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Haiti's 'Baby Doc' Dines Out As Prosecution Stalls; Amnesty International Urges Haiti to Bring "Baby Doc" to Justice; Article in The Guardian
Submitted by Roger on September 22, 2011 - 09:16
By Trenton Daniel, The Associated Press, September 21, 2011
Port au Prince, Haiti — Victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier's regime hoped for justice when he came home in January, or at least a trial for the former playboy dictator who ruled Haiti for 15 years with a force of thugs and a dank prison that was synonymous with torture. It hasn't worked out that way.
Instead of the trial of the century, Haitians are watching as the once fearsome "president for life" is squired about the capital, attending jazz concerts and dinners out of reach of all but a tiny fraction of the impoverished country.
Duvalier, known as "Baby Doc," appears to be ill, and many human rights activists fear the 60-year-old may die before he can be prosecuted for alleged crimes that include embezzlement, corruption, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and crimes against humanity.
"I'm very pessimistic," said Pierre Esperance, director of Haiti's National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH).
Human rights group Amnesty International is expected to release a report Thursday criticizing the delayed prosecution since Duvalier's unexpected return from exile in France.
Duvalier and his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, are estimated to have ordered the deaths of between 20,000 and 30,000 Haitian civilians during their rule, according to another rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch.
Haiti's legal system is a hybrid of the French colonial system and a patchwork of laws dating back to the Duvalier regimes. A judge can file a complaint, but so can anyone who claims to be a victim of a crime, and judges are compelled to investigate. If they find evidence, they ask a prosecutor to review the case and then the judge decides whether it goes to trial.
At first, the system gave hope to some of the thousands who suffered under the dictatorship. A judge summoned the former despot to court two days after his return and informed him he would be investigated for corruption and embezzlement during his 1971-86 reign.
More than 20 victims followed with complaints of their own. Some were prominent Haitians, including Bobby Duval, a former soccer star who said he was beaten and starved during his 17 months of captivity in the dreaded Fort Dimanche prison, and Michele Montas, a journalist who was jailed and expelled with her radio commentator husband. They stepped forward in large part to educate a country too young to remember the atrocities committed under the Duvalier regime.
But their prominence has meant little: There has not been a great public clamor for a trial, in part perhaps because more than half of Haitians were not alive during the Duvalier era and many Haitians are too preoccupied with the daily struggle to survive to care much about what happened then.
Duvalier has made only three appearances before a judge, the first a chaotic scene in which his longtime companion, Veronique Roy, called journalists from inside the courtroom to provide commentary. The judge turned his findings over to the prosecutor's office in July. But that prosecutor has since been fired and a replacement wasn't named until last week.
There also isn't an official justice minister to advance the case and it's unclear when there will be one. President Michel Martelly, who was inaugurated in May, cannot fill the Cabinet because parliament has rejected his nominees for prime minister, who must pick the justice minister and other ministerial posts. "This is why the case is still stuck," Judge Carves Jean told The Associated Press in his closet-size office at the courthouse, a decrepit building in downtown Port-au-Prince with water-stained walls.
Reynold Georges, Duvalier's main defense lawyer, argues there are no grounds to prosecute the former president because the statute of limitations on his alleged offenses has expired. Georges, an energetic man prone to long, boisterous speeches in defense of his client, says the accusations against Duvalier are pure politics, allegations from his enemies who fear he returned to Haiti to seek the presidency. Duvalier has said he came back to view the damage from last year's earthquake.
The effort to prosecute Duvalier faced hurdles before it even began. Haiti's justice system is widely considered corrupt and dysfunctional. About three-quarters of the 5,000 people imprisoned in Haiti have never even been charged with a crime. They are held in preventive detention while their cases are considered, many languishing in limbo for years.
The troubled justice system is in part a legacy of nearly three decades of Duvalier rule, regarded as one of the darkest chapters in Haitian history. Jean-Claude Duvalier was tapped at age 19 to become president after his notorious father died in 1971, heading a regime that jailed and tortured political opponents. The Tonton Macoutes, a private militia, enforced the dynasty's absolute power. The state coffers allegedly helped "Baby Doc" and his cronies finance an opulent lifestyle while the rest of the country went hungry. A popular movement of Haitians disgusted with the Duvalier regime finally chased the leader into exile in France in 1986.
Twenty-five years later, Duvalier appears to be enjoying his time back home. The former dictator wasn't jailed upon his return. He was instead placed under a house arrest that permits him to move about Petionville, southeast of Port-au-Prince. He's been seen dining with friends at a hotel and a French bistro. He celebrated his 60th birthday in July in the leafy backyard of a private home.
Still, his health seems to be declining. In March he checked into a hospital for chest pains, shuffling out six days later. The judge on the case said Duvalier looks gaunt and sleepy in court.
The U.S. State Department has been mostly quiet about the Duvalier case. U.S. Embassy spokesman Jon Piechowski declined to comment, only referring to a January statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Ultimately, a decision about what is to be done is left to the government and people of Haiti."
Rights advocates point to what they believe could pose another obstacle to prosecution: The Martelly's administration's ties to the Duvalier regime. Transition team leader Daniel Supplice is a former minister of social affairs and a diplomat under "Baby Doc." Prime minister nominee Garry Conille is the son of a former sports minister under Duvalier. "Most of them are former Duvalierists," Pierre Esperance said about Martelly's team. "I don't have hope that the new authorities are going to move this case forward."
Amnesty International Urges Haiti to Bring "Baby Doc" to Justice
By Joseph Guyler Delva, Reuters, Sept 22, 2011
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Amnesty International urged Haiti to bring former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier to justice on Thursday as it issued a report on killings and torture committed with impunity during his 15-year rule.
