As Haiti continues the work of putting its crumbled cities back together two years after the earthquake, there is concern that an old foe has begun to slide back into the cracks of Haiti’s fragile democracy and out of the grasp of justice.
This week, many Haitians and human rights advocates expressed outrage as a Haitian investigative magistrate recommended that notorious former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier should only answer to financial crimes and not the egregious human rights abuses carried out under his rule.
But Duvalier’s legacy of violence and intimidation is one etched in the tomes of history and the hearts of Haitians who fell victim to his iron rule. Duvalier became president of Haiti in 1971 at age 19, after the death of his also-notorious father Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier and, during his 15-year regime, he has been responsible for the killing and torture of thousands of Haitians.
"The cases of human rights abuses we documented in Haiti are likely to be only a small proportion of what really happened during Duvalier's rule,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International. “We will probably never know the true extent of the horror, but carrying out effective investigations will go a long way towards delivering justice."
Since the recommendation that his human rights record be overlooked, not only has the decision been appealed, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and other human rights advocates have expressed their desire to see Duvalier brought to justice.
"I support [the victims'] decision to appeal the judge's decision in order to proceed with the [human rights] case," said Michel Forst, the U.N. independent expert on human rights.
Advocates say that although the crimes happened decades ago, there is ample evidence to prosecute Duvalier for torture, false imprisonment and political assassination.
However, despite the past, reports say that Duvalier has settled into a rather comfortable life in Port-Au-Prince since his return to Haiti from exile in January 2011. Although he is on house arrest, Duvalier allegedly enjoys all the trappings of an honored former head of state, including attending jazz concerts, enjoying expensive dining with friends and, most troubling of all, popular support from some Haitians.
"Things have never been as good as when he was here," a Haitian translator for Mother Jones told the magazine. "The only thing that was worse was we couldn't talk about politics because he was a dictator, but everything else is much worse now."
There is also concern that Duvalier’s strong pull of influence has already begun infiltrating Haitian officials ahead of his trial. Several former Duvalier-era officials now have positions in President Michel Martelly’s administration, and the president recently raised eyebrows when he suggested that Duvalier would not stand trial because Haitians needed reconciliation — a position he quickly cleared after international criticism.
Whether or not everyone agrees on Duvalier’s legacy, all Haitians deserve to see Duvalier stand trial and witness the revival reconstruction of Haiti’s rule of law by bringing the nation’s biggest offender to justice.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Swoan Parker)