By Yves Pierre-Louis and Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
On Feb. 28, 2013, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had to show up at the Port-au-Prince Appeals Court to hear various charges against him for crimes against humanity. After not responding to three previous summonses in February, the former “President for Life” had to bow to the court’s authority or risk arrest for contempt.
Duvalier was due to report to court again on Mar. 7, but his lawyer claims that he is sick in an unspecified hospital.
Nonetheless, many suspect that the hearings summoning Duvalier are nothing more than “show business” aimed at rubber-stamping the Jan. 30, 2012 finding of examining magistrate Jean Carvès. He ruled that the statue of limitations has expired for prosecuting Duvalier for his human rights crimes. These hearings are for an appeal to overturn that ruling.
Duvalier ruled Haiti with an iron fist from 1971 to 1986, during which time tens of thousands were extrajudicially killed, imprisoned, exiled, or disappeared.
With many of his victims in the audience, Duvalier responded to questions from members of the Court, the prosecution, the plaintiffs, and defense counsel.
When the court asked about “repression, torture, beatings, crimes against humanity, political killings, and human rights violations” under his regime, Duvalier dead panned that “every time an anomaly was reported to me, I intervened so that justice could be done. I want to stress that I sent a letter to all department commanders, to all section chiefs, asking them to strictly apply the law around the country, and these directives also applied to the Corps of the Volunteers for National Security,” better known as the infamous Tontons Macoutes, who were the eyes, ears, and fists of the Duvalier regime.
Asked again later about “murders, political imprisonment, summary execution under your government, and forcing people into exile,” Duvalier replied: “Murders exist in all countries. I did not intervene in police activities... As for imprisonment, whenever such cases occurred, I intervened to stop abuses being committed.”
Duvalier never betrayed a trace of remorse or regret, arguing that “I did everything to ensure a better life for my countrymen... I'm not saying that life was rosy, but at least people could live decently.”
He claims that he on his return, “I found a ruined country, with boundless corruption that hinders the development of this country. And on my return, it’s my turn to ask: what have you done to my country?”
He suggested that he was close to journalist Jean Léopold Dominique (slain in 2000), “who accompanied me often in my inspections in the province” and that he helped Dominique obtain his radio station, Radio Haïti.
Former soccer star Robert “Bobby” Duval, the founder of the Haitian League of Former Political Prisoners (LAPPH), was also in the courtroom as one of the plaintiffs appealing Judge Carvès Jean’s ruling. Duval spent 17 months imprisoned in the infamous Fort Dimanche prison without charges. But Duvalier claimed that Duval “was arrested for subversive activities,” saying that “during a search at the François Duvalier airport, we found weapons in his possession and he was released a few years later by an act of clemency by the Head of State.” Duvalier claimed that Duval’s suit against him “is a real joke” and that Duval “was treated well” and that “a family member brought him food three times a day.”
Asked what he thought about the charges against him, Duvalier said “it makes me laugh” because people are just “inventing fantasies.”
The hearing lasted more than three hours, after which Duvalier’s victims and representatives of human rights organizations said they were satisfied and encouraged that the Appeals Court judges were not intimidated by government pressure. They said they felt more determined than ever to talk about the suffering and torment caused by the murder, imprisonment, disappearances, and other crimes committed under Duvalier’s dictatorship. They were also galled by Baby Doc’s contemptuous attitude during the hearing.
After the hearing, Bobby Duval scoffed at Duvalier’s assertion that he had been arrested for illegal possession of firearms. Of the 13 Haitian political prisoners whom Amnesty International championed at that time in the late 1970s, Duval is one of the three survivors. "Their goal was to kill me," he said, adding that he would not have survived much longer in prison.
Henry Faustin was another former political prisoner who attended the trial. Arrested on Jun. 15, 1976, Faustin spent two months in a dungeon in the Dessalines Barracks (other political prison under Duvalier, located behind the National Palace). Only 20 years old, Faustin was then transferred for another 16 months (until December 1977) to Fort Dimanche. "Fort Dimanche was not child's play,” he said. “You arrived there as a prisoner, with clothes, but then they stripped you naked as a worm."
International human rights organizations are following the Duvalier hearings closely. “If someone like Duvalier is not judged, how can one judge someone who has stolen a chicken to feed his family?” asked Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch. “How do you establish the rule of law when he who is accused of the worst crimes gets away with it? But Haiti has always been considered an exception. Moreover it is interesting to see that the big countries like France and the United States have never requested that Duvalier be tried, because they have disdain for Haiti. Haiti is not entitled to justice. It's good enough if Haiti just gets a little to eat, or if the population has a little shelter. They don’t make the link between the lack of justice for the vast majority and the lack of social justice as well."
Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was contemptuous and arrogant when responding to questions in the first hearing into his human rights abuses.