no set date for this, activists and the LGBTI + community in the Dominican Republic are taking various actions to make visible the human rights violations that would result from the final approval of this Penal Code—moreover, to recognize that both sexual orientation and gender identity are causes of discrimination.
“A movement has been formed called RD es de Todes, it is made up of activists and members of the LGBT community who do not want this Penal Code to be approved as is. With TRANSSA we have exhausted legal processes hand in hand with the Observatory for Human Rights of Trans People, so that the Senate understands that rights are being violated. What we carried out with the Observatory was a preventive protection action before the Superior Administrative Court so that the Senate does not approve it, while the movement, RD es de Todes, encourages senators to raise awareness. We are also doing visibility work with the media and the Inter-American System to create pressure so that the Senate does not approve the reform,” expressed King.
The human rights activist and lawyer, Juan Alberto Francisco, explained that from the legal point of view, senators must understand that including sexual orientation in Article 187 of the Penal Code does not imply any conflict with national legislation, including the Constitution, since sexual orientation is already included in other laws such as the Code of Criminal Procedure, which says that there can be no discrimination against judges or officials of the Public Prosecutor’s Office on the basis of racial prejudice, sexual orientation, among others.
Francisco commented that, unfortunately, in the Senate there is also a strong influence of conservative and anti-rights groups. In addition, even if the Senate modifies the Penal Code based on the demands raised, it must return to the Chamber of Deputies for approval.
From Race and Equality, we join the concern of activists and the LGBTI+ community of the Dominican Republic regarding the Penal Code reform, and we call on the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies and the Executive branch to take into account the obligations of the State in the field of human rights, especially with regard to guaranteeing non-discrimination.