A Haiti investigative judge assigned to look into allegations of corruption and crimes against humanity by former President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier is continuing to pursue the case despite Duvalier’s death, a human-rights lawyer said Thursday.
Clémence Bectarte, coordinator of the International Federation for Human Rights’ Litigation Action Group, told the Miami Herald that Judge Durin Duret is continuing to interview people and gather evidence. He is not only only looking at Duvalier, who suffered a heart attack in Port-au-Prince while eating cornflakes and milk this month, but others who worked for him during his 15-year-rule.
“From the beginning, the complaints were not aimed exclusively at Jean-Claude Duvalier,” she said. “The judge has the legal possibility to indict any persons who committed these crimes under the Duvalier regime.”
The Center for Justice and Accountability, a San Francisco-based human-rights group, estimates that anywhere from 300 to 4,000 political prisoners were held incommunicado in a network of prisons called the “Triangle of Death.” Many died from starvation and lack of medical care amid the putrid and cramped conditions, the group said.
In February, a Haitian appeals court ruled that allegations that Duvalier tortured, killed, and imprisoned opponents and stole from the Haitian treasury should be investigated. The accusations were made by dozens of Haitians who say they were victims of the regime. The judges’ decision was a huge blow to Duvalier, who returned to Haiti from France in January 2011. His lawyers have argued that the court lacks jurisdiction in the case because there was a statute of limitations, and Duvalier had already been tried on economic crimes.
Upon Duvalier’s death, human-rights lawyers and alleged victims of the regime called for the case to continue.
“We are pleased to see that the case is continuing,” said Bectarte, who since her arrival in Haiti on Sunday has met with many groups and individuals to get a status report on the case. “We know it’s not easy. We know there is a lot of criticism within the human-rights community in Haiti about the independence of the justice system and the capacity of the justice system to deal with these complaints.
“But we feel such proceedings could contribute to reinforcing the independence of the justice system and try to pave the way for better access for victims to justice,” she added. “Victims have to know that they can, at least, trust their national justice system. This is very important for the rule of law or any authority that claims to be a democracy.”
In a report published this week following meetings in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said it is concerned by the slow pace of the Duvalier proceedings. It also calls on Haiti to continue the Duvalier investigation and bring all those responsible for violations under his presidency before the courts.
It is necessary, the committee said, “in order to effectively combat impunity that prevents promotion of the rule of law in Haiti.”
Bectarte said her meetings have revealed that the investigative judge is determined to pursue the case, and has the support of the appeals court. For instance, three months after the appeals-court decision to reinstate the human-rights-abuse charges against Duvalier, the judge still did not have an office. Today, he not only has an office but also an assistant, Bectatre said.
“What we hope is that he will be able to do so without any interference from the authorities,” she said.