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
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. …