Two Montrealers vow to continue their campaign to bring to justice the gunman who killed their dad during dictator’s regime
By Sue Montgomery, Gazette Justice
MONTREAL – This week’s news that former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier would not be tried for grave human-rights abuses committed under his watch may have been a serious blow to the victims but was met with a disturbing silence in most camps.
Human rights groups, such as Amnesty International and the United Nations, predictably reacted with outrage. But the United States, France and Haiti’s neighbours in the Caribbean stayed mum.
Only Canada, which pledged $1 billion to the nation between 2006 and 2012, came out with a statement, albeit one that could hardly be defined as stinging.
For Montrealers Nadine and Jan Dominique, who have been working tirelessly to have the former dictator answer for his crimes, the decision – and the silence that followed – has ignited their anger.
And it feeds into their fears that whoever gunned down their father, Jean Dominique – a revered Haitian journalist and outspoken critic of Duvalier – will never be caught, let alone prosecuted.
“If a criminal like Duvalier, where there is so much evidence that there were human-rights abuses, massacres, and torture under his regime, can’t be brought before justice to answer for these crimes … who can be accused of anything in Haiti?” said Jan Dominique, spokesperson for the Committee Against Impunity and for Justice in Haiti.
Her father, whose life was captured in the movie The Agronomist, was forced into exile twice during his 40-year career and returned to Haiti in 1994.
He survived years of beatings and threats at the hands of Duvalier’s brutal Tonton Macoutes, only to be gunned down in 2000 at the age of 69 outside his radio station.
The latest judicial decision regarding Duvalier has been met with quiet resignation by the diaspora in Montreal, who feel nothing will ever change in their native country.
“But if we do nothing, nothing will ever change,” said Dominique, with an air of frustration.
In Haiti, young people are never taught about what it was like under Duvalier and those old enough to remember fear speaking out, Dominique said.
“A friend of mine (in Haiti) said to me, ‘I think the earthquake has done more damage than we imagined. People can no longer react to something like this; they are completely lost.’
“I don’t know if that’s true or if it’s fear.”
Still, the Dominiques are unwilling to give up. On Tuesday, a date on which the fall of the Duvalier regime is traditionally celebrated, the Committee Against Impunity will gather to brainstorm how to tackle this latest setback to their long struggle for justice.
Duvalier lived a lavish lifestyle and ruled Haiti with an iron fist from 1971 to 1986 after the death of this father, known as Papa Doc.
He’s alleged to have embezzled between $300 million and $800 million of assets during his rule, stashing some of it in Swiss banks before fleeing into exile in neighbouring France in 1986.
A year ago, he returned to Haiti, where he is supposed to be under house arrest, but moves freely around the country.
Some of his cronies – and his son – are now among those serving under the new Haitian president, Michel Martelly, a fact observers say influenced the prosecutor’s decision to drop all human-rights-abuse and corruption charges against Duvalier.
But in a move one observer called “gutsy,” a Haitian judge ruled this week that Duvalier would at least stand trial on the lesser charges of corruption, saying he didn’t have enough legal grounds for the more serious charges.
Duvalier’s lawyer is appealing the decision.
Brian Concannon, from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said the victims will appeal and “if the system works as it should,” Duvalier will go to trial.
But much of that depends on whether the international community is willing to do more than put faith in the Haitian justice system, he said.
“Obviously, leaving something up to a corrupt, elitist, right-wing justice system is not going to bring justice for the Duvalier’s victims,” he said.
“If the international community tells the government that continued funding is contingent on the government showing they care enough about good governance to prosecute this case, then the case will be prosecuted.
“If not, there’s very little reason to believe it will be.”
When asked if Canada would send such a message to Haiti’s government, the office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird reiterated its stance.
“Mr. Duvalier should face justice for the numerous documented alleged abuses during his time in office, including human rights abuses,” Rick Roth wrote in an email from Baird’s office.
“It is the Haitian government’s responsibility to provide justice to its people and due process, including fair trials, for those accused of crimes.”
Dominique’s group has been working closely with Concannon’s group as well as the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti and the Canadian Centre for International Justice to gather victims’ testimonies here and in Haiti.
Jo-Anne Wemmers, who was helping collect testimony in Quebec, said the victims were stonewalled once they tried to file complaints with the Haitian Embassy in Canada.
“First, they were on vacation, then it was they had Canadian passports that had to be notarized, which cost money, and it was just hassle after hassle, so the victims have just given up,” she said.
There has been slightly more success in Haiti, where eight complaints have been filed.
If Duvalier isn’t eventually prosecuted, Dominique worries that all the hopes for a new Haiti after the devastating earthquake two years ago will vanish in a sea of corruption and impunity.
“All that wasn’t cleaned up in the last 25 years unfortunately will come back even stronger.”
Photo is taken By Peter McCabe, THE GAZETTE
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