The Case Against Amnesty for "Baby Doc" Duvalier in Haiti: Fabrication and Forgiveness Set a Dangerous Precedent
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This article is an abridged version of the original which is set to appear in Haiti Liberté.
The inauguration of Michel Martelly to the Haitian presidency on May 14 should sound serious alarm for those concerned with human rights, justice and the rule law in the country. In a pre-inaugural interview with the Montreal daily La Presse on April 18, Martelly put forward a plan of national reconciliation which would include granting amnesty to former Haitian ruler Jean Claude Duvalier.
The president-elect later backed away from this idea on advice from his counsel. But his connections to the former dictator present some worrying potential for ongoing efforts to prosecute him.
In the La Presse interview, Martelly was asked about the return this year of Mr. Duvalier and former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti. On amnesty, he said, “… we won't take hasty decisions, but I'm leaning toward the side of amnesty and forgiveness so that we can think about tomorrow and not yesterday.”
While this appears as an admirable tone of reconciliation, the position expressed by Martelly is deeply problematic. Firstly, he cannot legally grant amnesty to Duvalier for the killings, disappearances and political prisons for which the former dictator is responsible. They are crimes against humanity under international law.
Secondly, as concerns Aristide, there are no charges against the former president–neither in Haitian nor in international law– for which he could be pardoned.
Duvalier’s crimes are documented by human rights agencies such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and by the United Nations, the United States government and reams of credible media reports.
In these circumstances, amnesty would not be an act of national reconciliation. It would have all the appearance of a favour towards Duvalier, and further fictitious allegations against Aristide’s name and reputation.
During the recent election, Martelly–the former kompa singer–campaigned as a champion of “change,” a “political outsider.” In a March 2, 2011 interview with Agence France Presse , the self-proclaimed outsider raised alarm by stating he was “ready” to work with officials who had served under the Duvalier regimes.
One of his advisors, Gervais Charles, currently serves as Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyer, and Daniel Supplice, coordinator of Martelly’s transition team, is a childhood friend and former schoolmate of Jean Claude Duvalier. He served as Minister of Social Affairs under Duvalier.
Martelly’s nominee for prime minister, Daniel-Gérard Rouzier, is a member of the Haitian elite that violently opposed the elections of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the social reforms his governments sought to implement. Rouzier’s father also was a minister in Duvalier’s government.
Martelly’s open support of the 1991 and 2004 coups against Aristide clearly shows his selective taste for democracy.
The crimes of Jean Claude Duvalier
With Duvalier’s return to Haiti in January 2011, the Haitian government under President René Préval opened two criminal proceedings, one for financial crimes and the other for crimes against persons. There are none against Jean Bertrand Aristide.
François Duvalier and his son, Jean Claude (who inherited the Haitian presidency in 1971) were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 60,000 people. The vast majority were political opponents or innocents suspected of subversion. Thousands more were brutally tortured at the infamous Fort Dimanche – one of three notorious prisons that formed Duvalier’s “triangle of death”.
As President-for-Life, Jean-Claude Duvalier did not even try to hide his financial crimes. According to the January 25, 2011 Miami Herald , “Lawyers estimated that Haiti's former dictator embezzled at least a half-billion dollars through an elaborate scheme of false companies, phony charities and transfers in the name of friends and family."