Jean-Claude Duvalier “Baby Doc” Prosecution
Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, one of the most notorious dictators of the 20th Century, served as the President of Haiti from 1971–1986, following the death of his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Gaining power at the age of 19, Jean-Claude Duvalier soon asserted control over the repressive regime created by his father. The Duvaliers used the official military and police forces, as well as the paramilitary Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale (popularly known as the Tonton Macoutes), to violently assert their control with widespread impunity. While alleging his support for reforms and increased respect for human rights, Jean-Claude Duvalier’s regime continued to perpetrate systematic human rights abuses against Haitian citizens, including: Curtailment of civil and political rights, including freedom of the press and political opposition; Arbitrary detention, exile, forced disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killing of opponents of the regime; Abysmal prison conditions, where many citizens died without having been convicted of any crime; Widespread corruption, through which Duvalier misappropriated hundreds of millions dollars of public funds throughout his Presidency.
Exiled in 1986, Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti on January 16, 2011. He was soon charged with financial and political violence crimes. Haiti’s duty to effectively investigate and prosecute Duvalier for crimes of his administration is clearly established in domestic and international law:
Article 276(2) of Haiti’s Constitution domesticates all international legal commitments, meaning Haiti is bound to respect all international treaties to which it is party; Haiti is party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights. These treaties obligate Haiti to provide for the basic human rights of all persons within their jurisdiction, including an effective remedy for violations of such rights. According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has declared that under international legal principles, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights abuses are not subject to any statute of limitations. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has classified the systematic abuses of human rights under Duvalier as crimes against humanity.
In January 2012, a magistrate judge decided to uphold the economic charges against Duvalier but dismiss the political violence charges. BAI appealed the political violence decision and Duvalier appealed the economic decision. On February 20, 2014, a 3-judge panel of the Appellate Court in Port-au-Prince rendered a decision reinstating the political violence charges, because there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. Now, an investigation into Duvalier’s crimes must be made in order for the trial to continue.
Our Role in the Prosecution
To date, IJDH/BAI has completed significant work to support the prosecution of Jean-Claude Duvalier. IJDH/BAI filed extensive evidence concerning Duvalier’s political and financial crimes with Haiti’s national prosecutor and continues to assist individual civil plaintiffs to file complaints against Duvalier for human rights violations. In addition, IJDH/BAI supported the creation of a civil society organization, the Citizen’s Collective for Prosecuting Duvalier (known by its Creole acronym, KOSIJID), aimed at increasing public awareness of the case and its importance. IJDH/BAI staff attorneys and legal fellows are assisted in this work by a committed group of interns and pro bono assistance from the law firms of Ropes & Gray, Mintz Levin and Shearman & Sterling. With the assistance of these firms, IJDH/BAI has been able to submit draft questions to the Juge d’Instruction (see Figure 2) to him help navigate the complex history of the regime’s criminal activity when questioning Duvalier.
Overview of the Haitian Judicial System
A former French colony, Haiti’s judicial system is largely based on the civil law system used in France in the early 19th Century. Laws are codified in a series of legal codes, including the civil and criminal codes. Haiti’s Constitution also defines basic legal rights of all Haitian citizens and makes clear that any international treaties that Haiti chooses to ratify becomes binding in domestic tribunals as well. The Minister of Justice holds primary responsibility for overseeing judicial matters in Haiti, as well as responsibility for the security and police forces. Please see Figure 1 for an overview of the Haitian court system, as defined in the 1987 Haitian Constitution. Figure 1 In Haiti, individual civil complainants can join a case originally brought on criminal grounds by the Haitian government prosecutor. Therefore, once criminal charges have been filed, victims attach individual civil claims seeking redress for crimes against humanity onto the existing case, to be heard together. Complaints are usually filed with the government prosecutor (Commissaire au Gouvernement) who may refer them to a Juge d’Instruction. After receiving a complaint, the Juge d’Instruction has three months to investigate the complaint and determine if there is sufficient basis for prosecution. Because this three month period restarts with each new complaint filed, the period for gathering evidence and investigation by the judge may be extended, such as in the case of Duvalier where additional individual complainants continue to file claims. As necessary, the Juge d’Instruction may also request an extension to this investigatory period. If the judge allows prosecution, the government prosecutor (and any individual legal representatives of civil complainants that have joined the case) may prepare and present their case before the appropriate court, see Figure 2. In the case of Duvalier, criminal charges have been filed and are currently before the Juge d’Instruction. IJDH/BAI and others are now continuing to prepare and submit the claims of individual civil complainants. Figure 2
Articles on the Feb 20, 2014 Ruling
- UN expert applauds Haitian decision to probe alleged abuses by ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, February 25, 2014
- Haitian Judges Greenlight Duvalier Atrocity Charges, February 23, 2014
- ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier faces probe into crimes against humanity, February 22, 2014
- Haitian court reinstates political charges against Jean-Claude Duvalier, February 21, 2014
- Haiti: Duvalier case back on course towards justice for the victims, February 21, 2014
- BAI, IJDH saluent la décision de rétablir les crimes contre l’humanité contre Duvalier (press release), February 21, 2014
- Human Rights Organizations Applaud Court’s Decision to Reinstate Human Rights Crimes against Jean-Claude Duvalier (press release), February 21, 2014
- UN hails probe into former leader’s alleged abuses as ‘landmark’ step for Haitian justice, February 21, 2014
- Appeals court rules ex-Haitian dictator may be charged with human rights crimes, February 21, 2014
- Haiti court paves way for Duvalier trial, February 21, 2014
- Affaire Duvalier (includes copy of the Appeals Court decision), February 21, 2014
- Haiti court says human rights charges can be brought against Duvalier, February 20, 2014
- Haitian Dictator May Be Charged With Human Rights Crimes, Court Says, February 20, 2014
- Haiti court urges further probes on Duvalier trial, February 20, 2014
- Victims applaud Haitian court decision on Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, February 20, 2014
The Appellate court decision to reinstate political violence charges against Duvalier was a landmark victory for the victims, lawyers, and the Haitian justice system as a whole. In this article, IJDH Staff Attorney Nicole Phillips gives her and Mario Joseph’s perspective on that remarkable day (February 20, 2014) and emphasizes the bravery of the judges who made the decision, given the dangers of human rights work in Haiti. Reinstatement of criminal case against Duvalier a momentous victory for Haitians Nicole Phillips, Boston Haitian Reporter March 6, 2014 The Appellate Court decision last month to reinstate political violence crimes against former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was a momentous victory for Haitians all over the world. The court courageously challenged the impunity of the justice system, but also applied international human rights law to protect poor people for the first time … Continue reading
Le Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) et l’Institute pour la Justice et Démocratie en Haïti saluent la décision de la Cour en vue de rétablir les crimes contre l’humanité contre Jean-Claude Duvalier (Port au Prince, 21 février 2014) —le Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) et l’Institut pour la Justice et Démocratie en Haïti (IJDH) applaudirent la décision de la Cour d’appel hier qui a rétabli les crimes contre l’humanité contre l’ancien dictateur Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier pour des violences politiques commises sous son règne. Mario Joseph, Av., qui représente les victimes dans ce cas, a exprimé sa satisfaction pour cette décision qu’il qualifie de : « victoire totale ». Des plaintes pour crimes de violences politiques, détournement de fonds et corruption ont été déposées contre Duvalier en janvier 2011, quelques jours après son retour en Haïti après 25 ans d’exil. En … Continue reading
Human Rights Organizations Applaud Court’s Decision to Reinstate Human Rights Crimes against Jean-Claude Duvalier
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Mario Joseph, Av., Managing Attorney, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), Mario@ijdh.org, +011 509 2943 2106/07 (in Haiti, speaks French and Kreyol) Nicole Phillips, Esq., Staff Attorney, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Nicole@ijdh.org, +011 509 4730 3359 (in Haiti, speaks English and French) Human Rights Organizations Applaud Court’s Decision to Reinstate Human Rights Crimes against Jean-Claude Duvalier (PORT-AU-PRINCE, February 21, 2014) — Two human rights groups—the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Haiti and the U.S.-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)— applaud an Appellate Court ruling yesterday to reinstate criminal charges against former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier for political violence committed under his reign. Haitian attorney Mario Joseph of the BAI, which represents victims in this case, called the hearing a “total victory”. Criminal charges for political violence, embezzlement … Continue reading
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By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald Thu, Apr. 11, 2013 The unresolved demons in Michèle Montas’ life underscore how even the influential in Haiti can’t push the levers of a justice system that’s badly in need of reform. Forced into exile by the Duvalier dictatorship — only to return to Haiti, and be forced out again by an assassin’s bullet — Montas today finds herself at the center of two epic legal cases winding at snail-pace through the judicial system. In one courtroom, an investigative judge is trying to determine who ordered the assassination of her husband, agronomist-turned-famous journalist Jean Léopold Dominique and a guard in the courtyard of his Radio Haiti-Inter 13 years ago this month. In another, a three-judge appeals panel is determining whether former President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, 61, should stand trial on human rights abuses … Continue reading
Jane Regan and Milo Milfort, The Final Call March 19, 2013 PORT-AU-PRINCE (IPS)—For the first time ever, Haiti’s former dictator recently faced his accusers, answering questions about corruption and human rights abuses during his brutal 15-year regime (1971-1986). The court of appeals hearing was part of a process that will determine if he is to be indicted on rights abuses. “We think that this is a wonderful day for justice in Haiti,” rights attorney Nicole Phillips of the Washington-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), told IPS. “For the first time…and despite the efforts of his attorneys, Jean-Claude Duvalier came to court.” The ex-dictator showed up on Feb. 28 only after first disregarding three previous orders. The sweltering courtroom was packed with over a dozen victims of the regime and with local and foreign journalists, lawyers and representatives of … Continue reading