Duvalier Prosecution

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

Duvalier Decision a Landmark Victory for Haitians

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

BAI, IJDH saluent la décision de rétablir les crimes contre l’humanité contre Duvalier

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

A Quest for Truth in Haiti

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

Former Haitian Dictator Denies Abuses at Historic Hearing

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