The inauguration of Haiti’s President Michel Martelly on May 14 should sound an alarm for those concerned with human rights, justice, and the rule of law in the country. In a pre-inaugural interview with the Montreal daily La Presse on Apr. 18, Martelly put forward a plan of national reconciliation which would include granting amnesty to former Haitian ruler Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Martelly later backed away from this idea on advice from his counsel. But his connections to the former dictator present potential obstacles to ongoing efforts to prosecute him.
In the La Presse interview, reporter Vincent Marissal asked about the return to Haiti this year of Mr. Duvalier and of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Martelly stated: “I say to them welcome, and we favor reconciliation and inclusion…”
On amnesty, he said: “Before thinking about this, we must work on awareness and compassion to understand the victims and respect their feelings. So, we won’t take hasty decisions, but I’m leaning toward the side of amnesty and forgiveness so that we can think about tomorrow and not yesterday.”
Michel Martelly cannot legally grant amnesty to Duvalier for the killings, disappearances, and political prisons for which the former dictator is responsible.
While this sounds admirably conciliatory, the position expressed by Martelly is deeply problematic. First, he cannot legally grant amnesty to Duvalier (or anyone else) for the killings, disappearances, and political prisons for which the former dictator is responsible. They are crimes against humanity under international law.
Secondly, there are no charges against former president Aristide – either in Haitian or in international law – for which he could be pardoned.
Duvalier’s crimes are a fact of his 15 years of rule, from 1971 to 1986. They are documented by human rights agencies such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as by the United Nations, the United States government, and hundreds of media reports.
In these circumstances, amnesty would not constitute national reconciliation. It would merely be a favor towards Duvalier. Furthermore, to include Aristide in the same category legitimizes fictitious allegations and tarnishes Aristide’s name and reputation.
During the recent election, Martelly – a former konpa singer – campaigned as a champion of “change,” a “political outsider.” The reality is much more troubling. In a Mar. 2, 2011 interview with Agence France Presse, the self-proclaimed outsider said he was “ready” to work with officials who had served under the Duvalier regimes. One of his advisors, Gervais Charles, currently serves as Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyer. According to a Washington Post article on Feb. 13, 2002, President-elect Martelly was “once a favorite of the thugs who worked on behalf of the hated Duvalier family dictatorship.”
A 1996 Miami Herald article reported that Martelly was “closely identified with sympathizers of the 1991 military coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.” Daniel Supplice, coordinator of Martelly’s transition team, is a childhood friend and former schoolmate of Jean-Claude Duvalier. He served in ministerial posts under Duvalier, including as Minister of Social Affairs.
Martelly’s nominee for prime minister, Daniel-Gérard Rouzier, is a member of the Haitian elite who vocally supported the 2004 coup against Aristide and even opposed his return to the Western Hemisphere.
Martelly’s support of the 1991 and 2004 coups against Aristide clearly shows his selective taste for democracy.
The crimes of Jean Claude Duvalier
With Duvalier’s return to Haiti in January 2011, the Haitian government under President René Préval opened two criminal proceedings, one for financial crimes and the other for crimes against persons. Haitian victims have come forward to the state prosecutor to file complaints against Duvalier, and a large group of Haitian and international human rights attorneys are currently working with the diaspora to build a more comprehensive case.
François Duvalier and his son (who inherited the Haitian presidency in 1971) were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 60,000 people. The vast majority were political opponents or innocents suspected of subversion. Thousands more were brutally tortured at the infamous Fort Dimanche – one of three notorious prisons that formed Duvalier’s “triangle of death.”
Although there is no evidence of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s physical presence at murders or assassinations committed under his watch, he is criminally responsible under international and Haitian law as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the paramilitary Volontaires pour la securité nationale. His liability extends to the vast repressive apparatus that he established and maintained
President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier did not even try to hide his financial crimes. There are dozens of boxes of evidence of these crimes, including copies of checks from the Haitian Central Bank written to “cash” and endorsed by Duvalier. According to the January 25, 2011 Miami Herald, “lawyers estimated that Haiti’s former dictator embezzled at least a half-billion dollars through an elaborate scheme of false companies, phony charities, and transfers in the name of friends and family.”
A forensic audit performed after Duvalier’s departure by a U.S. accounting firm found that he had personally stolen over $120 million, and his wife Michelle $94 million.
International and Haitian law obliges the Haitian government to seek prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier. That obligation, says an April 2011 report by Human Rights Watch, “cannot be undermined by statutes of limitations, amnesties, or other domestic legal obstacles.”
There are two criminal proceedings currently underway against Duvalier. There are none against Aristide. If President Martelly can get away with a false Duvalier-Aristide equivalence, it’s in part because of so many unproven insinuations and false charges against Aristide floated in media, Internet and political circles.
It is difficult to disprove accusations against Aristide because none have been tested in court. As meticulously documented by author Peter Hallward in Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment (2008), few media or other agencies have made credible investigations. When they do and the accusations are disproven, the detractors don’t fight back; they just move on to the next dubious accusation.
Today, there is a very real threat of old accusations or charges against Aristide being resurrected in new forms in order to further mislead public attention and further obstruct a needed reckoning with the crimes of the Duvalier regime. This would not be the first time.
History of false accusations and jailings
Notwithstanding the millions of dollars allocated by the U.S. government to find credible allegations that Aristide looted Haiti’s public treasury, misappropriated funds from the national telephone company (Teleco), or engaged in narcotics trafficking, the accusations remain unsubstantiated. Not a shred of evidence has been presented to a court.
