Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier stands trial

Jean Claude Duvalier

Newscast Media PORT-AU-PRINCE—The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, together with the Haitian government, have finally succeeded in putting former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier on trial, to face Haitian justice.

In that role, the IJDH produced boxes of evidence of both financial and political violence crimes. They achieved this with the help of pro bono attorneys from the Mintz, Levin and Ropes & Gray firms in Boston and Shearman & Sterling in New York, and students from Harvard Law School, who provided legal memos and analysis to the prosecution team.

According to Deutsche Welle, Jean-Claude Duvalier inherited his nickname “Baby Doc” from his father – just as he did his rule over Haiti. François Duvalier was elected president in 1957, having earned his own nickname “Papa Doc” as a physician while battling epidemics in the country. But as President, Duvalier senior fought political opponents, and was about to consolidate power considerably before handing it over to his 19-year-old son shortly before his death in 1971.

Baby Doc carried on with the apparently criminal regime of his father: together, both of the Duvaliers are supposedly responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 40,000 to 60,000 deaths in 29 years of rule. Countless other people were victims of torture and other forms of repression.

Duvalier’s regime was from 1971 to 1986, thereafter he was overthrown. Duvalier lived in France until 2011, at which point he unexpectedly moved back to Haiti.

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.

In addition, false imprisonment crimes are being brought against the former president. Haitian law, like French law, on which it is based, punishes the crime of “sequestration,” which may be translated as “false imprisonment.” The French Cour de cassation (Supreme Court) has consistently held that “sequestration” is a “continuing crime.” For such a crime, the statute of limitations only begins when all the elements of the crime have been completed—i.e., the victim has been released or his fate clarified.

Similarly, international law criminalizes “enforced disappearances,” defined as the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

Currently, a maximum sentence of five years is on the table, according to Deutsche Welle. This first hearing is to determine whether additional charges shall be brought against Baby Doc.

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