Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti


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.

Duvalier timeline 3

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 attorney in Haiti files appeal, Trenton Daniel, Miami Herald, March 12, 2014

Les avocats de Duvalier rejettent l’arrêt de la cour d’appel, Louis-Joseph Olivier, Le Nouvelliste, March 11, 2014

Reinstatement of criminal case against Duvalier a momentous victory for Haitians, Nicole Phillips, Boston Haitian Reporter, March 6, 2014

UN expert applauds Haitian decision to probe alleged abuses by ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier, UN NEWS Centre, February 25, 2014

video by Frantz Etienne (French and Kreyol), Jounal Founi Je Gade, February 24, 2014

Haitian Judges Greenlight Duvalier Atrocity Charges, Tim Padgett, WLRN, February 23, 2014

‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier faces probe into crimes against humanity, France24, February 22, 2014

Haitian court reinstates political charges against Jean-Claude Duvalier, UPI, February 21, 2014

Haiti: Duvalier case back on course towards justice for the victims, Amnesty International, February 21, 2014

BAI, IJDH saluent la décision de rétablir les crimes contre l’humanité contre Duvalier (press release)IJDH, February 21, 2014

Human Rights Organizations Applaud Court’s Decision to Reinstate Human Rights Crimes against Jean-Claude Duvalier (press release), IJDH, February 21, 2014

UN hails probe into former leader’s alleged abuses as ‘landmark’ step for Haitian justice, UN News Centre, February 21, 2014

Appeals court rules ex-Haitian dictator may be charged with human rights crimes, Jamaica ObserverFebruary 21, 2014

Haiti court paves way for Duvalier trial, Agence France-Presse, GlobalPost, February 21, 2014

Affaire Duvalier (includes copy of the Appeals Court decision), Jean-Robert Fleury, Le Nouvelliste, February 21, 2014

Haiti court says human rights charges can be brought against Duvalier, Amelie Baron, Reuters, February 20, 2014

Haitian Dictator May Be Charged With Human Rights Crimes, Court Says, Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times, February 20, 2014

Victims applaud Haitian court decision on Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Jacqueline Charles, Miami HeraldFebruary 20, 2014

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