International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Duvalier could be charged with crimes against humanity


A Haitian appellate court has ruled that deposed dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (also known as “Baby Doc”) could be charged with crimes against humanity, and for crimes committed by the army and paramilitary during his reign. This reverses the 2012 ruling that stated Duvalier could not be charged for his alleged involvement for these crimes due to the statute of limitations running out.

The appellate court has made their ruling based on standards of international law over Haitian law. Human rights lawyer, Pierre Esperance, stated “Haiti is not isolated and international right applies in the country. So crimes against humanity are part of our law,” human rights rights lawyer. Since the 2012 ruling, the UN high commissioner for human rights, along with other human rights advocates, have asserted that there is no statute of limitations for human rights violations under international law.

Duvalier has consistently denied these accusations, and even fled into exile for 25 years. Upon his return to Haiti in 2011, however, he issued an apology to victims of his government. This, along with Haiti’s truth commission being largely unsuccessful (as mentioned in the Méndez reading), provide evidence that peace (or lack of violence) has been insufficient in promoting reconciliation. Rather, justice (through the acknowledgement of Duvalier’s dictatorship and investigation of his crimes) has provided a greater sense of reconciliation, especially for victims who have been in search of answers and justice.

Is this case also an example of how international law can becoming an overarching factor in determining domestic conflicts? Defense attorney, Fritzo Canton, has made claims that the judges are under the influence of “extreme left-wing” international human rights groups.  On the other hand, while the influence of international law has reopened investigations of Duvalier’s crimes, the trials and investigations are being done by Haitian courts. It does not seem like the influence of groups promoting international standards are overstepping their bounds, especially considering the fact that their influence has primarily been in defense of victims who are demanding justice.

Source: Chicago Tribune


2 responses to “Duvalier could be charged with crimes against humanity

  1. thewendyway February 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    It’s difficult to say whether justice mechanisms are always better than peace mechanisms. The readings all point to certain aspects that successful processes should have, but a lot of them aren’t exclusive to just justice or just peace. For example, just about all the authors agree that local participation and empowerment is crucial to long-term reconciliation and accountability. From the case studies of situations adopting punitive action, there’s a wide range of true community outreach. Same goes for situations who took to amnesties or other peace mechanisms, some amnesty processes involved the community, others not so much.

    I think this case highlights how peace vs. justice processes have to be looked at from a case-by-case perspective. In most African situations with the ICC, scholars bring up the issue that Western punitive justice is not compatible with local notions of true justice. This situation in Haiti might be different. Perhaps the Haitian society in this context is more receptive to justice courts than say, the Ugandan society. International law has to work with the tension it creates with local traditional ideas of justice to gain acceptance and eventually, stability.

  2. jhgmitch February 27, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I believe Haiti’s truth commission had a very limited mandate of 1991-1994. The crimes of Duvalier (“Baby Doc”) were not a part of those investigations and evidence-gathering.

    The fact that a Haitian appellate court has ruled that Duvalier could be charged with crimes against humanity is promising. Previously, only alleged corruption charges had been made against Duvalier, which shows why this ruling is such a big deal. I do not know if what happened under his regime was significant enough to involve the international community, but if Haitian courts are willing to tackle it themselves then that is even better for a number of reasons. Previously, Haiti has been very reluctant to address political abuses by former dictators. I am also not entirely sure the merits of the human rights case. In the US, Baby Doc (and his father) primarily have notoriety for their lavish lifestyles in one of the world’s poorest countries, and for their embezzlement of public funds. I am not entirely aware what crimes against humanity actually happened. Amnesty International argues that under Baby Doc, there were frequent disappearances, political torture, killings, and arbitrary detention. But the “under Baby Doc” argument is tricky, because if security forces or the military committed atrocities, Duvalier’s defense could at least minimize his conviction to criminal negligence grounds if the prosecutor cannot prove Duvalier’s complicity; perhaps Duvalier can even be acquitted if–and this does not seem that unlikely in a chronically dysfunctional country like Haiti–he shows that he had no control over his own military.

    Pragmatic considerations may prevent Baby Doc from every facing prosecution or getting sentenced. Haiti is still an extremely poor country, and unsurprisingly has a lot of corruption. I am unsure how much money Baby Doc has left, but he may have access to cash in order to bribe judges. Another concern is that Baby Doc still has supporters within Haiti. Significant opposition from the public or a segment of the public could hamper the judicial process. Crowds of Duvalier supporters have appeared around courthouses shouting “Vive Duvalier”. At any rate, I am inclined to be excited about this development in Haiti. Reed Brody of HRW was quoted as saying, “We’ve seen Jean-Claude Duvalier be invited to presidential events and prancing around the country as if he were a VIP rather than an accused criminal. It’s an important affirmation of the potential of the rule of law.”

%d bloggers like this: