NEW YORK—A group of international and Haitian legal advocacy groups has expressed support for continuing efforts in Haiti to prosecute Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the country’s former ruler, for human rights abuses committed during his 15 years in power.
In a joint letter to Haiti’s state prosecutor, the Open Society Justice Initiative, the International Commission of Jurists, Avocats sans frontières Canada, the International Center for Transitional Justice, and Haiti's Collective against Impunity have urged the country’s judicial authorities “to reject impunity” for Duvalier. They call on the authorities to take into account “the arguments made under international human rights laws that the legal proceedings against Duvalier should continue.”
The letter is backed by a detailed 13-page legal briefing prepared by the Open Society Justice Initiative that is being submitted to the Haitian judicial authorities, setting out the legal reasoning for prosecution.
Haitian investigating magistrates are currently determining whether Duvalier can be tried in Haiti on a range of charges. More than 16 individuals have filed cases accusing him of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians, amounting to crimes against humanity, including allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances.
Duvalier’s lawyers have argued publicly that Haitian courts do not have the jurisdiction to try Duvalier, principally citing a 1986 amnesty law agreed when the former president was forced from power.
The Justice Initiative brief argues on that contrary that:
- International standards accepted by Haiti mean the 1986 amnesty law was forced from power cannot cover offenses that amount to crimes against humanity;
- The crimes alleged were recognized by Haiti as crimes against humanity at the time they were committed, so there is no exemption from prosecution under the amnesty;
- Duvalier’s alleged crimes can be prosecuted using domestic law despite the amnesty because they were systematic, and therefore amount to crimes against humanity.
Daniele Magloire, coordinator of Haiti's Collective against Impunity, which comprises four leading local human rights groups as well as victims of abuses committed by the Duvalier government, highlighted its members' continued commitment to seeking a prosecution, despite facing challenges that have included attempted intimidation. She said:
"Putting Jean-Claude Duvalier on trial is an opportunity to change the Haitian justice system, and to demand that other perpetrators, whoever they may be, be held accountable before the Haitian people."
In September, Duvalier supporters disrupted a news conference in Port-au-Prince organized by Amnesty International, the global human rights group, to highlight the lack of progress on any prosecution of the former president.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, compared the situation in Haiti with Chile, Argentina, and other regional states that had sought accountability for rights abuses carried out under previous authoritarian regimes:
“In contrast to marked progress against impunity elsewhere in the western hemisphere, Haiti stands as an outlier. The victims of Duvalier’s crimes must be denied redress no longer.”
Duvalier, now aged 60, came to power in 1971 on the death of his father François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. He left the country in 1986 amid a rebellion against his rule and spent the following years in France until his unexpected return to Haiti in January this year.