Haiti: A Safe Haven for "Baby Doc" Duvalier…Really?

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier lunches in Port-au-Prince (Photo Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

When I was in Haiti with Amnesty in December, training local activists in using new technology for human rights, I had the opportunity to meet many local defenders and activists.

We spoke openly about the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti and the impunity the perpetrators of those crimes enjoy.  We also spoke about the right to housing and the illegal forced evictions the Haitian government was conducting in displacement camps.

The one topic we didn’t discuss out rightly (for good reasons) was that Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had recently returned to Haiti, that he still has a network of supporters, and that he has not been held accountable for his alleged crimes — including torture, disappearances, and killings — committed during his 15 year reign.  Crimes for which it not appears he will not be held to account for.


Video Testimony of Haitian Rights Abuses Survivors

On February 7, 1986, Former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier departed from Haiti. To mark the 25th anniversary of his departure, Amnesty International has released video testimony from victims of human rights abuses committed during Duvalier’s rule. The video features testimonies gathered by Amnesty International in 1985, when Duvalier was still in power.

Testimonies include that of Yves Médard, who was arbitrarily arrested in 1983, Evans Paul, detained and tortured in 1980, Mark Roumain, unfairly detained for three years and Sylvio Claude, arbitrarily arrested and ill treated in several occasions.

During Duvalier’s fifteen-year rule (1971-1986), Amnesty documented dozens of cases of arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances.  The former president is now in Port-au-Prince and is being investigated by local authorities on charges of corruption and human rights abuses. The fact that Haiti is investigating abuses committed during Duvalier’s rule is a great step forward, but it is important that the process remains swift and fair.

'Baby Doc' Duvalier Update

As we reported earlier this week, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who has been accused of presiding over numerous human rights violations during his rule from 1971 to 1986, was detained after being questioned by police on Tuesday, January 18th. It is not yet clear what charges he will face. Amnesty’s Haiti researcher Gerardo Ducos gives a brief interview and analysis on the latest developments:

"Baby Doc" Duvalier Must Face Justice for Haiti Rights Violations

Update:  In response to the arrest of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, Amnesty International’s Senior Advisor and Haiti expert, Javier Zuñiga, said:

“The arrest of Jean-Claude Duvalier is a positive step but it is not enough to charge him only with corruption. If true justice is to be done in Haiti, the Haitian authorities need to open a criminal investigation into Duvalier’s responsibility for the multitude of human rights abuses that were committed under his rule including torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.”

Former Haitian president, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, returned suddenly to Haiti this past weekend after living in exile for nearly 25 years in France.  We are calling on Haiti to use this opportunity to bring Duvalier to justice for human rights abuses committed during his regime in the 1970s and 80s.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was president of Haiti for 15 years, between 1971 and 1986 © AP GraphicsBank

The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier’s rule amount to crimes against humanity. Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes.

Duvalier returned to Haiti expectantly on January 16th. He fled Haiti in 1986 after a popular uprising which was violently repressed by the former Haitian Armed Forces and a local militia known as the “tonton macoutes”.

Throughout his 15 years in power (1971-1986) systematic torture and other ill-treatment were widespread across Haiti.

Hundreds of people “disappeared” or were executed. Members of Haiti’s armed forces and the militia National Security Volunteers – also known as the “tonton macoutes” — played a primary role in repressing pro-democracy and human rights activists. The “tonton macoutes” were disbanded in 1986 after Jean-Claude Duvalier went into exile.

Media reports today have indicated that Duvalier will be questioned by Haitian police.  We’ll be monitoring the situation as it unfolds.

The Haitian authorities must break the cycle of impunity that prevailed for decades in Haiti. Failing to bring to justice those responsible will only lead to further human rights abuses.