In November 2005, 21 months after the second, foreign-sponsored coup d’état against Aristide, the illegal regime of Gérard Latortue loudly presented a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuit in a U.S. (not Haitian) court, accusing Aristide of corruption and embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars (1). The case was a lost cause from the start. It was not even served on any of the defendants and was quietly withdrawn in July 2006. But it did succeed in tarnishing the reputation of Aristide.
There was controversy surrounding certain members of Aristide’s security unit. Several high-ranking members were convicted in a Miami court in 2005 of “conspiracy to committ money laundering,” with sentences ranging from 3 to 14 years (2).
Oriel Jean, who had been Aristide’s security chief until 2003, was arrested in Canada one week after the coup for allegedly entering without a visa. A Canadian judge acquitted him, but, before his release, the United States requested Oriel’s extradition. Rather than fight the request, Jean chose to go face his accusers.
“According to Oriel Jean, the U.S. government offered him many incentives to testify against Aristide, to say that Aristide was somehow involved in drug trafficking ,” said Haïti Liberté journalist Kim Ives, who extensively interviewed Jean after his release in 2007. “But Jean told them that he could not lie, that he had no knowledge of Aristide being involved in anything of the sort.”
In May 2004, the Miami Herald – no fan of Aristide – published a misleading article saying that Jean was “a U.S. government informant” who was bargaining for “a reduced sentence in exchange for information about Aristide’s inner circle.”
This was a twisted half-truth. Jean did cooperate with federal authorities, but only to convict certain drug traffickers, like Serge Edouard, who had no relation to Aristide. The Miami Herald article killed two birds with one stone. It implied that Oriel was informing the U.S. government about Aristide (he wasn’t) and that Aristide was engaged in something illegal (he wasn’t). Both men were unjustly tarnished by journalistic legerdemain.
One of the most striking examples of bias, persecution and demonization of Aristide’s Lavalas party colleagues was the charge of genocide leveled against Prime Minister Yvon Neptune in September 2005, more than a year after his initial arrest and detainment in June 2004. The accusation came from a Canadian International Development Agency-funded organization called the National Coalition of Haitian Rights (NCHR, since re-formed under a different name). The NCHR was an extremely partisan, anti-Lavalas organization which claimed that a “genocidal massacre” had taken place in the town of St. Marc on Feb. 11, 2004. The organization claimed that Neptune had cold-bloodedly ordered the deaths of 50 anti-Lavalas activists.
The international community turned a blind eye to actual assaults on Lavalas supporters during the Latortue regime.
The only connection between Neptune and the massacre was the fact that he had visited St. Marc two days earlier to appeal for calm and order in the face of the foreign funded paramilitary rebellion that was underway throughout Haiti’s north. Neptune was accompanied by journalists from the Miami Herald, AFP, AP, and the New York Times. The newspapers reported that, indeed, five people had been reported killed during clashes between pro and anti-Aristide forces in St. Marc over a period of several days. Yet the NCHR remained steadfast on its accusations of “genocide.” (4) The false allegations contributed to Neptune’s illegal and ultimately unjustified imprisonment from June 2004 to July 2006.
The international community turned a blind eye to actual assaults on Lavalas supporters during the Latortue regime. The Sep. 2, 2006 issue of the prestigious UK medical journal The Lancet, published a study documenting some 8,000 killings in Haiti during the two-year coup regime, most of them members or supporters of the Aristide-led Lavalas party and movement.
The prevailing, ideological double standard in reporting was strongly criticized by the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting in 2006.
Meanwhile, in court session held in the middle of the night, the Latortue regime made quick work of reversing one of the most significant criminal convictions in modern Haitian history, that of Jodel Chamblain, the former FRAPH/FLRN death-squad leader convicted in absentia of crimes against humanity for his role in the Raboteau massacre. Chamblain surfaced most recently leading Jean-Claude Duvalier’s security detail.
Only a Duvalier prosecution can bring justice
President Martelly’s ruminations on reconciliation have the appearance of a political ploy to get Jean-Claude Duvalier off the hook. This is given an appearance of neutrality by “forgiving” non-existent charges against Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Comparing the two leaders in this way trivializes the crimes for which Duvalier needs to be held accountable.
The demands of the International Center for Transitional Justice, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to prosecute Duvalier are not without precedent. In 2009, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years for crimes against humanity, including mass murder, kidnapping and corruption.
A failure to prosecute Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in an impartial court would add insult to the injuries Haiti has already suffered in the form of the earthquake, cholera epidemic, and political unrest related to the November 2010/March 2011 fraudulent election. Regretfully, the same powers responsible for the 2004 coup (United States, France and Canada) have yet to insist that Haiti respect its obligations to prosecute Duvalier. They should do so, for it is a necessary and symbolic act of justice that will ripple throughout the nation, showing that not all is lost in such difficult times.
The case of Duvalier is a moment of moral clarity. It offers a much-needed opening to further a process of healing and rebuilding in Haiti. Justice delayed is not always justice denied.
An ongoing memorial to the thousands of victims of the Duvaliers can be accessed here: http://www.fordi9.com/Pages/Chronicle.html.
Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University’s Globalization Institute in Hamilton, Ontario. Roger Annis is a coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network and resides in Vancouver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) Peter Hallward. Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment. Verso Books, 2007, pg. 150
2) Ibid. pg. 148
4) Ibid. pg. 159