Baby Doc Duvalier Must Not Evade Justice

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative is urging Haiti to ensure that Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the country’s former dictator, stands trial on charges arising from systematic human rights abuses committed during his brutal 15-year rule, as required by international law.

Duvalier returned to Haiti in January, 2011, after 25 years in exile. He is now at liberty despite having been accused by state prosecutors on his return of crimes against humanity and other human rights and financial abuses. 

A separate complaint was filed against him by 30 victims of his alleged crimes. The complaint from the victims’ group accuses Duvalier of responsibility for systematic crimes committed against them and their families, including murder, arbitrary arrests, torture, and disappearances, amounting to crimes against humanity under international law.

In January, 2012, a Haitian magistrate ruled that  Duvalie could not be brought to trial for crimes against humanity. The victims group is now appealing this ruling. A hearing is scheduled on Thursday, February 7, which Duvalier has been asked by the court to attend.

Haiti’s Collective against Impunity, a civil society alliance whose members include 22 of the victims particpating in the complaint, has expressed its growing anxiety over the conduct of the legal process. It has reported that the most recent appeals hearing, on January 31 this year, were marked by “chaotic” legal proceedings, a failure to respect the legal rights of the victims, and “an apparent will to maintain impunity.”

The Justice Initiative filed a brief with the judicial authorities in Haiti in October, 2011, setting out the legal arguments, under both international and Haitian law, why the proceedings against Jean-Claude Duvalier for crimes against humanity should continue.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said: “It’s long past time for Haiti to do what’s right and what international law requires—bring former President Duvalier to justice for the crimes he is alleged to have committed.”

The Open Society Justice Initiative uses litigation, research, advocacy, and legal expertise to support the rule of law and the promotion of human rights. Our work on international justice includes supporting the work of international criminal tribunals, while promoting the vital role of national courts in trying international crimes.