Dominican Born Haitian Rights Defender, Sonia Pierre, wins 2006 RFK Human Rights Award

October 08, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
Washington DC—- The 2006 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award will be presented to Sonia Pierre, Director of the Movement for Dominican Women of Haitian Descent (MUDHA). Under Sonia’s leadership, MUDHA has risen to protect the rights of the Dominican Republic’s Haitian immigrants and their descendants and to empower women and children in the face of deep rooted discrimination and intolerance. Despite threats against her life, Sonia has been a driving force for change and a leader in the movement to end human rights violations against Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

“This award strengthens our work at MUDHA, our institution, and our communities,” said Sonia upon receiving the award. “As a human rights activist, who has been fighting for the recognition of the human rights of Haitian immigrants and their descendents, since an early age, I owe this award to the communities MUDHA supports, to my colleagues and to all who believed in our work.”

Sonia will be awarded by Ethel Kennedy in a ceremony hosted by Senator Edward Kennedy on Friday November 17th, 2006 beginning at 10:30 AM in Washington, DC at the U.S. Senate’s Caucus Room. Stay tuned to for updates.

Like many of the Dominican Republic’s 650,000 people of Haitian descent, Sonia grew up in one of the country’s migrant worker camps, called a bateye. Her family left Haiti in search of economic opportunity working in the state-owned sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic. Sonia began working on human rights issues in 1976 at the age of 13.

Dominicans of Haitian descent often come from families that have lived in the country for generations and have never even visited Haiti. They are denied their constitutional right to citizenship and the necessary documents for a legal identity. Many Haitian immigrant and their descendants remain virtually stateless, giving the government a rationale to deny them individual rights. Numerous human rights groups have documented how ethnic Haitians are regularly subjected to violence and their rights to education, adequate housing, water and other fundamental human rights are violated. Females in the Haitian community are subjected to widespread rapes with few legal or social resources to look to for help.

“The level of violence against Haitian immigrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic is alarming,” said Gay McDougal, RFK Human Rights Award Judge and U.N. Independent Expert on Minority Issues. “At a time when even second and third generation ethnic Haitians are targets of brutal human rights abuses, Sonia Pierre has risen as the most profound leader in the nation’s movement for minority rights.”

Sonia has become a vocal leader against policies that deny Haitian immigrants and their descendants’ legal equality and keep them in perpetual poverty. She was a petitioner in the landmark case before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, Yean and Bosico v. Dominican Republic, which for the first time in the court’s history upheld human rights laws prohibiting racial discrimination in access to nationality and citizenship. The two children named in the case had been denied birth certificates due to requirements established by the discriminatory registration system. The Court ruled that the nation’s current system of registration for citizenship not only defied the country’s own constitution, which extends citizenship to all born within its borders, but had violated the fundamental human rights of Yean and Bosico. The Court then ordered the Dominican Republic to open its schools’ doors to all children, aiming to end rampant discrimination in the nation’s education system against its Haitian minority.

“One year after the Bosico decision , the Dominican Republic has yet to implement the court’s orders in direct violation of its own legal obligations,” said Monika Kalra Varma, Acting Director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.

The Dominican government has defiantly embraced racism and exclusion by beginning the process to amend their constitution, calling a popular consultation. The consultation brings government officials and non-governmental groups together to discuss how best to reform the Dominican constitution, including the subject of striking away articles that give citizenship to those born in the country. MUDHA and other groups that defend the nationality of those born in the Dominican Republic have been barred from participating in the discussion. Still Sonia has continued her national and international campaign to bring light to these injustices and to rid the excesses of racism and intolerance from her country.

“Upon giving the human rights award, we begin a partnership with Sonia and MUDHA, working with her movement to ensure the human rights of Haitians in the Dominican Republic are realized“, explains Varma.

For almost 40 years the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (, has served as an activist organization dedicated to Robert F. Kennedy’s vision of a more peaceful and just world. The RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights works to advance the human rights movement through partnering with courageous grassroots defenders from around the world who have won the annual Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

Source: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (