'Baby Doc' Shows Up to Court: A Score for Haiti's Justice System? (+Video)

Article excerpt

Haitis former dictator, Jean Claude Baby Doc Duvalier, surprised critics yesterday when he showed up in court to answer questions to determine whether he could be prosecuted for human rights abuses dating back to his 1971- 1986 regime.

Mr. Duvalier missed three previous court dates, and was threatened with jail if he missed the fourth. But according to his party spokesperson, Duvalier heeded yesterdays summons to the Port- au-Prince courtroom because he wanted to show the Haitian people no one is above the law.

His day in court brought him face to face for the first time with a handful of the estimated thousands of people his regime allegedly tortured over the course of his 15-year rule. He is accused of multiple human rights abuses, including murder and torture, but his presence in court yesterday raised hopes for some that Haitis pattern of privileging the elite amid corruption and instability may be slowly changing tack.

I cannot even interpret the event, this has never happened before in my country, says Andre, a student, standing in the dusty streets of Port au Prince, referring to the common practice of Haitian elites and politicians not being held accountable by the countrys justice system.

Law is paper

Plagued by extreme levels of poverty and natural disasters like the 2010 earthquake that the Haitian government estimates killed 316,000, Haiti faces numerous challenges to strengthening all institutions, not just the justice system. Theres a well known Creole proverb here: lwa se papye, bayonet se fe, which translates to law is paper, bayonets are iron," and for much of Haiti's history violence has prevailed.

Duvalier, who was just 19 when he succeeded his father Franois Papa Doc Duvalier as president for life, is accused of corruption and repression, among other human rights abuses. Like his father, he relied on a private militia known as the Tonton Macoutes to enforce his rule, but in 1986 he was forced out of office by a popular uprising. Duvalier fled to France in exile.

The rule of the gun, of money, and of political power has prevailed in Haiti, says William G. ONeill, a human rights lawyer and former senior adviser to the United Nations.

Just weeks ago, the International Crisis Group warned that Haiti could become a permanent failed state due to its failure of will on many counts, including rule of law.

There really is no model for justice, says Nicole Phillips, a staff attorney at the Haitian public interest law firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. …