Sonia Pierre
2006, Domnican Republic
Sonia Pierre

Sonia Pierre led the movement against a century of state-sponsored racial discrimination by the Dominican government against Dominicans of Haitian descent. The target of hate crimes, Dominicans with a Haitian background are also denied citizenship and face the threat of deportation from the country in which they were born, worked, and raised a family. They are scapegoats, Pierre argued, for the country’s economic and political problems.

The Dominican government’s opposition to granting citizenship to anyone of even remote Haitian descent is severe. In response to Inter-American Court ruling granting rights to Dominicans of Haitian descent, the government rewrote its constitution, denaturalizing thousands of people and leaving them stateless. As Ninaj Raoul (Executive Director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees) remembers, one reason Pierre worked to raise awareness on an international scale was that activists in her organization—the Movement of Dominican Women of Haitian Descent (MUDHA)—often felt so alone.

As head and founder of MUDHA, Pierre championed human rights cases at the international level while also building and sustaining a community support in the Dominican Republic. For this, she and her children faced death threats.

In 2010, immediately following the earthquake in Haiti, Pierre traveled to Léogâne—an area that had been the epicenter of the quake—partnering with Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, in the U.S., to bring medical supplies. Recently, a year after Pierre’s death of a heart attack at 48, her dream to build a women’s center in Léogâne was realized. Diasporic support was key to her human rights vision, and the center is a testament to Pierre’s ability to build international coalition. At the same time, she advocated for the ethics of citizenship within her country. In 2008, wrote that discrimination could not be stopped until “all Dominicans who value democracy and the rule of law stand with their fellow citizens and declare that the time for unequal treatment is over.”