LONDON, CMC - As a judge summons former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to appear in court on Thursday after defying previous orders, a special advisor with the international human rights group, Amnesty International, is expressing concern about Haiti’s judicial system.
“In Haiti, where the judiciary still suffers from structural deficiencies inherited from the dictatorship years, bringing former President Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to justice over his alleged responsibility for crimes, such as torture, killings and disappearances during his time in office is proving particularly challenging,” said Javier Zúñiga.
He said the former leader showed contempt for the justice system and victims by failing to appear at two previous hearings for his alleged involvement in those crimes.
Magistrate Jean Joseph Lebrun has since issued a summons for him to appear in court this week to determine whether Duvalier should again face charges for human rights abuses committed during the nearly 15 years of his brutal regime.
Zúñiga said the backdrop to the case “sees Haitian authorities showing little real interest in pressing for Duvalier to be held accountable for his actions”.
He pointed to several public statements in which President Michel Martelly has hinted at pardoning Duvalier and said the former Haitian leader has continued to take part in public events, “despite having being placed under house arrest while charges against him are investigated.
“Just as troubling, Duvalier was recently granted a diplomatic passport, a further sign that other powers of the state are inclined to ensure impunity from prosecution for the former dictator.
“This is despite the fact that there seems sufficient evidence to prosecute Duvalier for widespread arbitrary detentions, torture, deaths in custody, killings and disappearances that took place under his regime,” he added.
The Amnesty International special advisor said while it is true that Duvalier’s case “might be a headache for Haiti’s justice system, it is the test through which the judiciary’s credibility and independence will be assessed.
“Bringing to justice those responsible for past human rights violations will ensure that those in power now will be disabused of the notion that they can act with impunity,” he said, “and, despite all the delays, I still haven’t lost faith in the capacity of the Haitian judiciary to do what most believe impossible”.
Zúñiga said the court’s recognition during the previous hearing of the victims and their lawyers as civil claimants, despite an explicit request from Duvalier’s lawyer not to do so, is “a small but encouraging step in the right direction.
“The simple fact is that failing to act because of political or other pressures will condemn past, present and future generations of Haitians to a world of injustice,” he said.
Human rights advocates say that thousands were imprisoned, tortured or killed during Duvalier's 1971-1986 regime for opposing his government.
He was ousted in a popular revolt; then he fled to France, where he remained in exile for 25 years.
In early 2011, Duvalier unexpectedly returned to his impoverished homeland.