January 18, 2012
In a front page Washington Post article, William Booth reports on the luxurious lifestyle that former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has been living since his return to Haiti last year. Although officially on house arrest, Booth reports that Duvalier “dines with his many admirers at the chic bistros of Petionville” and last week for the two year anniversary of the earthquake “Duvalier drove himself — with a police escort — to the government’s memorial ceremony to mark the second anniversary of Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake. The audience, which included Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, his prime minister and former president Bill Clinton, rose to greet him.” (Journalists on the scene noted that both Martelly and Clinton also shook Duvalier’s hand.)
Duvalier’s presence at the ceremony in Titanyen was particularly troubling because, as Susana Ferreira pointed out in an article for TIME:
Titanyen, located north of Port-au-Prince, has been used as a body dumping ground for decades. It’s where the Tonton Macoutes, the feared militia of the 1957-86 Duvalier family dictatorship, buried many of its estimated 30,000 victims.
Booth reports that Duvalier’s attorney believes all charges will be dropped, “He will be cleared of all charges. It is almost finished now; the judge is typing up the order to throw it all out,” Reynold Georges told Booth. This should come as little surprise given that President Martelly has consistently voiced his support for amnesty for the former dictator, telling Booth “It is part of the past. We need to learn our lessons and move forward.” Additionally, as Booth points out, “Martelly’s government includes many officials with ties to Duvalier’s government.” The AP’s Trenton Daniel reported in October that:
Now, a former minister and ambassador under the regime is serving as a close adviser to Martelly. And at least five high-ranking members of the administration, including the new prime minister, are the children of senior dictatorship officials.
Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch said when Duvalier returned a year ago, that “Duvalier’s return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice. Under the presidency of Duvalier and his Tonton Macoutes, thousands were killed and tortured, and hundreds of thousands of Haitians fled into exile. His time to be held accountable is long overdue.” Amnesty International issued a statement this week calling on the Haitian government to prosecute Duvalier. Amnesty’s statement is even more forceful, placing blame directly on Martelly and his administration for delaying the prosecution:
“The authorities haven’t made a serious effort to look into past events that afflicted a generation of Haitians with torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and other serious human rights violations.”
“The investigation seems to have deliberately stalled by changing Public Prosecutors multiple times,” said Javier Zúñiga.
“It has become evident that in Haiti, the independence of the judiciary is just a mirage.”
While noting that the “Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights have re-affirmed Haiti’s obligation to investigate these crimes”, Amnesty calls not just on Haitian authorities but on other entities, including the UN, to assist in the prosecution. Thus far however, the international community, especially the U.S. government, has remained silent despite the impunity enjoyed by Duvalier. As Booth reports:
But the lawyers pursuing Duvalier say that the international community, with the exception of Canada, has been mostly silent on the prosecution — and that the new government of Haiti is against it.
The U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Merten, said the Duvalier case “is a matter for the Haitian courts and for the Haitian people who feel aggrieved.”
The statement by Merten is especially egregious. More than simply a matter for “the Haitian people who feel aggrieved”, the case against Duvalier is a matter of international law. Jeena Shah, a fellow with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti, notes that, “UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Navanethem Pillay affirmed, ‘Haiti has an obligation to investigate the well-documented serious human rights violations that occurred during the rule of Mr. Duvalier, and to prosecute those responsible for them.’” Additionally, Shah writes:
More than that, the U.S. State Department has yet to declassify files documenting Duvalier’s knowledge of his regime’s abuses, which could prove integral to establishing his criminal liability at trial. While it was comfortable playing a decisive role in Haiti’s recent elections by forcing the electoral council to reverse the first round results, the State Department declined to even remind Haiti of its obligation under international law to prosecute Duvalier, calling justice for Duvalier “a matter for the people of Haiti.” However, former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr’s assistance to Duvalier is seen as a signal of support from the U.S. Intelligence Community, which has supported impunity for right-wing dictators in Latin America and the Caribbean for decades.
Bob Barr, former Republican congressman from Georgia and the 2008 Libertarian presidential candidate appeared alongside Duvalier last year when the former dictator made his first public statement. CNN reported at the time that Barr and another two American lawyers “were there to advise him on international matters.” Barr’s website says that Barr and the other lawyers “will be representing him [Duvalier] in bringing his message of hope to the world.” Barr also downplayed Duvalier’s role in gross violations of human rights, asserting that “allegations are the cheapest commodity on the market.”