Since returning from exile last year, former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has been treated like an old friend by Haitian President Michel Martelly, rather than a brutal dictator responsible for the deaths, torture and disappearances of thousands of Haitian citizens. Duvalier’s excesses as commander-in-chief of Haiti’s notorious “Tonton Makouts” have been denounced internationally as crimes against humanity. Despite countless appeals from national and international human rights organizations, he has not been held accountable. And based on the announcement last week from Haitian investigative judge, Mr. Carves Jean, Duvalier’s countless victims may never get their day in court.
In a move decried as “politically motivated” by Antonal Mortime of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), Judge Jean ruled on January 30, 2012, that Duvalier should be prosecuted only for embezzlement, specifically misappropriation of public funds–a white collar crime. It should be noted that the state prosecutor’s recommendation not to try Duvalier for crimes against humanity or for corruption played a significant role in this ruling. The state prosecutor’s recommendations along with Mr. Jean’s subsequent ruling further contribute to the climate of impunity already rife in Haiti.
Not only that, but Jean’s decision also contradicts President Martelly’s oft-stated goal: establishing the rule of law in Haiti. A central tenet of the rule of law is that no one, regardless of social stature, connections or economic position is above the law. This ruling sets a dangerous precedent for the Martelly administration, which must choose between continued perpetuation of a two-tiered justice system and the rule of law though at times it may subsume friends and allies.
Ironically, Jean rendered his decision days after Haitian human rights organizations penned aletter to Haitian President Martelly in which they demanded that Duvalier be brought to justice for his crimes. Human rights organizations condemn Jean’s decision while calling for justice for Duvalier’s victims.