Duvalier returned unexpectedly to his Caribbean homeland in January after 25 years of exile in France. Days after his arrival, a Haitian prosecutor charged him with embezzlement, corruption and crimes against humanity stemming from his 1971-1986 reign. A judge is investigating the charges but has not indicated when he will rule on whether Duvalier should be tried in a criminal court.
There is little confidence in the Haitian justice system and the Duvalier case is seen as a key test of the direction it will take under President Michel Martelly, who took office in May. "There is sufficient evidence to prosecute Jean-Claude Duvalier for the widespread arbitrary detentions, torture, deaths in custody, killings and disappearances that took place during his regime," Javier Zuniga, a special adviser at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
"What is needed is political will from Haiti's new administration to comply with their international obligations and their duty to the survivors and victims of abuses."
Some Haitian human rights activists worry Duvalier, 60, could avoid prosecution if the investigation drags on. Since he was charged, Duvalier has been seen dining out in restaurants and walking in an upscale suburb of the earthquake-ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince. He lives in a private hillside villa overlooking the city, in an enclave of Haiti's tiny but powerful elite.
Duvalier assumed power at the age of 19 after the death of his widely feared father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who used a dreaded secret police force known as the Tonton Macoutes to suppress opposition. Together, the Duvaliers ruled Haiti for 28 years. Amnesty International and other rights groups have said repeatedly that Duvalier should be tried for maintaining his father's reign of terror and using brutal henchmen to snuff out political opponents.
In its report, the London-based human rights group detailed more than a dozen cases of people who either disappeared or were arbitrarily detained and tortured under the younger Duvalier. "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," Zuniga said.
Haitian prosecutors also have reactivated previous charges that Duvalier plundered millions of dollars from state coffers, although some activists say evidence suggests he may now be broke after a squandering a fortune in exile on lavish living. Duvalier is alleged to have embezzled between $300 million (195 million pounds) and $800 million of assets from Haiti during his presidency.
Switzerland's government announced in February it was beginning legal proceedings to confiscate his assets which have been frozen in the country since 1986.
In one of his few public statements after his return from exile, Duvalier offered his sympathies in January to those who suffered abuses under his rule but he stopped short of making a clear apology. "I take this opportunity to express once again my profound sadness for those of my fellow citizens who genuinely see themselves as victims under my government," Duvalier said.
Will 'Baby Doc' Duvalier ever face justice in Haiti?
By Tom Phillips, The Guardian, September 22, 2011
When Jean-Claude Duvalier touched down in Port-au-Prince in January, after nearly 25 years in exile, the former dictator said he had come to help. "I'm not here for politics. I'm here for the reconstruction of Haiti," Duvalier, better known as "Baby Doc", claimed as he stepped off an Air France flight in the country's crisis-stricken capital, levelled by a massive earthquake one year earlier.
Human rights activists and victims of Duvalier's notorious 15-year regime had hoped for something else: justice. After decades of impunity they wanted Haiti's former leader ? a man accused of involvement in the murder and torture of thousands of opponents and of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from one of the poorest nations on earth ? to finally be punished for his crimes.
Yet eight months on from his dramatic homecoming, legal procedures against Duvalier appear to be stalling. Instead, the one-time playboy dictator, who took over from his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, in 1971 at the age of just 19, is reportedly enjoying a cosy lifestyle in the city he once ruled with an iron fist.
An Amnesty International report, released on Thursday, is critical of the pace of investigations into Duvalier's alleged crimes and says bringing him to trial is an "obligation under international law" as well as "a historical opportunity to start building a Haitian state grounded in the rule of law".
"For 15 years, Jean-Claude Duvalier ruled Haiti with total disregard for the rights of the Haitian people. The grave human rights abuses perpetrated during those years still remain shrouded in absolute impunity," the report concludes. "Torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions were state policy under Jean-Claude Duvalier," it says, outlining cases of opponents who were viciously tortured or spirited off to the squalid Fort Dimanche prison never to be seen again.
Speaking from Port-au-Prince, the report's author, Gerardo Ducos, said a successful conviction would represent "a major blow against impunity in Haiti".
"Duvalier came to power over 40 years ago and since then the victims of his regime have not seen a single case of reparation or even of recognition of what happened," Ducos said.
Activists blame the snail's pace of the investigation on Haiti's chronically under-funded judicial system. Despite the case's complexity, there is only one judge investigating Duvalier's alleged crimes. "We have only one person trying to uncover a very murky past without any resources," said Ducos.
As frustration grows, Duvalier, who is currently under a loosely enforced form of house arrest, is reportedly enjoying the high life in Petionville, a leafy hillside suburb of Port-au-Prince. The Associated Press reported that Baby Doc had been seen "attending jazz concerts and dinners out of reach of all but a tiny fraction of the impoverished country". Duvalier has also been spotted socialising at upmarket hotels and in friends' villas. Duvalier's lawyers have written the accusations off as political motivated and baseless.
Talking to Haiti's Le Matin newspaper one month after Duvalier's sudden return, one lawyer, Gervais Charles, described the charges as "a storm in a teacup."
Ultimately Duvalier's poor health and not the Haitian judicial system may represent the greatest hurdle. He was reportedly hospitalised with chest pains in March and victims fear he may die before they get their day in court. "The prosecution will be very difficult-it will be a long case to follow," said Ducos. "I can't say I'm pessimistic-there is lots of pressure on the government to fulfill its obligation to bring justice. I'm 50-50."
"Concluding a case like this needs lots of resources which Haiti's government doesn't have at the moment. Even if the Haitian government had all the resources at its disposal, without political will the case won't go anywhere," he added.